Members of the Better Planning Network protest outside NSW Planning Minister Brad Hazzard’s office.

30 September 2013 — It seems no one’s happy about proposed changes to the NSW Planning reforms, with community groups saying the changes don’t go far enough and developers saying they go too far.

According to the Better Planning Network, which now claims 420 member groups, key rights will be removed, even after changes to the original bill. The Urban Development Institute of Australia said the changes would put NSW “in reverse” and the NSW Urban Taskforce had a more constructive approach, saying the reforms needed to do more to encourage a diversity of housing types to meet demand.

The changes were recently flagged by Planning Minister Brad Hazzard after the draft planning bill received over 5000 public submissions, with the bill now having been postponed.

The Better Planning Network said key changes to the Bill were:

  • councils will be allowed to modify the state-wide codes to better reflect their local area
  • code assessable development will only apply in nominated growth areas
  • the target for code assessable developments has been removed entirely
  • councils will be required to prepare Neighbourhood Impact Statements before using code assessment
  • the full range of current land zonings will remain as they are
  • appeal rights will remain as they are
  • local and state heritage protections will continue

The network, which has strongly criticised the planning reforms, said the changes were a reasonable start but did not go far enough to address concerns that the reforms prioritised economic growth over social and environmental concerns, and did nothing to address “serious corruption concerns” previously raised by the Independent Commission Against Corruption and the Law Society of NSW.

BPN’s key concerns with the bills were that they:

  • focus on economic growth to the detriment of community wellbeing and environmental protection
  • promise robust upfront strategic planning but fail to deliver by allowing the minister and director general wide discretion to override strategic plans and controls
  • create an unacceptable corruption risk

The BPN said the bills should be withdrawn completely.

UDIA says bill “backflip” will cripple NSW

On the other side of town, the Urban Development Institute of Australia said the decision to postpone the bill put “the housing industry, the economy and assured job creation in jeopardy”.

UDIA NSW Chief Executive Stephen Albin said the decision was short-sighted.

“It is disappointing that a scare campaign pushed by a vocal minority has resulted in the withdrawal of a world-class planning policy,” he said.

“We have a serious housing shortage in this state and are struggling to meet demand.

“The decision to delay the new planning act will only prevent investment that would result in job creation, particularly in Western Sydney.

“How can this delay be presented as being in the community’s interest?”

Mr Albin said the Government needed to continue to push forward on the remaining strategic planning reforms in the package.

“The reforms are worthwhile in their own right, although their effectiveness will be significantly diluted by the delays, which will continue to plague project delivery in this state.”

Planners seeks assurance

Robyn Vincin, executive officer for the Planning Institute of Australia NSW, said the PIA was seeking assurance that the changes would not act to water down the legislation in light of the overarching objectives to reduce complexity and increase transparency.

“We hope the Government maintains its commitment to bold change,” she told The Fifth Estate. “We will be analysing the likely impact of the proposed changes once they are known.

“Throughout the process, we have advocated for a change in culture to accompany changes to the planning system. A number of submissions on the Green and the White Papers across local government, stakeholder groups and other agencies were supportive of the PIA call for a cultural change program, and PIA acknowledges the Department’s work in progressing this.

“We have been actively working with the Department in the design of an education program, and in developing a culture change program.”

Urban Taskforce wants balance

The Urban Taskforce said changes to the Planning Bill needed to encourage a more diverse range of housing types to complement Sydney’s low density suburban model.

However, chief executive Chris Johnson told The Fifth Estate there was “no doubt” current changes weakened the ability of density to be built into the city.

He said the fundamental principle of the reform was that strategic planning would be done up front, and then most development would be code assessable.

This, he said, has fundamentally disappeared, with a “very little” number of projects that would now be code assessable.

Mr Johnson said a government media release regarding North Ryde developments showed that this “urban activation precinct” would not be going down the code assessable track.

Under the changes, code assessable development was said to now only be done in designated growth areas. If urban activation precincts weren’t included, these growth areas would only be in areas that had no existing communities.

This meant increased risk and time for building in density, Mr Johnson said, as projects would be more difficult to get off the ground.

“Trying to speed things up was something industry was after,” he said.

The development industry were fairly “can do” people, though, and would find ways to get there projects up, Mr Johnson said.

“But it certainly is a shame.”

Stopping the “mono-cultured” debate

Mr Johnson said the debate, including from the BPN, had been too “mono-cultured”, either about suburbia or high rise.

“What is needed to contribute to community discussions on future growth is a number of models for varying levels of density,” he said.

“There are a growing number of people who now want to live in more urban areas often in apartments and it is essential that these models are encouraged in the right locations.

