Planning panel to cost ratepayers

FORMER Byron Council general manager, Pamela Westing has been appointed to sit on a controversial panel which will now determine major developments in the Byron Shire.

Ms Westing is one of four people appointed to the State Government’s Northern Region Joint Regional Planning Panel which, along with five other similar panels across the state, will deal with development applications worth more than $10 million.

The other members of the panel are former member of the NSW Parliament, Garry West, former Tweed Shire Council general manager, John Griffin and alternate member, Byron Shire-based lawyer Bruce Clarke.

Planning Minister Kristina Keneally said the panels were designed to provide a framework for strong decision making on regionally significant projects and had a ‘balance of expertise, independence and local knowledge’.

But they haven’t been welcomed by local government leaders, including Byron Mayor Cr Jan Barham, who said the move undermined the whole role of local government.

“It’s just a further erosion of local government power and our right to determine our future,” she said.

“There is a feeling that people will put forward proposals that they might expect to have a greater hope of getting through, rather than through the council.”

Cr Barham said the new panels also would hit ratepayers in the pocket.

She said the council would no longer get development application fees for major developments, but council staff would still have to do the same work in preparing a submission for the panel.

“Now we will be doing it out of ratepayers’ pockets,” she said. “They are taking away the rights of local government and giving them the bill.”

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