Since 1st July 2021, all NSW applications (of whatever type) are required to be lodged through the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE). 

It is centralising power and control to the NSW state planning body – and minimising/removing it from the consent authority which in most cases is local government. 

I’m told the feedback from the previous six-month trial was largely ignored resulting in the service becoming a bureaucratic nightmare passed on to applicants, and doubtless costly also for all levels of government.  

Having experienced recurring frustration at having to resubmit/upload a number of projects through the now-compulsory process of DPIE portal, I ask:

  • Who decided it was reasonable to negate applications direct to the relevant local government – and make every application detail go through DPIE? 
  • Who approved the most user-unfriendly and un-forgiving website possible for DPIE? 
  • Who then required every piece of everyday communication to go through this opaque website multiple times? 
  • Why is this imposed upon all NSW development applicants – when “one-size” does not “fit -all”?

Whether you’re submitting to Council for a minor home alteration or a massive billion dollar development, you have to apply through the same DPIE website (ePlanning Portal). 

Same website – same development jargon.  Even a tech-savvy “lay” person has little chance of making it through unscathed or without wasting many hours answering (repeatedly) non-relevant questions and/or submitting (multiple times) documents previously submitted. 

And I, as a reasonably tech-savvy architect of 35 plus years, have been reduced to tearing at my retreating hairline in trying to do the most simple of tasks for no public benefit. 

You and I have been co-opted un-knowingly into a bureaucratic world of no relevance to us, all in obtaining a Development Approval (let alone a Construction Certificate CC, which becomes a repeat performance only after the DA is formally lodged).  

Let me explain. These days, most of my work is residential.  The smart client that needed an “Occupancy Certificate” (one page with his signature) couldn’t send it directly to the relevant Council, but spent five hours  attempting to address all the non-relevant issues on the ePlanning Portal website including uploading all documents from the previous two or three years that Council already had. 

Subsequently we learnt that uploading a blank piece of paper and tick the box would have allowed him to proceed on the website, which remains opaque even to the most intelligent.  Only the good women at the Helpdesk know this. 

He persevered, and eventually the page was accepted and he was allowed to occupy his completed home.  But that’s only the start. 

A number of submissions we made for DA/CC’s combined eventually established that only the DA was accepted (there is no option for both simultaneously).  It’s now always a sequential two-step process, adding days/weeks/months to approval times during which building costs have escalated alarmingly. 

The un-forgiving website demands capitals only in some fields (my Council wasn’t recognised until I searched out its ABN); you can’t go back and make corrections; the PAN number requires a dash; it can’t deal with decimal points, etc.  

I could go on and explain more of the blindingly opaque details from an un-forgiving website … but I’m sure you see the trend. 

How is this assisting appropriate development?  How is this “streamlining” development through Covid or…? (add your own jargon words).  How is this “simplifying” let alone addressing “plain English”, let alone common-sense /user-friendly?  Only the Helpdesk knows…     

The ePlanning Portal is not “fit for purpose” –  it’s centralising planning powers and creating (ostensibly) un-intended consequences with enormous difficulties for the un-initiated or un-aware.  It needs a major re-appraisal, re-think and re-write.  

I believe it’s clear – let Council’s deal directly with their everyday applications and leave the big stuff to the DPIE.

Nigel Bell is principle architect at ECOdesign, with over 35 years as a registered architect and a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Architects for his contribution to the profession.

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  1. i have the unfortunate experience regarding this useless piece of has been a nightmare trying to get a simple shed built in the Liverpool plains shire council .been three months now almost given up.

  2. And why is there no industry training available. The first 6months of the portal was great when council’s didn’t know how to use it and in particular reject DA. Every application got in first time. Now every application is queried for the most basic reasons, like you haven’t filled in the old paper DA form, scanned it and up loaded it (I thought the form was online).

    It’s a good idea implemented by the computer says no people.