Community participation plans – Engagement clarity for Councils and community
‘Community Participation Plans’ (CPP) now need to be prepared by local councils for their local area. The intent of the new plans is to make it clearer and easier for members of the community to understand how they can participate in planning decisions.
Planning decision-makers must also give and publicly notify reasons for their decisions. This includes explaining how community views were considered on key planning matters. The development of the Community Participation Plans is an important part of that commitment.
The deadline for creation and implementation of the new plans is 1 December 2019.
What is a Community Participation Plan?
In short, a CPP will be a high-level document which describes how and when a planning authority, such as a local council, will engage with its community on the planning functions it performs.
It will be an easy-to-use guide for community members to understand how to participate in the planning process in NSW. The plans will lay out when and how the community can have their say on planning decisions that could affect their future.
What must be in a Community Participation Plan?
At a minimum, the plan must:
/ Include details about how and when a council will undertake community participation in relation to relevant planning functions specified in section 2.21(2) of the Environmental Planning & Assessment Act 1979.
/ Be in line with the community participation principles outlined in section 2.23(2) of the Act – noting that the principles are consistent with the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) framework of engagement and best practice in relation to planning which is a useful approach to take.
/ Address the minimum mandatory public exhibition time frames and notification requirements as per Schedule 1 of the Act – acknowledging that there are mandatory notification requirements provided in the regulations, the Act and potentially a CPP.
These are only the minimum requirements. Councils can go beyond these if they decide it is appropriate.
What will Community Participation Plans look like?
A CPP could take a number of forms.
Firstly, it could be embedded in an existing Community Strategic Plan or Community Engagement Strategy. These are documents councils are already required to develop under the Local Government Act 1993.
Secondly, councils can prepare a standalone CPP. Potentially, this could follow the example set and recommended by the Department’s own draft CPP.
Importantly, a CPP cannot be embedded in a development control plan. This is where councils have previously included public notification requirements for planning decisions.
Notably, the plan is also to be at a high level. It does not need to set out the specific engagement strategies or techniques for each type of planning proposal or project.
Department of Planning & Environment Guidance
The Department of Planning & Environment has released some FAQs as well as webinar content to help local councils create and implement Community Participation Plans for their area.
These highlight the critical role that the plan will play in the future direction of the planning system. This includes increased accountability and transparency about process and decision making with the community.
There is no prescribed process for creating the document. Nor is there is a prescribed structure – only the minimum requirements as previously laid out. Again, the Department’s own draft CPP, while at a higher level, does provide a good indication and can be used as a starting point.
What should regional local councils now be doing?
As noted above, the deadline for regional councils to finalise their CPPs is still some time away. That said, we recommend that councils start the process now. Time needs to be factored in for exhibition (minimum of 28 days) and reporting cycles of your council.
Councils should start by:
/ Reviewing and collating any existing engagement plans which apply to your area and starting to explore any gaps against the CPP requirements.
/ Identifying whether it is in councils and the community’s interest to either update existing documents or to create a new overarching CPP.
/ Collating from existing strategies and plans (or where needed establishing) the following areas to be included either in an update of an existing plan or new CPP: :
– details about how and when council will undertake community participation
– Council’s alignment with community participation principles
– information about mandatory exhibition time frames and notification requirements to be included either in an update of an existing plan or new CPP.
/ Thinking about how and when you will involve and consult your community about this approach – bearing in mind the intent of the recent changes towards transparency.
/ Keeping in mind that your CPP will need to be publicly exhibited for a minimum of 28 days and be published on the NSW planning portal by 1 December 2019.
In summary, we believe that the new requirement for Community Participation Plans is a welcomed reform to the planning system. We would encourage regionally based councils to start thinking early about how this plan will look and feel.
This is a great opportunity to clearly outline how community can engage with planning for your local area and should not be left to the last minute.
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