Corinne Fisher

17 April 2013 — Well hasn’t the Better Planning Network made an impact.

NSW Planning Minister Brad Hazzard on Tuesday morning might have needed to cut short the milling journalists and television cameras reporting on his release of the state’s planning white paper, dubbed by Premier Barry O’Farrell as “the most significant planning reforms in 30 years”.

But he had plenty of time to for a head-to-head briefing with two members of the BPN and another two members of the public. The director general of planning, Sam Haddad, also had plenty of time for the briefing. As did about 12 departmental and ministerial advisers.

It might have seemed a bit overwhelming for BPN convenor Corinne Fisher and her colleague June Hefferan. They certainly didn’t expect the attention.

But then again, BPN is no bunch of treehuggers. It’s backed by more than 350 community groups with a wide range of backgrounds and interest groups including seriously urban professionals. The group was formed only last year, as soon as they worked out what the white paper intended.

Fisher, who is convenor of the group, had very positive words for the minister. The group was “very pleased” with the minister’s time and that of his staff and department. “We thanked them,” she said.

“A very good minister”, “very engaged”, she told The Fifth Estate after the 2 pm briefing on Tuesday.

But this community activist is not for easy charming.

“There is a marked difference between talking to people ad nauseam and integrating their concerns,” she said.

The government was working with a “deficit of community trust” in its ability to hear community concerns. For the government, it was an area of “high political risk”.

The planning reforms will remove community rights to object to development at the project-specific level and limit consultation to the strategic phase. The BPN says that at this level it’s difficult for busy community members to engage; it’s when matters get local that they will become involved.

BPN’s media release on Tuesday made its members’ feelings clear:

“The NSW Government’s planning White Paper and draft legislation is a cynical betrayal of every promise made to the community,” the BPN said.

“The Government is trumpeting its push for rapid development approvals but speed comes at the cost of community consultation. So much for assurances that community will be at the heart of the planning system.”

In fact the reforms were designed with developers in mind, not the community, the statement said.

The minister at the media conference said the department would use 3D modelling, social media and that each local area would chose the methods it believed most appropriate.

But Fisher said the white paper and the minister did not assure her there would be sufficient resources allocated for such activities.

“Our point is that without community acceptance the planning system cannot work,” Fisher said. “Planning has a problem with fierce community resistance. If they want an effective planning system they need to work with us.

“The minister is very committed. He thinks it can be done. We pointed out there are major problems with the proposals, that people don’t engage at the early strategic planning phase.”

Her understanding is that a lot of the objectives will be set at the regional and sub-regional level.

“Our understanding is that the state government will be involved in setting the strategic plans at the regional and sub-regional level and at the local level the local council will be responsible.

“This is a very top down approach, so what happens is most people will not engage at the regional and sub-regional level. They’re more likely to engage at the local level but the way it’s structured means when they got to local engagement the decision will already be made at the regional level.”

Fisher expects that decisions at the regional level will include issues such as what areas can and can’t be developed and how much housing needs to be incorporated.

She expects the local consultation will be “very limited in scope”.

It will also be high in political risk, Fisher says.

“Once people find out it will be very problematic.”

Trust or not?

Another issue is that the government is asking to be trusted without much evidence that it should be.

“There is no evidence that the government is capable of conducting meaningful engagement at this stage. In fact the evidence is the opposite, so there is a deficit of community trust.”

It’s “putting the cart before the horse”, Fisher says

For instance, most of the concerns and feedback from the green paper were ignored, she says.

“They’re proposing something that’s not been done well in the past and removing the safety net of [the ability to object] to individual development applications.

“It’s a very bitter pill for the community to swallow and we think the community will not swallow it.”

Not anti-development

Fisher says her group is absolutely not anti-development.

“We understand the challenges that the state government has in terms of a growing population and affordability and the need to meet housing targets,” she said.

“The BPN doesn’t have a position on densification. It has a position on sustainable development and you would expect some densification. We’re absolutely not opposed to it. But we want it to be done well.”

But who will defend the greenfields and the farmlands against urban sprawl?

On all types of development community engagement will create a better outcome, Fisher says.

“We want to work with developers because we can address community opposition and we can change the way developers and communities engage but the dialogue needs to be started and compromises need to be reached. On both sides.”

The department has offered to meet with the network after it has had a chance to absorb the white paper.

“And we will be meeting with the department to talk about the changes that need to be made.”

Following is the text of a statement from the Better Planning Network issued on Tuesday

“The NSW Government’s planning White Paper and Draft Legislation is a cynical betrayal of every promise made to the community,” said Better Planning Network’s Corinne Fisher.

“The Government is trumpeting its push for rapid development approvals but speed comes at the cost of community consultation. So much for assurances that community will be at the heart of the planning system,” Ms Fisher said.

The White Paper has at its core the ability of developers, small and large, to achieve approval for most developments in a rapid time frame. The onus will be on decision makers to approve complying developments within ten days and code assessable developments within 25 days. In neither case will neighbours or the local community have a right or opportunity to comment.

