Matthew Pullinger

20 February 2013 — The Australian Institute of Architects welcomes the changes proposed in the NSW Government’s planning Green Paper released last July. These changes are in line with the focus on strategic planning that the Institute has been advocating for some years.

The Government has recognised that a fundamental shift in planning culture is required, not just a change in the planning legislation or the planning system. The new system will also be a major change in how design and development will operate in New South Wales.

The Institute considers that complying projects involving architects should be given the highest priority in the new system. This will be a logical extension of the use of architects for SEPP65 projects, which has improved the design quality and amenity of apartment buildings across the state.

The shift in focus from development assessment to strategic planning will require skilled people who can apply design thinking at the strategic scale of the city and the sub-region. The Australian Institute of Architects and the Planning Institute of Australia are keen to work together to produce a generation of architects and planners with these skills. A proposal to conduct a training needs analysis to define and develop these skills is being discussed with the universities.

The Institute welcomes the introduction of a more streamlined system for approving projects which comply with development controls and standards. The Green Paper emphasises the importance of deciding these controls and standards with close community involvement through a strategic design and planning process.

We need to encourage community input at the front end of the development process – the plan making – and away from the back end – the project approvals – where currently so much time and effort are focused and much conflict occurs. Architects, their clients and our communities will all benefit from clearer expectations for development. This will lead to fewer objections when design proposals match these expectations.

Funding, resources and time will be needed to successfully make the transition from the present planning system to the new one. These transitional arrangements will be critical to the new scheme’s success.

The Institute considers that the Government Architect should have a key role in the new system, particularly as a member of the proposed Chief Executive Officers Group, and in assessing contestable public infrastructure. The Government needs to plan for greater density within the existing Sydney metropolitan area without increasing the planned urban footprint for low density urban sprawl.

Through the new planning legislation New South Wales has the opportunity to demonstrate leadership with a design policy that will improve the state’s economic competitiveness and its reputation for good design.

The Government can build on the great success of the decade-old SEPP65 provisions.

Matthew Pullinger is the New South Wales president of the Australian Institute of Architects.

15 replies on “Letter: Architects defend NSW planning reforms”

  1. It would be nice to believe the architect provides an opportunity to enhance the design for the human benefit but too often the human factor is sacrificed for profit and/or the ego of the designer and client.

    High rise development offers a small urban footprint in terms of land occupied but increases traffic and living stress. It also denies people, especially families, access to ground space for gardening, recreation and bonding with the landscape.

    There is a tendency to treat humans as commodities. Particularly high rise residential development where over development exploits the financially disadvantaged and benefits the elite and greedy.

  2. If they were not cremating Col James on 2 March, he would be rolling in his grave. His obituary in Saturdays SMH quotes Aldo Van Eyck and Jacob Bakema complaints that architects had sold out to the rich and ignored the bulk of society living in derelict and poor housing. ”Turn on the lights,” Van Eyck said. ”Regard the anonymous clients,” Bakema said. Words that Col took to hart in making housing a verb.

    Seeing the Australian Institute of Architects I was reminded of of Col’s Obit and want to suggest that Jacob Bakema’s quote shoulkd be modifies to read – regard the anonymous clients and the anonymous neighboours.

    The planning system needs to work for developers, architects, the inhabitants of a development and the people who live arround it. The proposed system seems to leave out the last two groups and needs to be reconsidered.

    Geoff Turnbull
    REDWatch

    Read more: https://www.smh.com.au/national/obituaries/giant-architect-built-for-justice-20130222-2ewqq.html#ixzz2LrRERWq8

  3. It seems a naive approach to think removing many planning controls will improve the lot for architects. Fewer controls will mean that there will be less need for the expertise of architects. As Bruce Lay points out it “promotes mediocrity for the fast buck”. Our environment and our heritage need protection. Dumbing down the NSW planning controls as proposed would place our environment and our heritage at serious risk.

  4. Fair go Matthew, the above article is a cynical attempt to sugar coat the awful truth about the new planning reforms being proposed for NSW.

    The reality is that the proposed reforms are all about expediting the flow of cash from unsuspecting home buyers and investors to developers and architects at the expense of the community’s quality of life and the environment. While this will generate short term profits for a few architects and developers in the long term we will all suffer with poor quality, overpriced, high carbon footprint housing, a degraded environment and a degraded quality of life. This in turn will make NSW an unappealing place to live in and invest in and therefore hinder the state’s long term economic prospects.

    Removing community involvement from the back end as you support will mean that residents have no right to comment on development proposals even when these are next door. The removal of this democratic right will give architects and developers open license to destroy the amenity/value of neighbouring properties in pursuit of short term profits for a few. Often the community invovlement at the project approval phase results in better quality development for all residents including future residents of the property being developed.

