Frank Sartor, left; Lucy Turnbull; Patrick Fensham

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”.

Bill Randolph

“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.”

Question time: Corinne Fisher on BPN matters

“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:

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.

The discussion continues after the forum. Corinne Fisher, centre with Lucy Turnbull

“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.

7 replies on “Frank Sartor: We need a bolder Barry”

  1. Whilst I accept that NSW requires a substantial increase in housing I do not believe that this should mean rampant development regardless of its impact on the natural and urban environments.
    The rights to a fair go to existing communities and residents should not be trashed on the altar of increased profits for developers.
    The O’Farrell Government’s attitude to public consutation has been demonstrated by its reaction to the recommendations of the Planning Review Commissioners. Recommendations which were not favourable to developers (such as third-party appeal rights) were omitted from both the Green and White Papers.
    Further, community participation is denied after the strategy for an area has been decided. However developers have access to “variation certificates” to submit development proposals not compliant to the area strategy. Then if either the council assessor or independent panel refuse the variation the developer can access a new low-cost avenue of appeal to the Land and Environment Court.
    However the community or impacted residents have the same right of appeal if the development is a barbecue or a multi-storey residential flat building ie. THEY HAVE NO RIGHT OF APPEAL.
    The new planning system is designed to maintain all the rights of developers to influence councils to achieve favourable outcomes. Councils will maintain their right to not being accountable if their decisions are to ignore the recommendations of Independent Review Panels or to approve developments which do not comply with the agreed planning protocols. The new planning system thereby intends to conceal from public scrutiny the inept or corrupt practices by councils exercised under the previous planning regime.
    It also condones developers being able to sidestep the parameters agreed to at community consutations whilst at the same time denying communities to right to comment on, or object to, the developers actions. This is democracy “Hazzard Style”.

  2. The problem with NSW Planning is summed up so well by Kristen -with vested interests directing the planning for their own benefit coupled with the systemic incompetency within the Department of Planning.

    It is no wonder the public have lost complete faith in the O’Farrell government and the planning system in NSW!

    We have seen through the ICAC Obeid enquiry how entrenched the state government is in listening to vested interests and doing deals for mates. The O’Farrell government is showing it is no different. You only have to see who is involved in pushing their new planning system to get a real feel for who they are delivering this Plan for – certainly not the Mums and Dads and families who are most most by the planning system.

    The White Paper needs to be re written to reflect the consultation that Moore and Dyer conducted – whitewashed by the O’Farrell government in favour of the developers model!

    We do not need a bolder Barry – we need an honest Barry – who holds to his election commitment – to hand back planning to the community.

  3. 1.3 million more people when we can’t provide the infrastructure for the present population? Why not have a stable population and let the developers do something useful for a change

  4. How is the public supposed to trust the consultation process when Minister Hazzard ignored recommendations by Dyer & Moore and removed ecological sustainability from the Green & White papers?

    Why was it removed for people to comment on? Seems a bit sinister to me.

    “We will give planning powers back to the community.”
    (Barry O’Farrell, Contract with NSW, March 2011)

    Seem to be going the wrong way about it!

  5. It is quite clear from this discussion that the old model of the CBD being the centre of all business and high paying jobs, with workers commuting cannot work for a population exceeding a given amount.

    Clearly tax and other incentives have to be created to cause managing directors to see their prestige and income is not dependent on their company being located in the CBD. What purpose is served by the managing director of Westpac being in the city other than personal gratification.

    Once you change that then you change the demand for housing forever. The NBN will finally rid the constraint that Telstra’s STD system placed on movement from the SMA.

    It is all very well to cram another 27,000 families into the North Shore. But in the end it simply results in chaos in rail and roads if the basic problem is not addressed.

    There are powerful interests with huge investments in the CBD and that is the real issue. Why should I pay to maintain the value of their assets.

  6. Thanks Krister. It’s refreshing to hear a planner daring to say it like it is.

  7. It is an interesting line up of people to comment upon this important matter. Obviously it was hosted by a commercial consultancy, hence their participation on the panel.

    But, as an experienced planner/designer from Europe, I can say in comparing European and Asian cities that have a strong and robust economy and their city or regional plans, that the Sydney plan is weak, wishy-washy, full of motherhood statements, and from the information in public arena, not backed-up by credible evidentiary research, and long term consistent research at that.

    From my experience of the university concerned [represented by a speaker at the event] and their output in the urban field, I can only conclude that the university concerned does not do good evidentiary long term urban research that could support good planning in either Sydney or NSW. This is a significant issue, compared to international universities and their specialist research departments.

    The Government only commissions piecemeal research. The Universities only do piecemeal research, and consultants only do what interests them on the occasion, and when commissioned. No-one is looking at Sydney and its social, economic, environment and physical patterns in the long term. Obviously, the lights are on in Sydney, and no one is home.

    The answers to questions that the panel would have been discussing would have been in any long term work that many other cities do as an every day occurrence.

    Equally, if the Department Of Planning and Infrastructure (aka DOPEY as most planners in Sydney call them), had done a proper job with the preparation for the Metropolitan Strategy, then they would have identified what worked in the last Metro Strategy, and what did not, and then built upon the good work, and worked out how to make what did not work better. They have not done this. This is standard, you know, basic planning practice in good, first world planning systems.

    Every Metropolitan Strategy chops and changes which centres are important, and which transport routes are considered for the long term. This is not consistent long term planning. Nor does the Plan actually understand how the pieces of critical infrastructure that make Sydney work creates the important places of Sydney.

    Some of the so-called “Urban Activation Precincts” make no sense from any basic planning premise, only the fact that there is a large landholding by a big developer (should I say former-donor?). Equally some of the locations are obviously locations where there is some investment in public transport, but these locations are not the critical locations that could have flow on effects across the region.

    The problem is not more houses. The problem is not local government. The problem is an incompetent Department of Planning who cannot even do good basic planning. The problem is also a State Government who is always willing to cost-shift to local government, add more responsibilities to local government, and then when local government is overwhelmed, and does not have the ability to meet everything that has been thrown at them, the state government then blames local government, and shifts the chairs on the titanic as a response. That also is an incompetent response. Like with the metropolitan strategy, what is working should be clearly identified, and what the issues are, and then, the best range of responses to address the issues then outlined. That is what we should be looking at in the so called Sansom Review, but we are not.

    As for the Planning Act?

    It is more of the same. Where is the work that clearly identifies what is working in the present Act , and what the issues are, and then, the best range of responses to address the issues being outlined?

    Can you see a pattern here? I can. And it is clear that those so-called experts, political and otherwise have no idea from their responses.

    As for that Tim Blythe of Urbis, it is clear which side of his bread is buttered. $$$$ from developers for work. Having heard him and another director address events, they also have no idea. Thus I think they are ones scare-mongering everyone into this poorly thought-out new approach that reeks of bad planning, and I would go as far as to say third world planning, but that is hard on the third world countries that actually do try very hard, much harder than Sydney and NSW.

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