Corinne Fisher

13 February 2013 — [Comments open below] There is no way reforms to NSW planning, will be a smooth process, reports  Donna Kelly.

In just five months, the Better Planning Network has attracted more than 250 groups concerned with the NSW Government’s Green Paper and planning review.

Organiser Corinne Fisher said the organisation was founded in August last year with just 20 community groups on-board.

Ms Fisher said she was “really taken aback” by the growth of the network but that it proved the concerns were widespread.

And they’re not just greenies, she said. Members include Royal Australian Historical Society and many progress and residents associations across NSW.

“They’re fairly mainstream community groups,” Ms Fisher said, rejecting a response to network’s claims by Chris Johnson, chief executive officer of the NSW Urban Taskforce, who said most of the members were focused on ecological concerns.

“We are looking for a fair NSW planning scheme but an independent survey has found 78 per cent of industry professionals, feel that the Green Paper favours developers,” she said.

“It needs to be fair to developers and to the communities.

“Community wellbeing should be at the centre of planning. And good outcomes for the environment and heritage should be at the forefront.

“This isn’t the case.”

Ms Fisher, an environmental education consultant,  said the current Green Paper, as it stands, would lead to the most significant decrease in community rights in 30 years.

Ms Fisher said the Better Planning Network’s main concerns regarding the planning reforms were:

  • The proposal to limit community engagement at the early strategic planning phase and remove residents and communities’ rights of comment and appeal on specific developments in their neighborhood.
  • The proposal to establish “enterprise zones” across entire Local Government Areas, with few or any planning controls
  • The omission of Ecologically Sustainable Development as the overall driver of the NSW Planning System
  • The lack of recognition for the value of residential amenity, such as good building design, open space, parks and urban bush land
  • The removal of environmental protection mechanisms such as State Environmental Planning Policies, and their replacement with non-statutory instruments
  • The omission of any reference to heritage protection
  • The overall emphasis on the need to fast-track development across NSW, at the cost of our communities’ wellbeing.

Since its establishment in August, the organisation had used its resources to educate community groups, meet with 45 MPs, used social media to drive its campaign, created a media presence and driven action at a local level with groups encouraged to hold their own meetings on the issue, she said.

“There is a rush (by the NSW Government to increase the number of developments to stimulate the economy but there is a huge risk to communities.

“And in the beginning a lot of people thought they were alone in this, but we are now coordinated.”

Ms Fisher, who is president of the Lane Cove Bushland and Conversation Society, said her own involvement came after attending a Green Paper presentation from which she “came away shocked”.

“I was in major shock. This was a major attack on people’s rights,” she said.

“I woke up the next day and just thought I have to do something.

“I called a meeting in August and the incredible commitment of people has been amazing.”

Ms Fisher said while it was in her nature to be pessimistic she chose to be optimistic about the outcomes of the involvement of the Better Planning Network.

“You have to be optimistic,” she said. “Someone told me you will never really know the impact you are really making.

“It has been incredibly heartening to see the passion, it’s real grass roots.

Kelly’s Bush, the 1970s protest to stop development of parkland at Hunters Hill in Sydney, credited as starting the green bans movement in Sydney

Strategic say, or not?

Ms Fisher said it’s all very well for developers to say that the community gets a say at the strategic level.

“The developers say, ‘what’s the problem?. The community is going to have a say’. But the assumption is that the community will engage at the strategic level.

“But we know that people don’t engage in planning until there’s a development next door.

“They’re saying look at Vancouver [where a similar system to that which is proposed by the NSW Government is in operation] but Vancouver has a third of its planning budget devoted to community engagement – a huge amount.

“Now we know that NSW don’t have these resources and we’ve been told by officers of the department that these are not the kind of resources they’re looking at. And they’re telling us that they don’t have the answer.”

Asked how the government would, in fact, engage the community, Department of Planning officials have openly said they do not know,  Fisher said.

“Now in the face of all these facts we’re very concerned that they are removing the right to comment on development.”

Crafty wording

Ms Fisher said the wording in the Green Paper is “crafty”.

“If you look at the Green paper, of course it doesn’t say we’re removing the right of the community to comment. It’s worded in a crafty way, saying that it will ‘expand the scope of the code complying development’.”

