Panel Members

The Panel is made up of respected independent professionals with extensive expertise in a range of disciplines relevant to development assessment. Elected Councillors will no longer decide the outcome of individual development applications. A Code of Conduct governs the behaviour of Panel members. In terms of this code, at no point is a member of the public, be they an applicant, objector, supporter or resident, to contact any member of the Panel outside the Public Meeting/Site Inspection process that occurs on the day of the meeting.


Abigail Goldberg


Abigail Goldberg is lead Chair for the Willoughby Local Planning Panel. She is an accomplished, professional company chair and director with a background in infrastructure, property development and urban planning. She has held senior management positions in both the private and public sectors, including Chief Executive Officer of Metro Transport Sydney, whose investors include ASX listed groups Hastings Infrastructure Fund, Commonwealth and Colonial Banks.

Abigail’s current portfolio includes infrastructure, property, resources and tourism roles and she chairs several Audit and Risk committees, and provides board and corporate advisory services encompassing strategy, business growth, governance and oversight of large and complex public-private sector transactions. Abigail has recently completed the maximum six year term as a Commissioner for the NSW Independent Planning Commission, taking responsibility for decisions regarding major projects of state significance across the property and resources sectors in particular. She both chairs and participates in number of local and regional planning panels.

Alternate Chairs

Graham Brown

Graham Brown is a retired Commissioner and Acting Senior Commissioner of the Land and Environment Court of NSW having served three x seven-year appointments. During his time at the Court, Graham heard over 2000 appeals on a wide range of planning and related issues across NSW. He currently sits as Chair, Alternate Chair or Expert on six local planning panels and is a delegate of Northern Beaches Council on the Sydney North Regional panel.

Prior to his appointment to the Court, Graham was the Director of Planning Services at Baulkham Hills Shire Council (now The Hills Shire Council) where he oversaw the urbanisation of large parts of the local government area, including the Rouse Hill Release Area as well as subdivision, development control, building, health and waste and recycling services.

Graham has a Degree in Environmental Planning, a Graduate Diploma in Environmental Studies and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration.

He is a Fellow of the Planning Institute of Australia and a Nationally Accredited Mediator.

Jacqueline Townsend

Jacqui has over 20 years diverse legal experience in litigation, alternative dispute resolution and planning in the public and private sectors. She has lived in Sydney all of her life and cares about sustainable living. As a former elected local government representative, Jacqui understands the impact planning decisions can have on people’s lives. She spent several years in local government striving to create stronger communities with equal focus on the built, green and social infrastructure. Jacqui is a former delegate on the Joint Regional Planning Panel (East) and last term was appointed alternate chair on Ku-ring-gai and Hornsby Councils. This term Jacqui has been appointed alternate chair at Willoughby, Waverley and Hornsby Councils and a member of the expert panel at Ku-ring-gai Council.

Jacqui holds a Bachelor of Laws, Masters in Science and Environmental Law and is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors


Deb Laidlaw

Deborah Laidlaw is a Fellow of the Planning Institute of Australia with over 35 years’ experience in town planning and environmental assessment gained within local and state government and private consultancy. 

Prior to establishing Laidlaw Mason Partners Deborah was the NSW Manager of Gutteridge Haskins and Davey’s (GHD’s) environmental planning division with overall responsibility for projects including major strategic planning and infrastructure works.  She joined GHD following two years as Planning and Property Manager for Sydney Ports Corporation and prior to that was a director of Sydney based planning and design consultancy, Design Collaborative.

Deborah has extensive experience in statutory and strategic planning, including the resolution of complex land use planning and development issues involving urban design, environmental assessment/management, community consultation, asset management, infrastructure development and port/marine planning.  She also has extensive experience in the Land and Environment Court, regularly appearing as expert witness and providing professional town planning advice in conciliation processes.  She is an Inner West Council nominated member on the Sydney Eastern City Planning Panel and a member of a number of local planning panels.

Gary A Shiels

Dr Gary A Shiels is the founding Director of GSA Planning, which was established in 1988. The company has extensive experience in assessing Development Applications, preparing Planning Proposals, and a wide variety of planning activities. Gary was previously employed as the Director of Planning and Community Development at Leichhardt Council.

Gary has Masters degrees in Urban Design, City Planning and Transportation, and a PhD in Planning. Gary has held the positions of President of the Planning Institute of Australia at a NSW, National and International level, and has been recognised for his service with an honorary Life Fellowship. Gary has over 40 years of experience in the assessment of planning applications as a Local Government Planner and as a private consultant. He also has extensive experience as an expert witness in the Land and Environment Court.

