The New South Wales Minister for Planning and Public Spaces Rob Stokes MP has proposed a series of changes to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation 2000 (NSW) under a new Rapid Assessment Framework (Framework).
The proposed Framework introduces a range of measures designed to streamline and standardise the development assessment process for State-significant projects. These measures include the introduction of ‘template’ environmental assessment requirements, a suite of environmental impact assessment guidelines and a new registered Environmental Assessment Practitioners Scheme.
Consultation on the Framework is open until 12 February 2021.
The key proposed changes are outlined below.
Updates to the Secretary’s Environmental Assessment Requirements (SEARs)
Under the current regime, State significant development (SSD) proposals must be accompanied by an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). When preparing an EIS, the project proponent must have regard to the Secretary of the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment’s (Department) environmental assessment requirements called SEARs.
Presently, the Department prepares SEARs on a project-by-project basis. This is a time consuming administrative task which prolongs the timeframes for assessment.
The Department is now proposing to create ‘template’ SEARs for certain categories of low-impact SSD proposals that are consistent with the existing land use planning framework. The ‘template’ SEARs are designed to streamline the assessment process. As part of the Framework, the Department has released draft template SEARs for warehousing and distribution centres, hospitals and development in State significant precincts.
For other types of SSD or for State significant infrastructure proposals, which are not subject to ‘template’ SEARs, the usual process will apply where the proponent will need to prepare a Scoping Report to address the potential impacts of the project, the relevant approvals required, and details of community consultation and concerns. The Department will then publish the Scoping Report online, seek advice from public authorities, and prepare project-specific SEARs.
The proposed reforms also seek to impose a two-year expiration date on SEARs. This means that proponents will need to lodge an EIS within two years after SEARs are issued or new SEARs will be required from the Department. The Framework also proposes an option for a discretionary three-month extension to the expiry period.
New guidelines assist proponents to undertake an environmental assessment
The Framework introduces a range of new environmental impact assessment guidelines to assist proponents of State significant projects.
This includes the draft Assessing Cumulative Impacts Guide, which seeks to establish a clear and comprehensive framework for the assessment of cumulative impacts.
The Cumulative Impacts Guide also requires proponents to not only consider the cumulative impact of projects on the community, but to engage with the community to identify issues and actions that can be taken to minimise cumulative impacts.
Other guidelines exhibited as part of the Framework include guidelines on Scoping Reports, EISs, Submission Reports, Preferred Infrastructure Reports, and amendments and modifications to State significant projects.
Registered Environmental Assessment Practitioners Scheme
The Department is also proposing to introduce an EIS assurance process, following recommendations by the 2019 Kaldas Review of Governance in the Planning System.
Under the proposed scheme, proponents will need to engage one or more Registered Environmental Assessment Practitioners (REAP) to review a proposal’s EIS and to certify that the EIS complies with the statutory requirements and is an accurate and complete summary of the proposed project. REAPs will be specialists accredited under an existing professional body (including specialists in heritage, ecology, planning) and those bodies will be recognised under the REAP Scheme.
The intention of the REAP scheme is to ensure that EISs are of a consistently high standard and to reduce the need for the Department to request additional information from proponents during the assessment process. This to ensure that EISs are assessed by the Department and placed on public exhibition as quickly as possible.
Framework on exhibition until 12 February 2021
The Department is seeking public feedback on the proposed Framework until 12 February 2021.
Copies of all of the draft instruments and policy documents, along with the public submission portal, are available on the NSW Planning Portal website here.
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