The Shoalhaven region

By Lyn Drummond

15 November 2011 – A website where potential developers can easily calculate their infrastructure commitments, bypassing the often complex paper work of local government has won Shoalhaven City Council the top prize at the Planning Institute of Australia NSW Division Planning Excellence Awards

The President’s Award was received in recognition of the council’s Contributions Plan 2010 – the interactive website.

The council also received the Improving Planning Processes and Practices Award in recognition of the Contributions Plan.

NSW President Tony McNamara said the entry stood out because it was innovative, added to the transparency of a process and provided certainty up front to a developer and to the community.

To the council’s senior strategic planner,  James Harris, who initiated the idea, the costs of developing land, especially Section 94 contributions required by councils for the upgrade of local infrastructure prompted the need for a website which streamlined internal processes for infrastructure planning and delivery.

One which also allowed developers and the community to easily find information on what infrastructure is required, the reasons why and allowed the calculation of contributions with a few keystrokes.

Mr Harris, who developed the website with a council team, told The Fifth Estate it allowed community members, developers and council staff to easily access information on the required levels of infrastructure and the calculation of contributions for all new land developments.

Mr Harris said user feedback had been very positive and involved such comments as “The web-based delivery of the plan is excellent, allowing a complete and up-to-date Contributions Plan to be publicly available 24/7.”

Since March 2011 when it went live, the Contributions Plan has been profiled as a “best practice” example to planning forums attended by many councils including Southern NSW Councils Development Contribution Group; Mid North Coast NSW Councils Development Contribution Group; Framework for Development Contributions Short Course (University of Technology Sydney : Centre for Local Government). Port Stephens, Wingecarribee and Wyong Councils have shown particular interest in having a similar website, Mr Harris said.

A website had not been considered before as contribution plans have traditionally been static “paper” documents, he said.

The website has addressed the difficulties developers found in accessing and interpreting information in council’s previous Contributions Plan.

Mr Harris said it was hoped to increase the amount of supporting information in the Contributions Plan and the transparency of the document.

At the awards ceremony in Sydney, the director of strategic planning and Infrastructure, Peter Adams said: “Infrastructure funding, coordination and delivery is one of the extremely important issues facing local government.”

The website also contains other pages that are relevant for interpreting the Shoalhaven Contributions Plan 2010:
• Project Search: Allows a quick option to search for current individual contribution project details while also listing the full list of current projects.
• Contributions Calculator: Allows contributions to be estimated for an individual property.
• Disclaimer: Alerts users to the fact while every effort has been made to provide accurate information, the final contributions payable to council are determined at development assessment.
• Disclosure: Highlights the need in some circumstances for individuals or companies to disclose relevant political donations.
• Printing: Details how specific information that may be contained on the page of this plan can be printed.

Other major awards in the Planning Institute of Australia NSW Division Planning Excellence Awards included:

Category: Outstanding Student Project
Award: Rachel Cogger forThe urban symphony: Are you Listening?
Cities are noisy places. People are often bombarded with a continuous stream of loud noises which can have adverse impacts on health and quality of life. This undergraduate thesis has used several qualitative methods to explore the concept of soundscapes and people’s experience of the acoustic environment.

Category: Best Planning Ideas – Small Project
Award: Arup for Nowra CBD Urban Design Masterplan
The revitalization of Nowra CBD poses a significant range of challenges. The adoption by the council, the buy-in through stakeholder engagement and the important identification of deliverable quick-wins contribute to the success of this project.

Category: Best Planning Ideas – Large Project
Award: Willoughby City Councilfor The Concourse
Opened in September this year, the concourse provides a new entertainment and performing arts destination for the north of Sydney. The judges praised council’s commitment to the provision of innovative, well-designed community facilities, as well as their resourcefulness in funding the project through a number of sources.

Category: Public Engagement and Community Planning Award: Hunter New England Population Health or: Liveable communities Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Consultations
A partnership between the NSW Government and Aboriginal organisations including Land Councils in the Lower Hunter region has redressed the under-representation of indigenous residents in developing liveability assessment.

Category: From Plan to Place
Award: NSW Department of Planning & Infrastructure for: Sharing Sydney Harbour Access Program
Sharing Sydney Harbour is the NSW Government’s vision for managing the future of Sydney harbor; projects include walking tracks, cycle paths, new public waterfront parks, jetties, pontoons and boat launching facilities.