Cessnock council has the power

PLANNING powers will be returned to Cessnock City Council tomorrow after the state government announced it will scrap the council's planning panel which was appointed in August 2010.

Planning and Infrastructure Minister Brad Hazzard said yesterday that the government was disbanding three panels established by the former Labor government at Ku-ring-gai, Wagga Wagga and Cessnock.

Mr Hazzard said the government promised to ensure a new focus by returning local planning powers to communities through their councils.

Cessnock council was stripped of its authority to determine major development applications after former planning minister Tony Kelly appointed a three-person planning panel to assess projects with a value of more than $1 million.

The move came three months after Mr Kelly wrote to the troubled council demanding it show cause why its planning powers should not be removed after he revealed it was the most complained about council in NSW with a history of delays in dealing with rezonings and development applications.

The panel was costing the council $120,000 a year to pay its members, Tim Rogers, Alison McCabe and Vince Berkhout.

" . . . I have carefully considered whether there is any justification for continuing Labor's denial of democracy and I am satisfied that the council has made efforts to improve its organisational structure and committed itself to a better planning performance," Mr Hazzard said.

Greens councillor James Ryan said the planning panel was the result of political game playing by the Labor Party which was trying to speed up development.

"When they found the panel actually slowed down development they weren't so pleased," he said.

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