    Involving community only at the strategic phases is absurd as most non planning professionals (including myself) can not conceptualise the impact of strategic regulations until they see a site specific development. Most issues in planning are site specific (eg. bushland protection, shadowing, heritage). Clearly by purporting to involve community at the strategic phase only you are really trying to remove the voice of the community altogether.

    If your members and yourself find this process time consuming perhaps you should spend more effort in creating better sustainable designs that improve the amenity of the area rather than trying to play games to try to have appalling, over priced, poor quality, inappropriate, “build it to flog it” type buildings approved with no consideration of the impact on local communities. It is well known in my area that architects who play by the rules and have good designs can expect a quick approval, those who do not play by the rules and have poor designs can expect a long drawn out refusal.

    The work of all professionals is heavily regulated by all manner of regulatory bodies both in Australia and abroad. While we all find these regulations and processes time consuming we all understand that these are necessary for the protection of the community interest in the long term.

    I can only conlcude that your article is a self interested attempt to improve the short term profits of architects and developers at the expense of the long term community interest and community democratic rights. It is shameful that you are using your position as president of a royal institute for this purpose particularly when the values of your institute are quoted from the RAIA web site as:

    •ethical behaviour
    •accountability
    •environmental sustainability
    •social and cultural responsibility
    •effective communication

    Your very biased article shows that you are not living the above values as the RAIA website claims and does not give the public confidence in the new planning system or the architecture profession.

  5. “We need to encourage community input at the front end of the development process” – this is the great flaw in the proposed changes. It is incredibly difficult to engage the community on large scale planning discussions – check the number of submissions from the community on any recently exhibited draft LEP. And the Green Paper, as the RAIA, only say they will “encourage”. If these changes go ahead, so that I will have no say about what is built next door to me, then I would like to have a system where my input at the front end is mandated, not just encouraged. And further more, where the developers have no more rights than me – which is not the case with the proposed changes. Developers will have the right to appeal, but community members will not. Developers will have the right to sit on regional planning panels, but community members will not. I agree with the RAIA that we need a system which encourages better design. This is not that system. It is disappointing that the RAIA has overlooked the massive pro-developer bias in the document, and glossed over the difficulties of true community consultation.

  6. Matthew Pullinger advocate both more trained professionals to drive the new planning system as well as giving architects a priority on complying developments. He fails to acknowledge that architects and planners are a minority of the community and although they may be trained in technical expertise they are in most cases working for a client and not for the good of the community. Most all peole cannot imagine what will result in their area from strategic plans – they do not have the training – and it is only when something is proposed on their back yard that they can see what impact it will have. They must be given the right to comment on a ctual developments and not be restricted to just the strategic planning stage.
    RAIA please think broadly and listen to the community and not just those who pay your fees.

  7. I believe that modern architects want to obliterate the competition the their forebears in the Colonial days, these people achieved some remarkable designs, and did so with their hands and simple tools, they were craftsmen. No one can say that about the modern day town planners and architects, their buildings and designs do not last, they are ugly, and there is no personality, you see one you see them all, just high rise pinacles of glass. And the reason they want to knock down our history and heritage, is that there will be nothing left to compare their design, wipe out the competition.

  8. SEPP 65 is not fixingn any broken planning system.
    People will imply anything to avoid the obvious: overpopulation, wh ich is safely delegated to a “planning” issue.”

    I’m reminded of the philosopher William Grey’s comment, “Growth is the problem to which it pretends to be the solution”.

    Change ‘growth’ to ‘development’ we say.
    Lucy Turnbull actually laments that Sydney has not grown enough as Melbourne – quite bizaar.

    She then talks nonsense about creating “a system of governance for Sydney that enables our global city to manage growth properly”.

    There is no way to “manage” an exponential process that leads to impossible numbers (indeed, strictly speaking to infinity.)
    Only a stable or stabilising population can be planned for.

    As for her claim that amalgamating councils will produce “stronger engagement with their communities, and the ability to have more widespread participation in a new civic dialogue”: this is codswallop. She is a living example of why her approach failed. Her unpopular reign as Sydney’s Lord Mayor was all pro- big end of town.

    The most immediate effect of amalgamating councils is to make election to council so expensive that only the rich, or those who are stooges for developers, can afford to get there.

    The more you grow the city’s population the more you can get the situation beloved of developers who claim “for every irate ‘community activist’ against growth there are 10 wanting to get their foot on the housing ladder.”

    The real admission comes at the end: “Lucy Turnbull is chair of The Committee for Sydney”.

    The Committee for Sydney is like The Committee for Melbourne a misleading name for a lobbying and developer advocacy group that promotes the interests not of the city but of those who can profit from its growth.

