6 May 2013 — At SGS Economics and Planning’s “Up to the task?” forum last Thursday evening, a panel comprising ex-Lord Mayors Frank Sartor and Lucy Turnbull, SGS principal and partner Patrick Fensham and associate dean of the City Futures Research Centre Bill Randolph discussed how Sydney’s draft Metropolitan Strategy would address the city’s challenges into the future.
The draft strategy proposes 27,500 new homes to be built each year for a target of 545,000 new homes by 2031, a 17 per cent increase on the former government’s strategy. An additional 625,000 jobs are expected to be required for this growth, and the population is expected to swell by 1.3 million.
The increase in housing will happen Sydney wide, much through building up existing areas, the state government says. Changes to the planning system will be instrumental in delivering the density increases demanded by the strategy.
Mr Sartor implored NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell to show leadership on the development of Sydney, to follow through with the planning white paper and also the independent report on local government reform, which called for the voluntary amalgamation of current councils into 15 “super councils”.
“Barry, you’ve got to be bolder,” Mr Sartor said. “I want a bolder Barry.”
Mr Sartor called for local government reforms, if NSW had the willpower to do it. “There’s a real opportunity at the moment,” he said. “O’Farrell has the biggest mandate… I’d hate to see him waste it.
“Ninety nine per cent of political careers end in tears… You might as well do the right thing while you’re here and use your mandate.”
He suggested council amalgamations would improve the viability of the metropolitan Sydney plan.
“Councils have a responsibility to the broader community, not just themselves, and I think bigger councils would help.
“I think the local government reform… report is quite good. I mean, I don’t agree with all their proposals. They might maybe give Clover [Moore, Sydney Lord Mayor] half of metropolitan Sydney and then we’ll have bike paths everywhere.”
While showing appreciation for the direction of the current government, he was careful not to blame the current problems with urban planning on Labor.
“Our fundamental problems go back 50, 60, 70 years,” he said. “I think we’ve been very poor at metropolitan planning. I don’t think it’s just the last Labor government.”
“It’d be good to see the government get a mandate at the next election and at least fix the local government sector. It would be good to see them follow through with the draft white paper.”
“When you provide benefits, people are much more accepting [of development],” Mr Sartor said. “I think it’s important people don’t just see it as evil developers taking density and taking profits.”
The white paper aims for 80 per cent of development proposals to be code assessable within five years, removing community ability to express views, object or seek modifications. However, the community would be brought to the table to help write the rules for development in their local area.
However, among the forum’s majority planner audience was Corinne Fisher, whose Better Planning Network, which has more than 370 broad-based community affiliates, remains strongly opposed to the weakening of community objection proposed in the NSW government’s planning white paper.
See our recent articles on BPN:
- The NSW planning reforms spur high profile community forum and a diversity of views
- NSW planning reforms and Brad Hazzard get some ticks among the spikes
- When the community activists met the minister, the DG and their retinues
Ms Fisher advocated for more dialogue from all sides in the debate, saying community acceptance for planning reform was “crucial to this system being able to come out with the right outcomes”.
“I think we have a major problem on our hands,” she said during question time. “I’d like to call for more dialogue between of course developers and the community, but also professionals working in the field. I don’t think there’s really a good understanding of each other’s perspectives.”
Frank Sartor replied that while local communities had legitimate interests, theirs was no less selfish than the developers’ interests. “That’s why focused precinct planning with the government lending a significant hand is the way to go,” he said. “It’s about more than just the local interest.”
Lucy Turnbull added: “I can understand people are very anxious and worried about change, but the bottom line problem is that if we don’t increase the housing supply and create jobs and opportunities for people all over Sydney – if the planning system isn’t driven towards those goals – then we’ll fail our children and our grandchildren.
“Ultimately the government is charged with the task of housing affordability and economic growth, and they have to build a planning system around those objectives.”
Regional director for property consulting firm Urbis Tim Blythe told The Fifth Estate in a separate interview last week that community groups like BPN were trying to engender support at the grassroots by framing the reforms as a green light for developers. He said their strategy was based on a fair degree of scaremongering, but that their effectiveness shouldn’t be underestimated.
“From an industry perspective it’s a threat to the full extent of reforms,” he said.
The draft metropolitan plan comes as a report from the Grattan Institute has found a divide opening in Australian cities, with gaps in incomes, qualifications, house prices and access to jobs between inner and outer suburb residents.
“Our cities have served our economy well for a long time, but there are growing signs that our housing and transport systems are not keeping pace with the needs of an ever more knowledge-intensive and skilled economy,” said Grattan Institute cities program director Jane-Frances Kelly. “If the trend continues unchecked, then many people risk being locked out of the parts of the city that offer the richest access to jobs.”
The report recommended increasing housing supply and diversity of dwellings in existing suburbs and improving transport links between cities and jobs. It warned that if current settings remained in place, Australian cities were likely to continue spreading outwards, further separating places of residence and employment, and having significant effects on productivity.
It said residents needed to be engaged in decisions about their neighbourhoods, and that disincentives for developers needed to be addressed.
Submissions on the draft metropolitan strategy for Sydney close 31 May.
Better Planning Network is holding a community planning forum on 20 May.