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New Priority Assessment Program set to deliver large scale projects in NSW

The NSW Government has announced its new Priority Assessment Program with the  responsibility to deliver large, complex projects through the State’s planning system over the next two years.

Priority Assessment is the next phase of the Planning System Acceleration Program and replaces the existing Fast Tracked Assessment.

In April 2020, the NSW Government announced the Planning System Acceleration Program (Program) to support the state’s recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the first phase of the Program, known as the ‘rescue phase’, the Government sought to fast track projects that could inject investment into the NSW economy in the short term. This was commonly referred to as the Fast Tracked Assessment Program. For a period of six months, the focus was on delivering projects capable of providing jobs, generating economic activity and delivering public benefits.

For all intents and purposes, it appears that this mandate has been achieved. Since April, the first phase of the Program has successfully fast-tracked over 100 projects and planning proposals in six separate tranches. As a result, the Program has generated $25.7 billion in economic investment, created more than 52,000 jobs, delivered 26,000 new homes and opened up more than 400 hectares in public space and environmental land.

After 24 weeks, the first phase of the Program reached its completion. On 13 November 2020, the Government announced the second phase of the Program, the ‘response phase’, otherwise known as the Priority Assessment Program (PAP).

Response phase: priority assessment program

The PAP represents a distinct shift in focus from its predecessor, the Fast Tracked Assessment Program. Rather than simply fast-tracking ‘shovel ready’ projects, the PAP is committed to managing projects on an on-going basis - from the time they enter the planning system right through to their delivery. As a consequence of this change in focus, the PAP is intended to operate until the end of 2022.

Importantly, the PAP will adopt a case management approach to projects to facilitate their delivery. The applicable management approach will depend on the type of project that is being assessed. The table below gives an overview of the three case management methods proposed by the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (Department) and the framework that they will impose.

Method 1

Method 2

Method 3

State Significant Development or State Significant Infrastructure

Planning Proposals

Integrated Planning Proposal & Development Application

  • Clear expectations regarding the indicative assessment schedule.

  • Commitments from the proponent on the quality of the proposal, and of the information submitted in support of the assessment.

  • Opportunities for closer collaboration between the Department and councils.

  • Pathways for issue resolution within the Department and stakeholder agencies.
  • Councils will be consulted in the consideration of whether a project should be case managed.

  • A clear schedule imposed on the planning proposal at the start of the statutory rezoning process through Gateway conditions.

  • Commitments from the proponent(s) regarding the quality of information to support the assessment of the planning proposal and rezoning.

  • Oversight of the project schedule to (is ‘to’ the right word here?) senior executives within stakeholder organisations – including milestone reporting and monitoring/mitigation of project schedule risk.

  • Options for the call-in of the assessment process from the council by the Minister or the Department should the timeframe commitments in the gateway not be met
  • Coordinated schedules for assessment processes, public exhibition and determination of the project.

To qualify for the PAP, the project must meet five essential criteria – strategic alignment, economic benefit, public benefit, design excellence and a high likelihood of delivery. 

As each project within the PAP is anticipated to require a high level of sponsorship and intervention, it is envisaged that it will only be able to accommodate up to 30 projects. Therefore, projects will be selected by the Department through a three-step process:

  • Stage 1 – initial review of the project against the five criteria.

  • Stage 2 – in-depth assessment of the project against criteria based on more detailed information.

  • Stage 3 – commencement of case management process and ongoing monitoring to ensure compliance with program objectives.

Strategic alignment

To satisfy the first criterion, projects must align with, or act as a catalyst for, existing State Policies and Land Use Strategies. Relevant considerations include:

  • the project makes a significant contribution to the delivery of key government strategies such as the State Transport Strategy, State Infrastructure Strategy or the Premier’s Priorities;

  • the project is located in a strategic centre, a location for employment or land release, or an economic corridor; and

  • the project creates investment certainty capable of unlocking further development and generating downstream economic activity.

The Department may consider questions such as:

  • Is the project critical to the achievement of a State plan or strategy, Premier’s priorities or major economic priority?

  • Does the project provide infrastructure that will help unlock or kick-start a larger precinct or growth area?

  • Is the project a national or Commonwealth initiative?

Economic benefit

Under criterion two, the project must be capable of delivering capital investment and creating or protecting existing jobs. Relevant considerations include:

  • the project delivers significant capital investment in the medium term (i.e. 6-24 months); and

  • the project creates or safeguards a significant number of jobs (construction or operational).

