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Happy New Year, Happy New LEP

As we moved into the new year of 2012, I found myself celebrating another milestone.  One of the council’s we work under finally gazetted a new LEP – Local Environmental Plan.  Right now, the NSW planning system is undergoing the biggest change in 30 years. The NSW Government is changing the way that LEPs are developed and approved for our communities.  This means many councils are undergoing a change to their LEP.
One of the biggest challenges of a property developer is keeping up with council regulations. 
If you’re thinking of renovating, extending, building new dwellings, demolishing or subdividing you will need to lodge a Development Application – DA with your local council.  But even before you are ready to put your DA together, you must have a good understanding of the council’s Local Environment Plan – LEP.  
Something very important you should ask your council is whether there is a draft LEP in existence. A simple search of their website should tell you what’s in their planning pipeline.
There are no general regulations that apply throughout Australia –so as a developer, you must contact your local council for specific details relating to what you want to do.  DAs allow councils to assess whether your plans are appropriate for the area based on their LEP and DCP – Development Control Plan. 
This brings me to share an ‘interesting’ period we’ve had with several local Hunter councils as they went through the process of introducing new LEPs.
A LEP is a legal instrument that imposes standards to control development. These plans determine the areas in which various types of development can be considered and which areas of open space and environmental sensitivity need to be protected.  These plans can have a profound and lasting impact on local communities.
A LEP generally comprises a written document and accompanying maps. LEPs apply to a particular area, generally the whole, or part of, a local government area.
Most LEPs remain in force until they are amended or repealed by an amending LEP. The process to amend an LEP is massive.  We’ve been waiting for one council to draft and finally implement their LEP for five years!  There were many changes and each time a new edition of the Draft LEP went on exhibition, we had to study it.  Finally, the LEP was gazetted. When the Draft LEP is gazetted, it takes over from the current LEP as the primary environmental planning instrument. 
In the case of our local Hunter council, the new LEP will provide more than 1,000 additional residential lots at eight sites across the LGA – Local Government Area.   In addition the LEP zones new employment land which will encourage job creation in close proximity to the existing centre of town, while protecting the environmental values of the area. 

The LEP also identifies planning controls for a major new town.  For a developer, this is very important information. A whole new town will impact greatly on the economy and the demand and availability of housing, so you can see it’s crucial for you to know of any changes to your council’s planning process.

Importantly we’ve found that as the new LEP comes in there is a big, grey area.  DAs that were submitted prior to the date that the new LEP was gazetted will continue to be assessed under the old LEP and the old DCP, with due consideration of the new LEP.  What the?

This may sound a bit confusing but as a developer it’s your responsibility to get a handle on the requirements of your local council. I’d suggest you use a planning consultant with a strong understanding of your council’s requirements if you don’t have the time. Remember, the planning phase is just one of the many phases you’ll journey through as a developer. It’s a time consuming pursuit but one that can bring many rewards.

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