After announcing the Greater Sydney Commission more than a year ago, the NSW government has today (Tuesday) released the structure and role of the Commission, which it says will modernise the way Sydney’s major infrastructure and urban planning priorities are delivered.

The news has been welcomed by the development community, however there is concern a panel of “unelected bureaucrats” will remove accountability for planning decisions.

Planning minister Rob Stokes said the Commission was necessary because Sydney’s urban planning had operated in silos of councils and government departments, without effective coordination.

The structure of the GSC will include a chair; independent environment, economic and social commissioners; six district commissioners nominated by councils; and three government heads from planning, transport and treasury.

“The Greater Sydney Commission will be responsible for delivery plans for each of Sydney’s six districts,” Mr Stokes said.

“The six districts will all be represented by a member chosen by their elected local government officials, which will give councils the opportunity to play a major role in the planning decisions that shape their broader districts.

“The appointment of independent commissioners to represent the economy, environment and community will ensure that we receive expert advice on how to keep Sydney sustainable as it changes over the next decade.”

The Commission will also be charged with conducting regular reviews of council Local Environmental Plans and will act as the decision maker on rezoning proposals currently undertaken by the planning minister.

Welcome from development industry

The Committee for Sydney said the GSC was a “game-changer”.

“The Greater Sydney Commission is crucial to planning a successful, productive and equitable city,” Committee for Sydney chief executive Tim Williams said. “Managing the growth of our city to eight million residents by the middle of this century requires strong metropolitan level governance – which the GSC will deliver.”

Dr Williams said research showed metropolitan governance halved the negative productivity impact from fragmented local government.

“This is a breakthrough for Sydney and the government is to be commended for recognising that business as usual will not deliver a liveable and successful Greater Sydney,” he said.

The Property Council’s NSW executive director Glenn Byres said an independent commission with authority to bring state agencies and councils into line with a common vision was essential.

“Given a proper mandate and a meaningful capacity to deliver results, the Commission can act as a game-changer that overcomes dysfunctional city planning,” Mr Byres said.

“Sydney has two big strategic challenges – a jobs deficit of 200,000 in our west, and a housing supply shortfall forecast to grow to 190,000 by 2024 without action.

“The status quo won’t cut it and we need to move to a model that can better align delivery of transport and social infrastructure with jobs and housing growth.

“Smart, sustainable growth means investing now in the leadership and big strategic choices that can help accelerate Sydney’s standing as a global city.”

The Urban Taskforce said the announcement of the GSC’s structure and role was a positive move towards more holistic planning of Sydney.

Chief executive Chris Johnson said success, however, would be determined by the people appointed to the commission

“The CEO and the chair of the Greater Sydney Commission must be quality people who can take on strong advocacy roles to determine and communicate the trade-offs that Sydney’s growth will need to make in order to deliver strong economic growth, adequate housing supply and long-term prosperity for the Sydney region,” Mr Johnson said.

He said the Commission needed to present a realistic picture of Sydney’s future, which he said was moving towards “apartment living in bustling urban precincts”.

Concerns raised over accountability

The Greens and the Better Planning Network slammed the structure of the Commission as taking away power from communities, however.

Greens planning spokesman David Shoebridge said the GSC would not satisfy “Sydney’s desperate need for accountable and sustainable regional planning”.

“The Greater Sydney Commission will not be democratically accountable to anyone, and that’s exactly the result the Baird government wants,” Mr Shoebridge said.

“It is good to see the planning minister seriously tackling the lack of strategic planning in the city. It’s deeply unfortunate that his solution is to remove any democracy from some of the biggest planning decisions facing Sydney.”

Mr Shoebridge said that while the current system was flawed, the planning minister was ultimately accountable for decisions affecting Sydney and the State, and could be thrown out.

“Everyone agrees that Sydney needs more co-ordinated regional planning, but putting a bunch of unelected technocrats in charge is neither democratic nor sustainable,” he said.

“The Greens support a democratic model where regional planning is undertaken by joint organisations of councils backed up with fresh legislative powers, not just another state-dominated planning body.

“The GSC is an extremely long way from the Coalition’s promise of returning planning powers to the community.”

The Better Planning Network said the move “fundamentally shifts” planning from the community to a government-appointed panel.

“This paradigm shift abandons any hope that planning will return to local communities,” BPN’s Jeanette Brokman said.

She said while the inclusion of independent commissioners was to be applauded, the objectives and proposed structure limited the ability for the commissioners to make amendments to a pre-determined strategy.

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  1. When people plan for a new home with an architect or draftsman they don’t exactly get to redefine what architecture is right? or insist that the toilet go in the living room! Otherwise we would have complete disorder, much like what is so chaotic about Sydney of today.

    So by the same token the Baird government has to get Sydney back on track. For decades this city has languished with poor public transport and sub par infrastructure. And in order for it to not lag further behind this new commission will deliver what small self interested and indolent councils could not. And that is a holistic and effective approach to city planning. We are beyond the times of pleasing everybody from small interest groups to nan who doesn’t want her suburb to change from the 40s. Because if we continue to embrace no change, then we will suffer the consequences economically and socially. For this I welcome robust policies that propel our global city to the next century and beyond.