“The Urban Taskforce is trying to position the debate around diversity.”

He said Sydney needed to engage in a serious discussion about the need for a range of density types so it could accommodate the extra 1.5 million people needing housing in the city over the next 20 years.

“My critique of the BPN is that they seem to be avoiding the issue of how we manage growth in a reasonably timely manner,” he said.

The taskforce has now created a website, ebook and videos explaining the different forms of residential density that can achieved, so communities could “get a feel” of the character and amenities of different density options.

“The Urban Taskforce is keen to demonstrate the range of density types to community groups and to councils,” Mr Johnson said.

See www.ecodencity.com.au for more information.

8 replies on “NSW planning changes draw ire from all sides”

  1. Mr Johnson and his developer lobby group is trying to sugar coat the real property industry agenda – that of pushing more and more high densities into existing suburbs and using existing infrastructure. Town centres were originally specified to be 400 metres round rail stations and shopping centres and now this has been pushed out by the DOPI to 800 metres. The town centre boundaries will not stop there and will keep expanding out further into suburbs as we have seen it occur over the last ten years.

    What Mr Johnson wants is more development fodder for the industry.

    As June rightly says developers prefer to build high-rise to villas, townhouses and medium density dwellings. Developer’s constantly complain that low rise development is ‘not financially viable’.

    It is also misleading for Mr Johnson to say that high-rise in town centres will retain low rise suburbs as there are planning mechanisms being put in place for developers through the DOPI and Minister to spot rezone areas of suburban land for higher densities.

  2. For the UDIA to call it a world class planning policy, you know something is wrong with it. The UDIA is purley driven by greed and the relentless pursuit of unstained growth to fill the coffers of a select few who have no interest in our communities. Its just another example of the nasty underbelly that exists in this country. Why live in a community when we can all live in a corporation!

  3. Mr Johnson,Mr Albin.
    You claim that it is more economic to have higher density. .
    Quality of life is essential to any development planning. Your consideration for social implications for existing communities or future communities are lacking, there is no social planning and the extra cost for anti social behaviour in higher densities has not been address.NSW should not be forced to have development at any cost.
    Jon

  4. The UDIA’s exaggerated emotive statements such as “putting the housing industry and economy in jeopardy” and saying that “a scare campaign” has been “pushed by a vocal minority” are of no help in this issue. They are obviously peeved that a well-organised community campaign to inform an often somnolent public about the implications of the planning changes, has had some (but probably not enough) effect on the Government. The loss of community rights and heritage protection proposed under the original draft legislation are real issues and not imaginary “scary” ones. Also, the UDIA should not take much comfort in the idea of a mythical “silent majority”. People are likely to be silent on an issue due to apathy or lack of information, rather than because they approve of the proposals. In the case of the White Paper, a great MAJORITY of the thousands of respondents found major problems with several aspects of it.

  5. Like most proponents for the new planning laws, Stephen Albin seems to think that their organisation has the majority of concerned people. but has he looked at the 5000 submissions and seen how many are from the community and how many from the developer lobby. BPN has over 400 constituent members who represent possibly over 10 times that number of residents – hardly the vocal minority. BPN is not against development bur against inappropriate development and for the continuing amenity of existing areas which most developers want to come into but in doing so they wreck the area both for the existing residents and for those they hope to attract into their developments.

  6. June continues the restricted approach to diversity. Our EcoDenCity approach suggests 2 storey, 4, 6, 8 and up to 25 and in some cases over 35 storeys. Some people want to live in the very middle of a city in a tall building, some want to live in a 6 or 8 storey building in a town centre, some will prefer 2 storey town houses. Sydney needs all types in appropriate locations. The best way to keep the low rise suburbs is to focus new development in taller buildings in town centres. Most of the world have a balance between urban and suburban living and Sydney also needs this.

  7. I’ll hand to local government if this legislation passes in its current form. I am one of the people trying to get the Planning Minister to listen to reason. I am not a member of a Greens front group. I am a citizen and community engagement specialist. Like many planners in NSW, I am asking the Minister to listen to reason. He only has to look at the massive community resistance to proposals for increased housing density in Vancouver (huge rallies in four neighbourhoods and Council backing down) to see that the sort of rushed, shallow and tokenistic consultation he proposes will not work. So many bodies — community-based and professional — are advising the Minster to think again. The knock-on effects will be massive and painful — and borne by LOCAL government, not the State. It’s definitely not rocket science to get it right. But it takes a willingness to listen.

  8. If by diversity Mr Johnson meant villas, townhouses, terrace houses and medium (3-4 storey) flats maybe we could take him seriously. What he really wants is to replace single storey, low density suburbs with the highest density he can have approved.

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