Proposed changes could mean less red tape when setting up a data centre in NSW

Lengthy planning approvals for establishing data centres in NSW could be a thing of the past.

Under a suite of proposed reforms to planning rules and complying development put forward by the New South Wales government, it may soon be easier and faster to set up a data centre in the state.

The NSW government has recommended that changes be made to state environmental planning codes. Some of these changes include allowing data centres to be set up as a complying development subject to strict conditions and introducing a design guide for specific developments, like data centres.

"Each data centre development directly contributes as much as AU$1 billion in construction and fit-out costs to the NSW economy and forms critical infrastructure for the information technology sector," the state government outlined in its Explanation of Intended Effect (EIE) [PDF].

"The need for data centres has been growing since the invention of the internet … the COVID-19 pandemic has sped up this demand … the department and councils, have seen a rise in the number of data centre development applications, particularly using the regional development or state significant development pathways, which can be a lengthy and expensive process.

"The department is proposing to make changes to State Environmental Planning Policy (Exempt and Complying Development Codes) 2008 (Codes SEPP) to facilitate more growth and development of data centres and promote economic recovery through a streamlined approval process."

See also: NSW government looks 'beyond digital' as part of its customer and digital strategy      

Other proposed policy changes include making it easier for businesses to reconfigure their parking lots to set up drive through "click and collect" bays and areas for no-contact pick up; reducing duplication and simplifying planning documents needed to set up or change business uses; allowing businesses to operate from 7am to 10pm in business zones or 24 hours in industrial zones regardless of their consent conditions; and allowing new uses to be set up such as function centres, medical facilities, food and drink venues without the need for a development application

Minister for Planning and Public Spaces Rob Stokes said the pandemic was the catalyst behind the proposal, touting it would deliver up to AU$4.8 billion annually in economic benefit.

"Complying development saves businesses time by removing the need for lengthy planning approvals for development where the impacts can be managed by meeting the rules set out in the policy," he said.

"These proposed changes will make it easier for businesses in industrial and business zones to set up new premises, change or add additional uses, build and renovate and operate longer hours without the need for a development application."

The state government is now seeking public feedback on its EIE until 9 May.

In other planning news, AU$4.8 million in grant funding will be made available to help regional councils in NSW adopt digital planning platforms.

A total of 95 regional councils and the Lord Howe Board will be given the chance to apply for a grant of AU$50,000, which they can use towards acquiring new or upgrading existing IT systems, software, and infrastructure to transition to the e-planning portal.

"We've listened to regional councils who need some support implementing the e-planning platform which will ultimately make for a more simplified and transparent planning system right across the state," Minister for Local Government Shelley Hancock said.

"Some regional councils are still completely paper-based, while others would like to provide better support for residents who may have limited digital literacy or access to the internet. This grant program was designed to help out in these situations."

Meanwhile, the state's digital licence program has now been extended to include trade licences. The first cab off the rank will be the white card -- which permits cardholders to undertake construction work in NSW -- followed by other categories, including home building industry contractors, supervisors and tradesmen, and high-risk work licences. 

Read: Service NSW reveals 738GB of customer data was stolen during email breach

Digital licences are available through the Service NSW app, and is used as an alternative to physical licences.

"Currently tradies are required to carry anywhere up to 15 plastic licence cards with them on the job. It's an outdated system that is costing tradies time and money," Minister for Better Regulation and Innovation Kevin Anderson said.

"Under these changes tradies will finally be able to say goodbye to the plastic licences clogging up their wallets and have quick and easy access to all the work licences they need on their smartphones." 

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