In other words, for now extensions and renovations fall under “code complying” development, which means they do not require specific and individual approval if they meet the guidelines.

“This will be expanded to proposed new industrial buildings, extensions to commercial buildings and entire new house and villas and townhouse developments. They will be automatically approved in 10 days. Which means there will definitely not be room for comment. And maybe there won’t be any notification at all.

“This is not a system that encourages good development. It’s true there are problems with the current system but it doesn’t mean you throw the baby out with the bathwater. There are lots of options.”

What these groups want was totally achievable, Ms Fisher said.  “We don’t want anything unreasonable.”

The NSW Government released “A New Planning System for New South Wales – Green Paper” on 14 July 2012.  The Green Paper Feedback Summary, with more than 1200 submissions, was released in December 2012.

A White Paper is due out this year.

Written Green Paper submissions are listed here.

Meanwhile, BPN will hold an MP-hosted community forum on the White Paper in the NSW Parliament Theatrette on 22 April  2013 from 10am to 3pm. It will be facilitated by Quentin Dempster.

See our story Survey finds industry professionals concerned over NSW Green Paper

– With Tina Perinotto

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  1. Here in Darlington we are suffering from what can only be called vandalism by the University of Sydney, wiping out half a suburb (300 houses) and hundreds of trees and a beautiful little park with grand old tress to build a huge eight story business school for 2500 students and staff in front of our 19th century terraces. Representation by residents to NSW Planning has had very little effect. Community consultation is a joke: you can say what you want but no notice is taken of it. The decision is without recourse. We were completely outgunned by a powerful and ruthless neighbour and an unsympathetic Planning Department. The tree-lined landscape has been replace by concrete, and half of Darlington has been destroyed. I am glad to have discovered the Better Planning Network thanks to a chance meeting with Mrs Corinne Fisher. There is still hope for other suburbs even if it is too late for us. Looking forward to hear more about it.

  2. It’s a stealthy erosion of ALL environmental controls and will not only take us back to the anarchic days before the E.P. and A. Act, but in doing so, will undermine community input, heritage management and Urban Design.

  3. It is quite remarkable that the Govt is even considering to undo environmental & local development controls when it comes to planning.

    Sure some of the red-tape may need to be cut away; however basic community concerns & environmental impacts must still be assessed. – And it is these that seems to be under the greatest threat.

  4. The people of NSW are now well aware of the NSW Government interpretation of the expression “have your say” i.e. it appears to the community that it is meaningless. As evidenced e.g. in North Ryde where despite community outrage the NSW Government is pushing ahead with a proposal for the North Ryde Station business park of 20 residential towers ranging from 20 to 33 storeys to cast shadows across Epping Road to the low density village of North Ryde. This was “kept secret” from the community. The Green Paper was also perhaps the “best kept secret” of the NSW Government in that the community was not notified of its release through their council rate notices or media promotion. Thus the Better Planning Network grassroots movement was formed and is expanding across NSW now due to community awareness of impending loss of their rights to retain their amenity, environment, and heritage. The Dept. of Planning & Infrastructure issues the licences for csg extraction and long wall coal mining beneath their homes and properties for which they have no say at all.

    What happened to Mr O’Farrell’s promise prior to the election where he assured and promised that planning would be handed back to the community? Clearly this has not happened, and it is a breach of faith to the voters of NSW.

  5. I agree with Ms Fisher’s comments. In my experience, community generally has difficulty in understanding strategic planning. Most councils would agree that local knowledge and input have been valuable over time in establishing better, workable outcomes for communities. People definitely prefer to look at actual plans and usually only when developments directly impact on them. To remove this essential democratic right would not only be counterproductive for communities, it would be a travesty of natural justice.
    The next issue is that developments should be assessed in a broader context in terms of impacts such as parking capacity, increased traffic, safety, suitability in relation to character, amenity and environment and also capacity of infrastructure to support positive outcomes.
    Development for developments sake should not be the driver. Throughout their life cycles, people require different types of housing, eg homes with backyards for children to safely play. To assume high rise units will solve all problems is a nonsense.
    It is hugely concerning that the NSW Government and Department of Planning and Infrastructure have so obviously chosen to favour the interests of developers.
    Surely the focus should be on long term viability of communities!