Cessnock City Council's successful shift to e-Planning has been recognised with two state awards in as many months.
The council moved all development applications and associated certificates online through the NSW Planning Portal from January 1 this year, becoming the first council in NSW to directly link its internal planning systems with the portal.
It has seen a dramatic reduction in DA processing times since - from 80 days in March 2019 to 38 days in March 2020.
Council's general manager, Lotta Jackson said the benefits of this transformation have made planning easier, more accessible and reduced assessment times for the applicant.
"We were the first council in NSW to achieve a direct link between our internal planning systems and the NSW Planning Portal, which is a fantastic achievement and something our team should be very proud of," Ms Jackson said.
The benefits of ePlanning have been highlighted during the COVID-19 crisis, allowing applications to be lodged and processed with minimal disruption and negating the need for physical visits to the council building.
In an online awards presentation held on Thursday as part of Local Government Week, Cessnock council won the LGNSW Planning Award under Culture Change Innovation and Excellence for its ePlanning transformation.
This followed its win in the Service Delivery Initiative category at the Local Government NSW Excellence Awards in July.
Council's journey to ePlanning started in 2014, when it asked stakeholders if they were interested in pursuing an online lodgement tool, and 77 percent of respondents expressed their interest.
It immediately began exploring the path to digitisation, and in July 2019 undertook a trial of the NSW Planning Portal with key stakeholders, allowing development applications to be lodged electronically.
Cessnock's ePlanning program went live on January 1, 2020, mandating all applications associated with development to be lodged online via the portal.
From July 1, 48 councils in Sydney, Newcastle, the Central Coast, Illawarra and regional NSW have been required to start accepting and processing DAs, complying development certificates and post-consent certificates via the portal.
After a transition period, ePlanning will become mandatory in these areas from December 31.
Minister for Customer Service, Victor Dominello said ePlanning is a "game changer".
"It takes the hassle out of DAs, by enabling homeowners to lodge them online in the comfort of their home," he said.
"Gone are the days of needing to fill in piles of paperwork and waste time visiting a council building.
"We've made this process as simple and transparent as possible.
"I commend Cessnock Council for getting on board and putting their customers first."