THE man in charge of spending $7 billion of federal stimulus funds says the program has been so successful his office should take over most of the state’s major planning decisions.The infrastructure co-ordinator-general and chairman of the NSW National Building and Jobs Plan Taskforce, Bob Leece, says he will lodge a submission to a planning inquiry set up by the Premier, Kristina Keneally, last month arguing his office is well placed to handle big decisions because it is ”not political”.Mr Leece, the former No. 2 in the Olympic construction authority, said he had already met the inquiry head, Neil Shepherd, who he said was impressed with the speed at which public housing was being built and money spent on schools.Mr Leece’s office was granted extraordinary powers to bypass planning laws and speed up the spending of federal funds and, despite some ”grumbling”, he saw no reason why such powers could not remain in force permanently.”The planning approvals and the achievements we have made have been very good and I would like it extended to other areas of activity … it could be extended into many areas across the state,” he said.His office had allowed public consultation and the assessment to be done in parallel, speeding the process.”For instance, I have approved two things … that local councils could not have approved: one is the car park at Cabramatta station … and the other is sporting fields in Mudgee. Those councils recognise they could never have got them approved because of local politics so they came to the ICG for approval.”Mr Leece said his office should handle ”everything under part 3A” of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act: projects of state significance such as large housing, commercial or industrial developments now approved by the Planning Minister.He also argued he could assess smaller projects valued at more than $10 million and said ”there’s potential to lower that threshold”, although it would not include single houses.His push to extend his powers drew a furious response from the head of the Local Government Association and North Sydney mayor, Genia McCaffery, who said consultation by the office was a joke.She said local government was losing control over planning, and communities were understandably frustrated by their lack of influence. ”He reckons he’s consulted by telling people two days before the development is going to happen,” she said. ”I don’t call that consultation … Sometimes communities are consulted and sometimes not. It’s whatever they feel like doing.”She said the Shepherd inquiry was ”a rubber stamp” and she would not be surprised if Mr Leece got his way.”The community should be very fearful. It’s carte blanche for developers. Our experience of the government is it is all about giving the big end of town what they want.”
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