“Code Assessable development is not benign or necessarily low impact,” said Ms Fisher. “It includes residential flat buildings in town centres, new commercial buildings, mixed use buildings and subdivisions with 20 or fewer villas or town houses. These developments can have a major impact on a neighbourhood or small town centre. The community should have the right to comment and to negotiate for the best possible outcome in such cases.

“The Better Planning Network is deeply disappointed in the State Government. Barry O’Farrell’s election promise to: give planning powers back to the people (Contract with NSW March 2011) has proven to be a cynical ploy. This planning system is a developer’s dream.”

Ms Fisher said that the community had been almost entirely cut out of the planning process at the local level.

“The Government hopes that within five years 80 per cent of development will be complying or code assessable. The rest will be merit assessed developments, including the really big developments that are determined by the Planning Assessment Commission or taken into the Minister as State Significant.

“This is the first major overhaul of the planning system for thirty years,” said Ms Fisher. “It is a disaster for communities all over NSW.”

The White Paper will be on public exhibition until 28 June 2013 despite communities asking for a minimum consultation period of six months, Ms Fisher said.

“Community comments on the Green Paper have been largely ignored in the White Paper. So how does Government expect us to believe that communities will be at the centre of the NSW Planning system?”

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  1. The government’s intentions relating to “community participation” in Planning is clearly demonstrated by their conduct of the community forums. I attended the forum at Castle Hill.
    The event was carefully stage managed in that after short speeches by the MC and two senior Planning personnel the attendees were to respond to two questions posed by Planning.
    Question 1 related to how best to communicate the government’s message on planning to the general population. The responses from each table (where the attendees were seated with a table co-ordinator from Planning) were then read to the meeting by the table co-ordinator. A list of the responses was compiled so as to supposedly be given to the Minister.
    Question 2 had two parts with part a) requesting suggestions regarding the means or tools needed to achieve “community participation”. Part b) sought comments on the various types of developments which should not need to be assessed for approval.
    However shortage of time prevented many of the 6 tables from responding to this question.
    The meeting was scheduled to run from 6pm to 7:30pm. This meeting ran until 8pm but this was still insufficient time to allow any meaningful input to both questions. Nor was there any time nor intention by Planning to allow contentious issues to be raised by attendees.
    My opinion is that this meeting was an exercise which would let Planning to tick the “community consultation” box whilst avoiding any meaningful input from the community on the concerns they to have on the loss of rights which will occur if this planning system as described in the Planning White Paper becomes law.
    I went to this meeting seeking to be assured that the proposed changes to planning were to benefit the community and to better protect the Natural and urban environments and heritage areas. I left the meeting convinced that the primary purpose is to promote development regardless of the adverse impacts on the community and the environment It is clear that the main benefit to the so-called planning reform will be with the development industry.

  2. jph, it appears that NSW is becoming “top heavy”. May I recommend you digest the “White Paper” this weekend and you will see what I mean ……. .

    Oh, and don’t forget the Local Govt. Amendment (Early Intervention) Bill. This will create conflict for those Councils that advocate on behalf of their residents and ratepayers.

    Protections for heritage are non existent in the White Paper.

    Many suburbs are being/have been rezoned without community consultation.

    On and on it goes. I do not believe NSW will ever recover.

    It will be annihilated to benefit developers and their “attachments”.

    There is much more …

    Now, what would you call it?


  3. June Bullivant, as a western Sydney resident, I support a lot of what you’re trying to say. We need to protect our historic areas, but please let’s stick to the facts and not get carried away with hyperbole.

    The Dept of Planning has not approved Westfields’ proposal and nobody is proposing development in heritage-listed Parramatta Park.

    And please don”t call our system ‘a dictatorship’. Many people in western Sydney have fled regimes run by dictators. It’s insulting to suggest we live in a dictatorship.

  4. The state government is definitely on a mission to open up and allow un-fettered over development across NSW for the benefit of the development industry and to the detriment of families, suburbs and the environment However, the NSW community will not be duped by the O’Farrell government. Years of Labor have taught the people of NSW to believe nothing politicians say. The Minister and Department of Planning and government appointed regional planning panels will continue to control to override local council’s planning and limit the say individuals and a community can have over planning for their area. O’Farrell is also relying on the fact that currently less than one percent of ratepayers in a council area actually get involved in the strategic planning consultation processes. So what we will find increasingly will be the people and businesses with vested interests positioning themselves on Councils to control the development agenda for that area. The many problems that now exist with the private certification process will increase and get worse under O’Farrell’s proposed system. Lack of accountability and scrutiny of development already apparent in this fast track system will only increase under this greed regime. No one in the government appears to be interested in holding the development industry shonks to proper account and they are everywhere. The highly paid members of regional planning panels are also doing their damage as appointees are chosen not so much for their expertise but for the fact they will rubber stamp the government development agenda. The socialist style planning regime will only increase under this government as more and more decisions are taken away from local communities and placed in the hands of government and development lackies. The people of NSW have alot to distrust and be concerned about with the proposed new planning system. The O’Farrell government has ignored all community consultation thus far leading up to the White Paper and only listened to the development industry and their paid lobbyists so why should the public trust the process into the future?

