Coffs Harbour City Council’s early adoption and use of the NSW Planning Portal for development applications (DAs) has paid dividends during the pandemic and been highlighted for praise by the NSW Government.
“With more than 77,600 residents, we’re one of the larger regional councils in NSW and process around 1,160 DAs each year,” said Kellie Lee, Council’s Team Leader Information Management.
“In 2015, we adopted a ‘digital first’ approach that aims to ensure that, where possible, we use online options to provide customer services. This was one of the reasons we became an early adopter of the NSW Planning Portal – a tool that allows DAs to be lodged digitally – in April 2019.
“We also collaborated with local planning consultants who helped us refine, develop and test the NSW Planning Portal.”
Ms Lee said the Planning Portal has been a good fit for Coffs Harbour City Council and has helped cut average DA processing times from 67 to 46 days, made planning simpler and provided more transparency for applicants and the community.
“The Portal provides a digital space that not only allows our customers to submit applications at anytime from anywhere – but has resulted in improved back-office processes and operational efficiencies for our organisation.
“The overall planning framework is not always something that’s easily understood – but the Portal is a good step forward in achieving a better understanding as it brings our customers, industry partners and tiers of government together in a collaborative space.”
The Portal has really come into its own during the COVID-19 pandemic. In April 2020, when safety concerns around COVID-19 spread to Regional NSW, Council’s Customer Service Centre was closed for two months as a precautionary measure.
“But thanks to the Portal, customers could still safely submit their DAs online with minimal impact on the time it took,” added Ms Lee. “The Portal also helped keep local construction projects happening during the most recent outbreak of the Delta variant.”
Council has also maintained a more personal service for the DA applicants it affectionately calls the ‘Mum and Dad applicants’.
“We know we have a very small number of customers that are unfamiliar with online platforms, so we provided an appointment system during the early days for people who needed support in using the Portal.
“Customer Service staff helped users create accounts, complete online applications and scan and upload supporting documents.
“A key factor in our success was the effort invested by staff to take a collaborative approach with all our stakeholders, including the NSW Planning Portal Support team, other councils and our customers.”