SUE WILLIAMS DOMAIN REPORTER MAR 5, 2021
A NSW government scheme to fast-track construction planning and slash red tape in order to boost jobs and keep the economy moving is doing exactly the opposite, claims one of the key groups in the building process.
Registered certifiers warn that unless it’s fixed soon, it’s going to lead to increased housing construction costs and delays, which will help stymie any hopes of a recovery, and increase the risk of shoddy illegal buildings.
“The Planning Portal is a massive failure, which is adding significant red tape and administrative burden to the entire planning process,” said Jill Brookfield, CEO of the Association of Australian Certifiers (AAC).
“The public will ultimately pay the price for this clunky system through higher housing construction costs and unnecessary delays. The system is creating confusion amongst applicants who are just trying to get homes built and confusion amongst practitioners in the industry.”
She says the system has been plagued by technical glitches and unnecessary red tape and duplications, and that the government should suspend its operation until these issues are fixed. Already, some firms are having to take on additional administrative staff just to try to come to terms with it.
“In its current form, the portal makes a mockery of the NSW government’s commitment to reduce unnecessary regulatory imposts on businesses,” Ms Brookfield said.
The portal is an online digital tool to supposedly allow industry, government and the community to work together, better understand the building planning process and streamline the whole system. From January 1 this year, it is mandatory it is used for complying development certificates and post-development certificates in NSW.
It was introduced by the government with huge fanfare last year, with Planning Minister Rob Stokes saying: “We are fast-tracking assessments to keep people in jobs, boost the construction pipeline and keep our economy moving.”
But since its start, critics allege it’s been plagued with problems, and the AAC says it’s frequently not working because of technical glitches, a lack of built-in intuitive processes and duplication, and wasn’t built with any meaningful understanding of relevant legislative and regulatory obligations.
Responding to the tide of criticism, a spokesperson for the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment said the portal and the ePlanning Digital Services have transformed what was a manual, paper-based system into a digital service that enables all parties to work together in a secure transparent online environment.
“Ongoing enhancements are made to the system to ensure it continues to meet the requirements of planning rules and the needs of all its users – be it the community, councils, industry and private certifiers,” she said.
“As is the case in everything we do, we highly value feedback from industry and those in the community, and are currently working with the AAC to address some of their observations to improve the ePlanning system for all users.”
Since January 2021, the department said only one unplanned outage had occurred on the NSW Planning Portal which was due to a global incident on January 15 originating with Microsoft that affected all of their customers. A meeting has now also been scheduled with Ms Brookfield.
The AAC has built a portfolio of its complaints and the department’s responses which it describes as often completely irrelevant to the issues raised. Frequently, certifiers complain that the system in its current form is just too complicated for even sophisticated users to navigate, and responses to points made do nothing to help its workability.
Registered certifier Robert Marinelli, the vice-president of the AAC, says the industry is having so many issues with the system, and the department seems manifestly reluctant to act on complaints and change any of its functions.
“We are on the coalface of how this work gets done but we’re just not being listened to,” Mr Marinelli said. “It’s very red tape-driven, it’s over-complicated and it’s causing so much confusion.
“It’s putting roadblocks up to construction when we should be starting this work quickly and people get frustrated with the system and just build without meeting the legislative requirements to have approvals in place before they start. So the quality of buildings will potentially suffer.
“The government should just postpone it and get it right, then they can relaunch it.”
Photo Credit: Marc Pricop