Sarah Hill

29 September 2011 – The NSW Planning Institute has been gathered in Wollongong this week from Wednesday for its annual three day conference. The woes of the state’s planning fiasco must be weighing heavily on its collective shoulders.

Despite planners’ typically calm and sanguine nature they cannot help, you imagine, feeling just a little jaded by the new O’Farrell government’s promise to “reform the planning system”. Now where have we heard that before?

But heading the latest thrust will be new young blood, in the form of Sarah Hill, in her mid 30s, who will be announced as new president for the NSW PIA and takes the reins officially early next year.

Hill, in her day job, runs Hill PDA, the property consulting practice her land economist father Martin started 20 years ago, so she is well versed in the mechanics of development.

Challenging  the PIA under Hill’s watch will be no less than reform of the Planning Act itself now under way by Liberal minister and Land and Environment Court commissioner Tim Moore and former Labor minister, Ron Dyer.

Hill says her key objectives are to continue the institute’s dialogue on this but also to look deeper and to foster “cultural change” in relation to planning.

“It occurred to me that it’s one thing to reform an Act but if you don’t reform the broader culture – how you work with the community and so forth – then the implementation of a new act will have limited effect,” Hill said.

There is a document already in train that will deal with this and Hill promises it will soon be released PIA to members for comment, as well as to relevant governments and industry groups.

“There has to be greater alignment between planners and politicians so that professional recommendations by planners are supported by local councillors,” Hill says.

It’s clear this won’t be easy.

“We see the cultural side of planning is the most difficult,” she admits.

One of the ways to achieve this is to foster a more fine grained understanding of the planning system, for instance in relation to the issues of many developers pulling back from medium density in Sydney.

It’s not always the fault of the planning system, Hill says.

There could be a “multitude of economic factors” that impede development, but sometime planning is seen as “the last straw”. And it gets the blame.

But Hill would agree, turning those perceptions around will be a major job.

tperinotto@thefifthestate.com.au