Pru Goward urged to change law so corrupt rezonings can be overturned


By Leesha McKenny

Originally published: Sydney Morning Herald online, September 29 2014, 6:03pm.

The power to revoke planning decisions tainted by corruption does not extend to land rezonings, warn the Greens in a letter calling for an urgent amendment to the planning act.

The party has written to Planning Minister Pru Goward requesting she sponsor legislative changes to broaden provisions within the act following the corruption watchdog's Operation Spicer hearings this month.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry heard that Londonderry MP Bart Bassett received $18,000 from Buildev – a prohibited donor – for his state election campaign while Hawkesbury Council's mayor in 2010.

The Greens are urging Planning Minister Pru Goward (pictured) to amend the planning act.

Mr Bassett went on in 2011 to support a residential land strategy that favoured the developer's controversial housing development in North Richmond.

In 2012, he backed Buildev in 7-4 council vote requesting the state government consider the 180 hectares through its "gateway" process. The land was finally rezoned in April.

Mr Bassett, who was one of 10 Liberal MPs to step aside from the party during the ICAC's inquiry into developer donations, has denied ever receiving a bribe, donation or benefit from Buildev.

"My voting was based on the issue at hand ... nothing to do with the landowner," Mr Bassett told the inquiry, which has not made any findings of corruption. The ICAC's report is expected to be released in January.

But Greens planning spokesman David Shoebridge and the party's Hawkesbury councillor Leigh Williams said the "unfortunate hole" in the bill needed to be addressed "regardless of what the final outcome was from Operation Spicer".

"It is not acceptable that the planning law in NSW does not have a mechanism to overturn a corrupted decision by a planning authority to rezone land," the letter said.

"Rezoning decisions have the potential to deliver vastly greater returns to a corrupt developer than individual planning consents."

The letter said the act only allows for a "development consent" – rather than a broader class of planning decisions – to be overturned if it is found to be obtained, or tainted by, corruption.

The provision was used to revoke the planning consent for the $100 million Quattro development following the 2008 Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry into Wollongong Council, it said.

Wollongong Council's administrators then refused the development application, which exceeded a wide range of planning guidelines.

A spokesman for Ms Goward said the current wording of the act is based on an ICAC recommendation following the watchdog's 2002 inquiry into Rockdale Council.

"Accordingly, the Department of Planning and Environment will await the outcome of the current ICAC inquiry and consider any planning related recommendations carefully," he said.

Hawkesbury Council has separately written to Ms Goward requesting the immediate suspension of all planning matters associated with the North Richmond rezoning until Operation Spicer delivers its report.

The council will consider further legal advice when it meets on Tuesday.

Labor's planning spokesman Luke Foley said: "My major concern is that the highly inappropriate North Richmond development be put on hold pending the final report of the ICAC".

Hawkesbury's Liberal mayor, Kim Ford, said there were sufficient checks and balances around rezonings.

"I don't think there's any problem with the way the system works," Cr Ford said.

"Rezonings take months – years, even – to go through. And there's public consultation every five minutes."

Cr Ford, who worked as Mr Bassett's campaign manager, has also rejected calls from Cr Williams that he stand aside until after the inquiry delivers its findings.

"I haven't got any case to answer," he said. "I didn't even get a guernsey at ICAC."

Originally published as: Pru Goward urged to change law so corrupt rezonings can be overturned