    Architects are part of the problem, not the solution, to town planning.

    Jake and Ellie

    SYDNEYSIDERS have long suffered from a broken planning system that promotes suspicion and inertia over trust and delivery. The results are clear. We have grown at just over half the rate of Melbourne since 2000, meaning insufficient homes and lost jobs and wealth.

    Our research with SGS Economics shows that if greater Sydney had grown at the pace of Melbourne or the rate we had in the 90s it would have produced $40 billion more wealth. So planning reform is vital.

    But we also need to have a system of governance for Sydney that enables our global city to manage growth properly and promote prosperity.Small, inadequately strategic and under-resourced local governments are costly to run. They often fail to focus on the key task of managing growth and change.

    Time and time again, research shows that, no matter how good government strategies or plans are for Sydney, when it comes to implementation we go from heroes to zeros because, with a few exceptions, we lack the proper machinery and capacity to do what we need to do.

    We have 43 councils. Brisbane has one. Sydney’s fragmentation must end.

    The good news is that the Premier has an opportunity to make a historic shift in the way our city operates.

    The upcoming planning white paper looks set to promote the creation of a small number of sub-regional planning bodies, while the Independent Local Government Review Panel is likely to propose a small number of “super councils”.

    These are both essential reforms for Sydney.

    But why not reform them together, instead of separately?

    The answer? One council per sub-region in Sydney. That would mean six to eight councils responsible for development/infrastructure planning and delivering local government services.

    For those worried about “centralisation” – in reality this reform would empower local government in relation to state government, give it a real capacity to shape the metropolitan plan, which is usually just handed down from above and enable it to defend its communities better.

    Six to eight such councils would have a bigger shield and a sharper sword than 43 could ever hope to possess.

    And at their heart would be stronger engagement with their communities, and the ability to have more widespread participation in a new civic dialogue around Sydney’s future.

    There is a hunger for this joint reform in Sydney. For every irate “community activist” against growth there are 10 wanting to get their foot on the housing ladder.

    For every advocate for the status quo of small councils there are thousands wanting Sydney liberated from small thinking, with a governance structure fit for a metropolis.

    Such a structure would provide the means to deal with issues that really matter: how to manage population growth, housing needs, an ageing society , transport and open space planning, and economic prosperity and productivity.Sydney is a big city with a great future, but only if we break through what’s been holding us back.

    Lucy Turnbull is chair of The Committee for Sydney and a former lord mayor of Sydney

    https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/opinion/taking-small-steps-towards-big-things-for-sydney/story-e6frezz0-1226576458422

    “Broken planning system”? People will say anything to avoid the obvious overpopulation. It’s safely delegated to a “planning” issue.

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  9. You will only avoid conflict if plans are not misleading and produced up-front at the DA stage.
    All details need to be on the table.
    Ambit pre-approval schemes only assist avaricious developers and their ‘right-arm’: architects.

    Thank you
    Andrew Woodhouse
    President
    Potts Point & Kings Cross Heritage Conservation Society
    Ph 0415 949 506
    email heritageandconservation@hotmail.com

  10. As an architect and planner working across these fields for nearly 50 years I am apalled at this whitewash of developer lead planning that ignores the underlying need for social and ecological sustainability, for respect for the layers of the past, context, and the essential separation between the regulator and the regulated – otherwise it is not planning, it is corrupt and promotes mediocrity for the fast buck.

  11. Matthew Pullinger has hit the nail on the head. Contributions at the strategic level require “skilled people” who can envisage the very big picture.

    How then does he think there can be genuine community involvement in decisions about development controls and standards when most ordinary people simply cannot envisage how the strategic relates to what happens next door or in their local centre?

    Conflict occurs at the local level, not because controls should be applied at the strategic level, but often because architects and developers want to exceed the controls that exist at the local level.
    It’s when something is about to happen nearby that ordinary people (the community) can see that a building is too high, takes up too much of the lot space and overshadows the neighbours. This is when people can understand cumulative impact.

    If Mr Pullinger and his ilk were to design appropriate buildings that met the local DCP standards, they would avoid conflict with local residents and with Councils as well. How hard can that be?

  12. Having dealt with residents and communities now over many years and especially in connection with developments, community strategic plans, DAs, Residential housing Strategies, Employment lands strategy etc etc, I think your analysis of how this new planning focus will operate is seriously flawed.

    Most residents and engaged community groups call strategic planning ‘motherhood statements’ and are dismissive in the main of such planning as it will allow ‘almost anything’ to be developed. Such high level plans give no safeguards to the community that inappropriate DAs will not get approval. A good bunch of consultants will be able to ‘condition’ almost anything such that it can be ‘fitted’ into the high level plan.

