The NSW Planning Department has been forced to conduct an urgent review of all recent development approvals handed to building giant Walker Corp, after its recently departed secretary walked straight into a senior role with the company.
Michael Cassel took up the job with the property developer just months after leaving his role as Secretary of the NSW Planning Department in May.
He was one of a number of secretaries to depart after Labor was elected in March.
The move has prompted an urgent review of Cassel’s involvement in key planning decisions, including the fast-tracked rezoning of a controversial Walker Corp development set to see some 13,000 new homes built at Appin on Sydney’s western fringe.
The move, so soon after his departure from the public service, has left senior figures in the Minns government as well as the Department of Planning bemused.
Before departing as secretary, Cassel was given standard advice about the responsibility to avoid any disclosure of confidential information gained in the role. But Planning Minister Paul Scully has now ordered a review of Cassel’s involvement in the company’s development approvals.
“While I have been assured all appropriate processes were followed in relation to Walker Corp projects, I have asked the secretary of the department to take steps to satisfy herself that all probity and conflicts of interest requirements were met,” he said in a statement.
The Department of Planning did not respond to a request for comment about Cassel’s involvement in approving Walker Corp developments. The audit is to be led by his replacement, Kiersten Fishburn.
The Appin rezoning decision was made last November under a pilot program introduced by the former Coalition Planning Minister Anthony Roberts, which allowed developers to nominate projects for more streamlined approval. It went ahead despite opposition from the local Wollondilly council due to concerns about a lack of detail on infrastructure and protection of koalas.
At the time, the Department of Planning said the approval had been made by Cassel as department secretary.
The Herald is not suggesting the decision to approve the rezoning was made improperly.
The rezoned land, 93 per cent of which is owned by Walker Corp, was given development approval by Scully in July.
Cassel and Walker Corp did not respond to a request for comment.
Cassel was paid $623,000 per year as the state’s secretary of planning after being head-hunted by Roberts in December 2021.
The Department of Premier and Cabinet acting secretary Peter Duncan said in May that Cassel had taken “a period of leave” before his departure.
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