  5. This NSW Government appears to have no regard, no respect for its NSW community (riding rough shod over us) nor our wellbeing, for Aboriginal heritage, for convict built heritage, for its pioneer graves in St John’s Cemetery shortly to be devoured by an even bigger Westfields, for the precious and very limited fertile land our food bowl (the Liverpool Plains being devoured by open cut coal mines and csg extraction), for the quality of our water (sacked the Scientists who worked in Water Catchments). In fact 50 or 60 percent of our land is under threat of csg extraction. 15,000 public servants sacked. Mr O’Farrell, do you seriously think we will stand for this? To requote someone: we know who is “destroying the joint”.

  6. The NSW Government is creating a billionare developer class to subjugate everyone else. This State Government is dictating to its constituents; it has broken its contract with the people of NSW.
    Why cannot this State Government dictate and allocate where immigrants live just like it is dictating to established residents? I leave you to think about that ….
    It seems to me these Ministers have lost their sense of sight and appear to have no ability to visualize the lunar landscape they are creating from a hotch potch of high rise in every direction; Westfields on every corner; mountains flattened by open cut mining; gas drills and degradation; piles and piles of coal; concrete toll roads. Sydney was beautiful. The beautiful scenery of NSW is being devoured by csg extraction and open cut mines. As someone said to me today “Maggie Thatcher was the beginning of all this greed.” No wonder so many people in London turned their backs as her coffin went past. Ten million pound procession and she is now …. but ashes.

  7. community objections are for the most part driven by a minority of noncompliant, poor design quality proposals being rammed into neighbourhoods; the government is failing to recognise that communities object when the development industry, which is well equipped for routine rule evasion, comes to any site with the same one size fits all building formulas. The government is bending over backwards to trash local knowledge, trash local character, trash sustainable change, and lose collective understanding of the places we call home; strategic planning is a worthy objective, based on proper geographic modelling, and should enshrine principles of ecological improvement (not just “minimise” impacts). If it is to work at all, strategic plans need binding agreements between equally weighted stakeholders – communities, developers, the court and government – and further discourse when individual developments are proposed. Memory cannot be expected to prevail for over 20 years or more of the strategic plan’s life, people move around, precedents are established, fashions, transport modes and technologies change and the climate crisis will bite. It is unrealistic and unreasonable to set anything more than basic strategic directions (say) every 10 years, hence the urgent call for community involvement at individual project level. Of course it is more difficult and challenging to work in amongst existing, densely settled urban areas than on cleared sites where the tilt slabs quickly become highrise rows of future slums; that is the reason for harnessing community wisdom at all stages, and requiring that well skilled professionals correctly interpret, the community’s advice.

  8. The “rush in system” does not give near enough time for the people to question or suggest alternatives to the minister’s proposals.The way the system of governance is set up gives rise to the questions of whether a minister acts for the will of the people the minister represents OR acts for the will of the party.

    I received an interesting letter from a former federal member for Griffin in the house of representatives, Arthur A Chresby, who informed me that by writing a simple letter to each minister along the following lines’
    Dear Sir,

    I know that it is my duty to keep you informed of my will on anything that comes before parliament or that should come before parliament.

    It is my will that you take immediate action to stop the proposed white paper being enforced without public consent and all infrastructure models be stopped until the full consent of the people has been given.

    Yours faithfully,

  9. The problem with the planning is that even now, decisions are being made to destroy heritage and our city, it does not matter that there have many many loud protests, two lots of submissions totally around 400, and online petition that is nearing 700 signatures and an alternative way to achieve the objective with destroying the Heritage listed Lennox Bridge, none of our protests have been listened to. High rise is proposed in about 12 locations in Parramatta, no thought of the World Heritage listed Parramatta Park, and now the NSW Planning want to remove the communities right to protest. The buck has got to stop somewhere, when does common sense and sanity take over, we need to make this White paper work for our communities. Just this week Parramatta City Council has expressed concerns that a development of Westfield which has already been approved by the Department of Planning is going ahead, with no community consultation, with no impact statement on how it will affect, traffic, parking and life in our city, this is dictatorship at its best and we are supposed to be a free country, not while greed and power is abound we are not, but if we can’t resolve this the ballot box will take a hit from the communities that are being ignored.

  10. You ask who will defend the greenfields and the farmland against urban sprawl. One might also ask who will defend the suburbs against urban activation precincts and high rise residential towers.

    The problem is that we are being asked to accommodate 60,000 additional people every year for the next two decades. They can’t all live in the inner ring of Sydney – unless we want to look like the worst of Asian cities. Some development has to go on greenfields sites just as some has to go into our suburbs.