26 September 2023

Audit finds planning portal poorly planned

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A performance audit into the Department of Planning and Environment’s (DPE) delivery of the NSW planning portal has found that while the portal has achieved its objectives, shortcomings in DPE’s initial planning and management led to times and costs overrun.

In her report NSW planning portal, Auditor-General Margaret Crawford said that since 2013 the planning portal, delivered through DPE’s ePlanning program, progressively achieved its objectives to provide citizens with access to consolidated planning information and allow them to prepare and submit development applications online.

“Shortcomings in the Department’s initial planning and management of the program led to a significant time overrun,” Ms Crawford said.

“It has taken the Department longer and cost significantly more to implement the portal than first anticipated,” she said.

“In recent years the Department has improved the planning, implementation and governance of the ePlanning program, resulting in improved delivery of the portal’s core functions.”

Ms Crawford said the Department now had a clear view of the scope necessary to finalise the program, but had not yet published the services it planned to implement in 2022 and 2023.

She said that in November 2019, use of the portal for all development applications was mandated, which changed the program’s strategic risk environment and required DPE to work more closely with a cohort of stakeholders, “many of whom did not want to adopt the portal.”

“Despite this change, the Department kept its overall delivery approach the same,” she said.

Ms Crawford said the current version of the portal had given DPE more timely and comprehensive planning information and had helped the State to provide continuous planning services during COVID-19 lockdowns, which interrupted many other public functions.

“The portal has also delivered financial benefits, however the Department has not independently assured benefits calculations carried out by its consultant, and the reported benefits are overstated,” she said.

Ms Crawford made three recommendations to DPE, that it publish a roadmap of the services it expected to release on the portal across 2022 and 2023; that it update its ePlanning program assumptions; and that it independently assure and report publicly the correct calculation of ePlanning program benefits.

Responding to the audit, Secretary of DPE, Mick Cassel said the Department was already working to implement all three recommendations.

The Auditor-General’s 34-page Report can be accessed at this PS News link and DPE’s two-page response at this link.

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