By Tina Perinotto

COMMENT 18 March 2010 – “What we have here is failure to deliver,” the surly prison guard in the mirror glasses might have said in Cool Hand Luke.

The NSW Government deserves to be locked up.

It has failed to deliver the credible long term planning which is the fundamental backbone of a sustainable city. This is something that is not an optional extra like organic shampoo or other green bling, it is absolutely what will sustain the life of the city and stop citizens suffering the consequences of gridlock, wildly expensive living costs of suburban sprawl, paying steep and rising costs to import food as nearby farmland disappears, and the sad prospect that our children will live a life worse than ours.

In the process the NSW Government has single handedly turned what was Australia’s most vibrant city at its peak of the Sydney Olympics into the least vibrant. Confidence is stripped bare and the citizens and business people go about with head hung low, trying to get by as best they can. They visit their great rival Melbourne and find an exciting highly entertaining city. Heads slouch lower.

Macquarie Street announces $500 million for light rail development.

Yawn…don’t believe them, is the response.

Yesterday it released the Metropolitan strategy review paper.

Yawn. So what?

It promises a new Metro rail system, starting with the single bravest thing it had attempted for years – “breaking the back” of the hugely difficult task of carving out a seed network into the bowels of the CBD. Slight shimmer of interest…then thud: another cancellation… Following the cancellation of several other transport plans, planning strategies and funding promises.

Transport plans are produced it seems, in secret, away from the prying jealous gaze of colleagues in the Planning Department or Treasury.

Someone once said that if you want to understand why planning is such a nightmare in NSW you need to read John Birmingham’s history of Sydney, Leviathan. This “failure to communicate” (the actual quote from Cool Hand Luke) between various government departments is wedged deep in the Rum Rebellion, at the very origin of the penal colony, he says, where no-one is to be trusted outside the inner clique and where true feelings are concealed; the powder kept dry.

Maybe it’s finally time for fireworks and for deep scepticism to finally crawl out from the normally polite shell of Sydney’s citizens.

This week the Property Council of Australia’s NSW executive director Ken Morrison quit from the Transport Blueprint expert panel.

“If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing time after time and and expecting a different result, then we are in danger of repeating the mistakes of the past,” he told the panel in his resignation letter.

In January the immediate past president of the Planning Institute NSW Julie Bindon jumped on a plane to attend an interview by The Fifth Estate with Melbourne City Council’s planning guru Rob Adams to see if she could bring back any insights into how to do planning better. (Our related story will be published soon.)

Adams says it’s possible to house 2.4 million more residents along the transport corridors of Melbourne – barely 6 per cent of the available metropolitan land sites – and leave the rest untouched. That’s 94 per cent of land owners who can breathe a sigh of relief and know they don’t have to go meetings with Save Our Suburbs, prepare resident action plans, tramp the streets collecting signatures and attend courts to stop development spoiling their homes.

Adams says that when you tell an audience this, you can almost see the relief.

How clever, how simple. More than anything it’s a proposal that understands and respects the psychological issues at the heart of development mistrust.

In the latest NSW Metropolitan Strategy review discussion paper released today planning for the transport corridors, promised in the past, have been forgotten, according to Urban Taskforce chief executive, Aaron Gadiel.

“These corridors included Victoria Road, Parramatta Road, the Pacific Highway, Liverpool Road, Anzac Parade, Pittwater Rd, Canterbury Rd, Princes Highway and Gardeners Rd,” he says.

“Urban development along the full length of corridors now barely rates a mention in the discussion paper.”

Gadiel continues: “The private sector was burned by the first Metropolitan Strategy, because so many of its promises were not fulfilled.”

Private sector confidence is critical because it has the power to tap capital and deliver the outcomes – given a framework it can rely on.

Of course Gadiel’s particular business constituents are urban land developers so he also bemoans the failure to provide land release.

But take a look at what one urban land developer has done – Stockland. This week Australia’s biggest housing developer showed it could be as clever and innovative as you might want.

At its Higlands estate at Craigieburn just north of Melbourne it released 10 house and land packages that dramatically undercut land size (212.5 square metres), house size (144 sq m) and price of $269,000, way below the average affordable price of $330,000.

They’ve done this by getting rid of all the spaces that the average family doesn’t actually need and still delivered what most young people want: a house of their own, near other young start ups, and the ability to have at least some contact with their own patch of earth.

The houses sold out in one day.

We bet other developers will follow.

Of course Craigieburn is on a train line.

What this proves is that the Australian consumer is not as wedded to McMansions as the housing and building lobbyists would have us believe.

It’s innovation, it demonstrates exciting flexibility – on both the demand and supply side – and it’s very encouraging that we can achieve real change among the voting public.

The NSW Government should put a poster of Highlands on every minister’s forehead.

Background on the role of corridors in the Metropolitan Strategy, supplied by the Urban Task Force.

The Metropolitan Strategy envisaged concentrated commercial, retail and residential development across the centres and corridors of Sydney.  For example:

  • Part B(1) of the full Metropolitan Strategy is actually titled the Centres and Corridors Strategy for Sydney.(2)
  • The Metropolitan Strategy’s Centres and Corridors Strategy for Sydney articulates a “vision for centres”, and alongside this vision, with equal prominence, is a “vision for corridors”.
  • The Metropolitan Strategy’s “vision for corridors” states that economic corridors will play a key role in the metropolitan and national economy, renewal corridors will be the focus for diverse and liveable communities and enterprise corridors will provide locations for important local employment and services. … Existing and new infrastructure investment in these corridors will be used more efficiently by concentrating new development in these areas to support their role (emphasis added). (3)

Item B6 of the Metropolitan Strategy seeks to:

  • Focus development in renewal corridors to maximise infrastructure use ..(.4)
  • Renewal corridors are defined in this way:

Renewal Corridors generally follow transport and may join significant nodes or centres.  The area of interest may be extended up to one kilometre across.  They are usually a focus for commercial development and contain concentrations of employment, surrounded by or with the potential for complementary, higher density residential development (emphasis added. (5)

Enterprise zones benefit from passing traffic (over 50,000 vehicles per day).(6)  The Department of Planning says that  [t]he zone is generally intended to be applied to land where commercial or industrial development is to be encouraged along main roads such as those identified by the Metropolitan Strategy City of Cities: a plan for Sydney’s future (NSW Government 2005).(7)

1 NSW Government, City of Cities: A Plan for Sydney’s Future: Metropolitan Strategy Supporting Information (2005) 79 -117.
2 Ibid 79.
3 NSW Government, City of Cities: A Plan for Sydney’s Future: Metropolitan Strategy Supporting Information (2005) 81; Government,
City of Cities: A Plan for Sydney’s Future: Metropolitan Strategy (2005) 2.
4 Ibid 111.
5  Ibid 300.
6 Department of Planning- NSW, East Subregion: Draft Subregional Strategy (2007) 41; Department of Planning- NSW, Inner North Subregion: Draft Subregional Strategy (2007) 41; Department of Planning- NSW, North-East Subregion: Draft Subregional Strategy (2007) 35.
7  Ibid.

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