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Can AI revolutionise NSW’s planning pathway?

By Juliet Helmke
09 July 2024 | 12 minute read
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The NSW government’s plan to use AI to speed up development approvals has entered the trial phase.

Sixteen councils across the state will take up new technologies intended to accelerate development assessment time frames, as the first move to introduce artificial intelligence (AI) into the planning system.

Part of a $5.6 million investment into technology tailored to expedite development, the councils that will take part in the trial all applied for grants under the state’s early adopter program. Now, they will be the first to test out different systems to improve the quality and accuracy of information when a development application is lodged.

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With councils responsible for assessing roughly 85 per cent of all residential development applications, and building industry advocates often calling out long approval processes as a factor that’s stymying development, the state noted that creating efficiencies in the assessment process is integral to addressing its property supply woes.

The current systems being trialled are specifically targeted at spotting typical friction points early in the application pipeline.

Citing duplications, mistakes and missing information as common occurrences in development applications, the state said that it was aiming to use AI to identify and resolve these types of mistakes “before a development application even arrives on a planner’s desk”.

A recent example showcases how common development application mistakes actually are – and the savings that could be achieved in minimising them.

Minister for Planning and Public Spaces, Paul Scully, reported that of the nearly 500 applications accepted into the Regional Housing Flying Squad Program in the past year, additional information was required for around 30 per cent, while applicants needed an average of 42 days to respond with the information.

“The combined savings of not having to request additional information on this relatively small group alone would be around 6,300 days – or the equivalent of 17 years. If that is applied across the nearly 60,000 applications that are submitted in NSW each year, it means a saving of hundreds of thousands of days,” the minister noted.

He framed the tech adoption as an effort to reduce accidental slowdowns that had been introduced to the planning system over years of changes.

“There is no denying that after a decade of confusing planning reforms and a challenging macroeconomic environment, that approvals have slowed down. As a government we are examining every way we can to speed up our planning system and build homes for our young people, our families, and our workers,” he said.

The councils taking part in the program will use their nominated technology for a period of 12 months before reporting on its efficacy.

The councils set to take part are:

Bayside Council
Blacktown City Council
Burwood Council
Cessnock City Council
City of Canterbury Bankstown
City of Newcastle (with co-applicants: Central Coast Council and Muswellbrook Shire Council)
Cumberland City Council
Eurobodalla Shire Council
Hawkesbury City Council
Inner West Council
Lake Macquarie City Council
Randwick City Council
Wagga Wagga City Council
Wingecarribee Shire Council

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Juliet Helmke

Based in Sydney, Juliet Helmke has a broad range of reporting and editorial experience across the areas of business, technology, entertainment and the arts. She was formerly Senior Editor at The New York Observer.

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