The Department may consider questions such as:

  • Does the project generate significant jobs in the short to medium term including through planning, design or construction?

  • Will a significant number of construction jobs be created within 18 months of the decision?

  • Will a large numbers of jobs and economic activity including downstream jobs and economic opportunities) be enabled through the project?

Public benefit

Projects considered to be in the public benefit include those that improve the quality of public space through design. Relevant considerations include:

  • the project provides significant social benefits in the form of affordable housing, Aboriginal land or build-to-rent;

  • the project delivers significant environment benefits such as renewable energy, or biodiversity corridors; and

  • the project provides better access or connection to open or public space.

The Department may consider questions such as:

  • Will the project contribute to exceptional levels of species or habitat protection including enhancement of biodiversity corridors?

  • Does the project make a substantial contribution to public or affordable housing?

  • Does the project provide or contribute to significant additional public realm improvements or new or upgraded open space?

Design excellence and existing infrastructure

The design excellence of the project must exhibit the capacity to deliver community benefits. Relevant considerations include:

  • the project incorporates sustainability measures like energy reduction; and

  • the project is well served by existing or planned infrastructure such as open space, community facilities and public transport. 

The Department may consider questions such as:

  • Will the project incorporate highly innovative or exceptional levels of energy saving technology or design relevant to the type of proposal?

  • Will the project contribute to an exceptional public realm improvement or achieve outstanding architectural merit relevant to the type of proposal?

  • Does the project leverage existing infrastructure capacity or incorporate innovative demand management techniques (where relevant)?

High likelihood of delivery

Under the final criterion, the project must be capable of timely delivery (i.e. within 18 months). Relevant considerations include:

  • the proponent’s experience in delivering similar projects;

  • the financial capacity of the proponent to complete the project;

  • the commitment of the proponent to delivering milestones on-time and in accordance with a Service Charter; and

  • the project exhibits no known environmental, construction or land access issues.

The Department may consider questions such as:

  • Is there evidence of a plan for delivery or development application within 18 months of decision?

  • Is there a market demand for the project (where relevant)?

  • Are there any clear impediments to delivery that are outside the proponent’s control such as infrastructure capacity, environmental constraints?

  • Does the proponent have the right to develop the land if an approval is issued?

  • Is the proponent willing to commit to a Service Charter for the assessment process including consideration of responsiveness, quality of information?

Priority Assessment Projects

The first 10 projects to be considered by the PAP have already been selected and include:

  • a new transmission connection between the Snowy 2.0 pumped hydro and generation project to the existing high voltage transmission network;

  • an airport Metro line to service Western Sydney International (Nancy-Bird Walton) Airport and the Western Sydney Aerotropolis;

  • an M12 Motorway dual-carriageway to connect the M7 Motorway with the Western Sydney Airport and The Northern Road;

  • four Inland Rail construction projects - Illabo to Stockinbingal, Narrabri to North Star (Phase 2), North Star to Border, and Narromine to Narrabri;

  • a new dam at Dungowan and better delivery pipeline linking to the Callala Water Treatment Plant in the Peel Valley; and

  • two EnergyConnect projects (NSW – Western and Eastern Sections) - new 330 kV transmission lines connecting the NSW and South Australia transmission networks.

According to the Minister, the PAP will prioritise ‘longer-term, public and private projects’ that are capable of commencing construction within 18 months. A copy of the Ministerial media release is available here.

Taking part in the PAP

Proponents wishing to take part in the PAP can submit a request to the Department via this form. However, it is important to keep in mind that the Department is focused on the delivery of State Significant Development, State Significant Infrastructure and significant Planning Proposals. Due to the resource intensive nature of these types of projects, the PAP will be limited to a relatively small number of projects (approximately 30). Although, it may be expanded depending on case management capacity.

At present, there is no indication of when further projects will be prioritised under the PAP, although applicants can expect to have their submissions addressed over the course of 2021.

Finally, all projects selected under the PAP will still be subject to the usual planning rules, including the same level of oversight, probity and public consultation. 

More information on the Priority Assessment Program, together with a copy of the qualification criteria, can be found on the Department’s website here.


Authors

CAMENZLI_Louise_SMALL
Louise Camenzuli

Head of Environment and Planning

Ivan Brcic

Law Clerk


Tags

Environment and Planning Construction, Major Projects and Infrastructure

This publication is introductory in nature. Its content is current at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. You should always obtain legal advice based on your specific circumstances before taking any action relating to matters covered by this publication. Some information may have been obtained from external sources, and we cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such information.