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The BPN said the bills should be withdrawn completely.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.