  2. Last night Prof Laurence Murphy dispelled the myth that the solution to housing affordability is increasing supply. Using empirical evidence, econometric models and reviewing developer behaviour, he expounded that increased housing production over 25 years lead to very modest affordability in the same period. In Ireland between 1995 and 2006, prices went up 350%, 500,000 new dwellings built – then it was all burnt in GFC. Rising house prices is a driver of supply. Developers constrain supply, to drive prices higher, ensuring max gains. Developers can’t provide affordable housing- they have to bid for the price of land. More bidders – higher prices. The politicisation of urban planning is a CONSTRAINT rather than enabler of development. The sub-text is always that “planning rules are a complex problem” or “planning restrictions reduce housing supply and increase the affordability crisis”. A key trend in NZ is the role of credit markets (low interest rates and lax borrowing)encouraging debt, result in rising house prices to income ratios. People feel they are “missing out” if they aren’t in the race.
    NZ Minister claimed removal of planning rules, under Auckland Action would relieve “constipated urban planning” loosened up by his “laxative” Action plan. Auckland Housing Accord Action plan 2012 to provide 13000 homes over next 30 years. NZ Minister promised,If councils failed to grant consents, then Minister to step in. [Not too much different from NSW JRPP’s and Greater Planning Commission]. In Auckland, greenfield areas at great distance from city, with no public transport, rezoned for gigantic houses. But developers only had to provide 1BR dwellings to satisfy the affordability criteria – this isn’t housing for families – sold at 75% of median price – but nothing to stop BUYER on-selling at profit. A travesty. MARKET SOLUTIONS PRODUCE MARKETABLE HOUSING not affordable housing solutions. Prof Murphy suggests more workable solutions are Tax credits, in US developers can onsell credits to other companies, to realise gains, or affordable rental housing managed by social landlord – not-for-profit groups. We NEED A CONVERSATION first, AND COMMUNITY MUST BE INVOLVED in GREATER SYDNEY COMMISSION – if it is to produce the results claimed by the government.

  3. Agree with Greens, David Shoebridge, that we need coordinated planning and current system is not working. Commission processes have to be absolutely transparent. Why nominees from Councils why not some outstanding planners. Good to see Treasury, Planning and Transport sitting down together but Environment should be there as well. Vision is paramount and has to be carefully developed and requires robust public engagement and fairness. We need to know various carrying capacity scenarios along the lines of the work done by Ian Lowe for Australia. There was some good spade work in community consultation done by Moore and Dyer that should be revisited.

  4. I think it is for the best interest of Sydneysiders to ensure that there are more housing and infrastructure in place and completed ahead of schedule. The Greater Sydney Commission heads the 6 sub-regions to easily manage and implement the projects.
    There would definitely a consulation and feedback from the community.

    Sydney needs to be a global, world class, resilient, urbanised, connected and agile city for it to grow faster and evolve.

    I am looking forward for the great progress of Sydney in the near future.

  5. Where is the community input into this? Good one, the Government has just killed the smaller Councils and those left are loaded with self interested developers, as if they are going to nominate commissioners who actually care about social structure and the local environment.

    Bruce, as much as I like your good intentions, this ain’t the way to go about it. You need to get balance in this GSC group.

  6. Seems to me that what the Government is actually saying is that it wants to be able to direct developments without the interference and HENCE input of the public who fund it.
    Not Democratic . More like dictatorship for development businesses or Liberal Party Lobby groups who will no doubt have a vested interest in these PROJECTS and the high rise that will accompany them- as seems to be the habit of this government. Suburbia is not what we all grew up with it has been “planned” away.
    There is no doubt that the best examined and THOROUGHLY scrutinized and approved by the public that it is for if the right way tot be doing it. Excluding full community participation is not POSITIVE change and definitely not a reform

  7. Has someone changed the definition of ‘governance’ in the dictionary? While we need to plan Sydney from a broader perspective, we do need well thought out plans for people, not just what the developers want to give us.

  8. It is apparent with the Baird Government announcement of the structure of the Greater Sydney Commission, which is to implement the planning strategy for NSW, that it is the development lobby which will determine the future shape of Sydney regardless of the impact of developments on the existing residents, their rights to amenity and quality of life being sacrificed on the altar of big profits to developers. So much for the money wasted on the Moore/Dyer report and subsequent Green and White Papers and the supposed object of community consultation being at the heart of the planning process. This Government decision merely reinforces the community perception that democracy in NSW under this government is dead.

  9. Where has the community gone in this proposal – now where that I can see but is left out in the cold at all levels. Also what power will the commission have to ensure that infrastructure keeps pace or better precedes planning decisions. Can they compel Education to provide schools, or Health to provide hospitals and other health care facilities, will the sewerage system be upgraded in time to cope with the increase in flows etc etc. The whole of Government must be involved in the decision making just a not few technocrats.

  10. Mike Baird and Rob Stokes are following week-worn paths laid down over centuries of public administration. We are reminded that the dromedary is said to be the outcome of a high-powered commission of independent experts and community representatives, ably supported by government department heads. We are also reminded that said commission was created following an unsuccessful attempt to amalgamate the entire animal kingdom into a single standard creature in order to streamline the breeding and livestock industries which suffered intolerably from inefficiencies presented by an undue multiplicity of species.

  11. At no stage has there been information or public debate as to the target growth for Sydney to 8 million.
    Who set this target and on what basis was it reached ?

    There is no doubt that there is a great necessity for better planning and financing of infrastructure, but the agenda seems to be determined by “develop and to hell with quality of life and the natural environment” lobby led by Chris Johnson.

    This lobby is too closely associated with paid lobbyists and generous donations to the Liberal Party. It is a dubious partnership opaque and high handed.