SEPP-GATE: The NSW upper house has given the state government 35 days to hand over all the documents relating to its controversial decision to dump a vital climate resilience policy package, known as the design and place SEPP.
The production of documents order means the state government is now required to hand over all “correspondence, advice, briefings, and minutes of meetings” relating to the DP SEPP that have been created by the government since 21 December 2021.
The motion was put forward by Greens MLC Cate Faerhman and passed with support of both Labor and crossbench MPs. It covers all documents that are held by the premier, Planning Minister Anthony Roberts, and the NSW Department of Planning and Environment.
The order will force the planning minister to reveal to the public exactly what he said during his “secret speech” at an Urban Taskforce event on 5 April, where he controversially announced he was dropping the climate resilience policy but refused to produce a copy of the speech to those who were not in attendance.
(The Urban Taskforce’s upcoming Development Excellence Awards, which features Minister Roberts as a special guest, charges members $2200 for a table of eight to attend.)
Adding to the state government’s woes, The Fifth Estate understands there is now a very real possibility of a parliamentary inquiry over the dumping of the DP SEPP, according to industry sources.
The news is likely to cause major headaches for NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet, who in recent weeks announced a slate of sustainability, transport and planning policies in a bid to win over independent voters ahead of the upcoming state election. No doubt with an eye on the massive electoral success of the teals that recently ousted his national stablemates.
The risk of small-l liberal voters abandoning the Coalition for “teal” independents will be seen as a strong opportunity for the supporters of high-profile critic, author, academic and novelist Elizabeth Farrelly, who’s just announced she’s wants to stand for the state upper house after attracting 10 per cent of the vote at a recent by election..
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Secret speech revealed
The design and place SEPP was a broad climate resilience policy package aimed at protecting people primarily in the most vulnerable areas of Sydney in its western suburbs. It called for new homes to use “low albedo materials and light colours for surfaces, especially roofs, together with urban tree canopy to reduce urban heat”.
The policy also required new master planned communities to be walkable and cyclable mixed use developments; contained provisions for trees, green space and net zero assessments; and contained new apartment design guidelines for access to natural light and ventilation.
In a speech to parliament, Ms Faerhman highlighted the fact that Minister Roberts made the controversial decision to drop the DP SEPP less than a month after the disastrous floods in the Northern Rivers.
“We really do not know on what basis the Minister made that decision. The only people in this state who do know are members of the developer lobby to which he gave a speech—which he has refused to make public,” Ms Faerhman said.
“The motion before the house calls for various papers, including the speech he gave to Urban Taskforce, as well as various documents, correspondence and advice that helped to inform the planning minister’s disastrous decision.”
So who did the planning minister speak to before he abandoned the SEPP?
Meanwhile, recently released diary disclosures for Minister Roberts raise new questions about how widely the minister consulted with stakeholders before he made his decision to drop the DP SEPP.
In NSW government ministers are required every three months to disclose every person they have held meetings with. The latest disclosures for Minister Roberts cover the period from 1 January to 31 March, just days before he abandoned the DRP SEPP.
The disclosures show Minister Roberts held a series of meetings to “discuss planning reform” with developer lobby groups that opposed the policy, such as Urban Taskforce Australia on 15 February.
However, key stakeholder groups that supported the DP SEPP, said the door was closed to them – despite repeated requests in some cases, such as the Total Environment Centre, but also the Australian Institute of Architects.
“He is not speaking to us. We’re not invited into the conversation. He announced this at an Urban Taskforce lunch,” a spokesperson from the AIA previously told The Fifth Estate.
Minister Roberts’ dismissive attitude to key industry stakeholders about the dumping of the SEPP appears to be ongoing.
Recently, respected environmental campaigner the TE C’s Jeff Angel wrote to Treasurer Matt Kean to express a number of concerns about the NSW government’s decision to abandon the policy.
In a letter sighted by The Fifth Estate, Mr Angel received what appears to be a pro-forma response from a state government bureaucrat, rather than from the minister himself.
“As this relates to the Planning Portfolio your correspondence was referred to the Hon. Antony [SIC] Roberts MP, Minister for Planning and Minister for Homes. The Minister has asked me to thank you for your letter and respond on his behalf,” the letter said.
But was there a smidgeon of hope in the letter?
It continued: “While the proposed Design and Place SEPP has been discontinued, we will continue to develop elements of that policy which support sustainable supply of housing that helps NSW meet its targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
“We have received feedback that having too many principles and considerations will increase the complexity of delivering of new housing supply, and place undue regulatory burden on building new homes. Stakeholders have also shared that the pace of change to the system was creating uncertainty.”
On this reading, you would be forgiven for thinking that Minister Roberts finds merit in listening to some “stakeholders”, while dismissing others with pro forma letters from bureaucrats.