James Harrison

James is a Fellow of the Planning Institute of Australia with over 35 years of professional experience in both consultancy and at the highest level of a major Metropolitan Council. A Director of Ethos Urban for the last 17 years and prior to that Director of Planning and Building at South Sydney Council for 9 years. His expertise includes managing and leading teams of professionals on a broad range of planning projects including Local Environmental Plan preparation, master plans, Major Projects under Part 3A, State Significant Development Proposals, negotiating Voluntary Planning Agreements, due diligence advice and being a town planning expert in proceedings in both the Land and Environment Court and Supreme Court on planning matters and land compensation claims.

John McInerney

John McInerney is an Architect and Town Planner with special interests in transport and heritage.  Previous positions include Councillor and Deputy Lord Mayor of the City of Sydney, National President of the Planning Institute of Australia, Manager of Planning for the City of Sydney and City of Melbourne and the ACT Commissioner for Land and Planning 1997-2004. John interests have included overhauling city planning instruments, developing his concept of “Sydney a City of Villages” and implementing an integrated transport strategy with emphasis on light rail and pedestrian/bike paths.

Julie Savet Ward

BSc (HONS), MLandPlan, FAICD

Julie has over 30 years’ experience in the planning, assessment, approval and management of property, infrastructure and natural resources projects. She has eight years’ determination experience on the Joint Regional Planning Panels and Sydney Planning Panels which determine regionally-significant projects. Julie is also a respected and experienced company director and is currently on the board of a community housing provider, planning consultancy and the NSW Environment Protection Authority.

Kara Krason

Kara Krason is an urban planner with 25 years’ experience across local government, private practice and property development. Kara established her own planning practice in 2005 and is currently also employed as Manager of Planning and Design at the University of Technology Sydney. Kara is a current NSW Government State appointed member for the Hunter and Central Coast Joint Regional Planning Panel, Alternate Chair Lane Cove Independent Hearing and Assessment Panel and Expert Member of Randwick Development Assessment Panel.

Trevor Bly

Trevor A Bly is a conciliator, mediator and a town planner with extensive planning experience.  He has qualifications in architecture, town planning, law and mediation. He is a Fellow of the Planning Institute of Australia. Trevor has some 20 years local and state government professional experience in Victoria and New South Wales before serving as a Commissioner of the Land and Environment Court of NSW for almost 20 years. More recently he has been a member (and occasional chairman) of a planning panel and a regional planning panel. In addition to being a member of the Willoughby Local Planning Panel he is also a member of the Burwood Local Planning Panel.

Community Representatives

Philippa Hayes

Philippa has a Bachelor of Science Architecture and a Masters of Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Sydney and has spent over 18-years working in Australia and overseas in development assessment, environmental planning and strategic planning.  Philippa has been a resident of Willoughby City Council for the last 15 years and has had three children attend schools in the area. During this time, she has formed many strong relationships with local business owners and other Willoughby City families and has developed a deep connection to the area.  In her current employment as the Senior Strategic Planner at Hunter’s Hill Council, Philippa stays informed of the changes to state planning legislation relevant to development assessment and is aware of the issues of population growth, aging infrastructure, traffic congestion and environmental protection facing all northern district councils.

Rob Freestone

Robert Freestone RPIA (Fellow) is Professor of Planning in the Faculty of Built Environment at the University of New South Wales where he was Head of the Planning Program 2001-04 and Associate Dean Research 2013-17. He holds a PhD in urban studies from Macquarie University (1985). He is one of Australia’s leading planning researchers and his most recent book is Planning Metropolitan Australia (2018, with Stephen Hamnett). Before joining UNSW he worked at several other universities including Melbourne and ANU. From 1986-91 he worked as a planning consultant with Design Collaborative in Sydney and has also worked for the NSW Department of Planning (1991) and the NSW Department of Main Roads (1976). He is a Fellow of the Planning Institute of Australia, Institute of Australian Geographers, and the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia. He has been a Naremburn resident since 1987.

Linda Tully

Linda’s professional background is in marketing and human resources. She has joined the Planning Panel as a Community Representative, having lived in Willoughby for over 30 years.

Linda has been committed to community improvement both as a resident and as President, Willoughby South Progress Association. During her tenure at WSPA, she was closely involved with many local issues concerning our community and has sound knowledge of Willoughby Council’s planning controls, future growth strategies and the NSW State Government’s planning legislation.