    Residents, neighbors and communities will ALWAYS want to have a say in a DA close by or in their neighborhood especially if the amenity of the area is perceived (perceived) to be affected.

    Instead of shifting the focus away from development assessment to strategic plan making, the community should be engaged at both levels. As an architect you would want your clients to be involved at the visioning and strategic level of house/building design as well as the detailed functional aspects of a building. It is not one over the other but a need for engagement at both levels.

    There is NO certainty for communities at the Strategic plan making level, but there will be for the developer given that ‘experts and consultants’ will take over at the detailed functional and amenities level. Developers will want to minimize their costs and maximize their returns. That is natural enough in a profit driven market space.

    Communities much take a much longer and broader view than that. After all they are the ones who will fund the ongoing maintenance and other ‘catch-up’ costs needed to fill the infrastructure/amenity ‘gap’ the developer will not want to fund and the State will shift to the local Council.

    Community members are not stupid people who need to be shuffled out of the detailed analysis phase and ‘up to the strategic’ level where nothing is certain for them, and anything is possible for the developer. Many, if not most, community members are intelligent people with a good sense of where they want their community to be in 5, 10, 20 and 50 years. They can also ‘smell a rat’ at the detailed assessment stage and will ALWAYS want to be engaged in that detailed analysis level.

    Many are time poor and do not have the free time to do endless planning sessions, but they will find time in their busy family time budgets for input to development proposals which will cause significant disruption or destruction to the area they want to live in and bring up their families in.

    The new planning system is flawed and if not amended to allow community engagement at both the strategic level as well as the development assessment level will be ‘still born’ and cause huge community backlash and anger.

    The proposed planning system changes go too far in the developers direction and is not balanced system. If left as proposed the system will be ‘unstable’ and at some point will have a catastrophic failure and collapse. That is not in the best interest of anybody.

    I would have hoped for a much more balanced and nuanced view coming from the AIA.

  13. Shame RAIA! How can the RAIA support a move that is a retreat from ecological sustainability, which many architects have supported for decades? This process was presented under the guise that it would support ESD principles. It hasn’t. Tim Moore promised this in public sessions, then the government cut the ground out from under his feet. They are likely to cut the objects of the EP and A Act, which include sustainability. They are likely to axe statutory SEPPs. They plan to create development zones. This is a retreat from decades of movement towards an ecologically sustainable planning system. It gives developers almost everything they want. Having more public input in early stages does not mask the fact it is being axed later – when most people really understand what is proposed. I know architects get paid by developers, so arguable more development is good? But architects have been strong supporters of an ecologically responsible approach in the past. Why has RAIA now abandoned this and is now standing toasting the demise of a planning system that at least on paper attempted balance. Sure the current system has problems, but the new ‘open slather for developers’ will be far worse. It is a major step backwards, and RAIA should be ashamed to come out in glowing support of it!
    Dr Haydn Washington, environmental scientist

  14. As a Heritage Consultant Architect I feel that this is a reasonable position for the institute to take PROVIDING, the system changes from its present system where architects are on the Margin of the proportion of actual building designers, and where planners are trained in legislation and not design.

    For the strategic end system to work, architects planners and urban designers, building designers and architects are all going to need to lift their game to have a LONG TERM sustainable plan that will hold its design integrity from strategic through to implementation stage. There are examples (ie the Delfin developments such as Forde and Ropes Crossing over the last two decades) where this tight approach has worked. But it is hard to see how it will work on a large community wide scale.

    These issues are noted in the above article but they are actually critical to the success of the new system.

    Also I still hold the position that Heritage and environmental protection demands a higher priority and I’m still not hearing that from the Institute which is disappointing.

  15. As an international urban design planner, I hear Mr Pullinger’s woes in most countries. Architects are not valued enough, and need greater freedom to express themselves. They should be trusted more.

    However, there are very few architects who can be trusted. In any profession there is a range of standards of practice. There are usually a few who could be trusted, but most, not. They are the middle and lower standards. And they are ones that I and my colleagues are called in to educate and assist to develop better urban outcomes.

    In addition, because it is their client who is paying them, not the surrounding landowners nor the surrounding community, the architect naturally puts the client first, and does not even take into account the needs and necessity for good community design and good neighbourly design.

    The majority of architects do not understand cities, urban processes, and how people live in cities. You only have to look at an architect’s illustration to see artificial people superimposed in behaviours that you would not usually see, and are clearly not related to the space in which the photoshopped people have been added. When you hear an architect speak, they usually like their photos without people!

    Thus, I say the urban environment is a collaborative effort between all the professions, from the high level plan down to the individual application. At no point should there be such an ego that says only I control this level. It is collaborative Mr Pullinger at all levels, even the local development application.

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