13 March 2013 — Stakeholders in the Lower Hunter in NSW have until 3 May to respond to a discussion paper on the future of the region, Australia’s seventh largest urban settlement, including its density, location of density, whether government should be involved in delivering outcomes and environmental issues around growth.

The Lower Hunter over the next 20 years: A Discussion Paper, released by Planning and Infrastructure Minister Brad Hazzard, has called for input at the strategic stage of the planning regime for the area, mirroring planning reforms for Sydney which community groups under the Better Planning Network have opposed.

Among the issues to be discussed are environmental issues.

Mr Hazzard said changes in housing and growth needed to be managed, “while protecting our environment and our quality of life. Underpinning all of this is our desire to ensure equal access to the opportunities on offer in the Lower Hunter”.

“Some areas have been designed with only car travel in mind – these areas have limited access to public transport or healthy options like walking and cycling; other areas have limited access to jobs or a diversity of housing, and people have to travel long distances to work.

“In planning for the future we must ensure everyone in the Lower Hunter can enjoy the things that make it one of the most liveable regions in the world.”

Environment and conservation questions in the discussion paper include how the strategy can:

  • protect the environment and conserve biodiversity while also meeting the economic and housing needs of the growing population?
  • support environmentally sustainable development?
  • help mitigate and adapt to climate change?
  • help improve energy and water efficiency for residential, commercial and industrial buildings?
  • improve our approach to planning and development in areas at risk from natural hazards?
  • encourage growth while also protecting our environment, lifestyle and natural assets?

Specific housing issues up for debate in the discussion paper include:

  • Should the strategy place more emphasis on development in existing urban areas – if so, where are the best places for this?
  • How should the strategy distribute housing targets across the Lower Hunter’s Local Government Areas?
  • How can the strategy ensure local council planning supports housing delivery?
  • Should the strategy identify a role for the NSW Government to be more actively involved in the delivery of housing in existing areas?
  • How can the strategy ensure a sufficient supply of affordable housing?
  • In what locations should the strategy set minimum housing density requirements for highly accessible land?

Mr Hazard said the Lower Hunter growth of the area was important to the economy of NSW and the nation, however, this would place “new pressures on the urban resources – particularly housing supply, jobs growth, roads and transport, water supply and other essential services”.

Local media reports say population in the Hunter is growing faster than predicted.

Instead of 540,000 expected by 2031, the region is on track for 670,000 people by that date, calling for an additional 75,000 houses.

But construction is not keeping pace. While 35,000 residential lots have been released in five years, only 11,200 dwellings, or 2200 a year, have been built instead of the 3000 new homes a year required, the report says.

Newcastle MP Tim Owen said in the report that the discussion paper was the “first step” to a renewed strategy for the Lower Hunter and he called on the community to have its say.

The discussion paper, a forum, video and community brochure is at here.