As the New South Wales Minns government seeks to tackle the housing supply challenge, it also faces another equally important problem – how to protect unique environmental assets, avoid flood and bushfire risks and deliver liveability to residents.
The developer lobby isn’t helping with its demands for ‘’everything, everywhere’’ and opposing critical urban cooling measures like expanding Sydney’s tree canopy across all land tenures.
Premier Minns, Planning Minister Paul Scully and Environment Minister Penny Sharpe should certainly avoid the unedifying behaviour of the previous planning minister, Anthony Roberts when, at a developers’ lunch, he dumped a vital policy that would have ensured new residential areas and apartments are able to be liveable as the climate heats up.
The problems are well known and have been well publicised. The more concrete and asphalt, the greater the health risks to thousands of people from urban heat. Build on flood plains and imperil the lives of residents and property loss. Sprawl into koala habitat and corridors and push the species closer to extinction.
Developers are leveraging the housing crisis
We are yet to hear what the NSW government is going to do about this. No doubt developer lobbyists are leveraging the housing supply issue to push for fast tracking of decisions, bypassing councils and reducing essential impact assessments. They claim building sustainability measures are unaffordable (despite delivering cheaper running costs) and that trees (nature’s free airconditioner) on private land and green spaces prevent maximum development.
The government needs to balance this debate and show the community it is not deaf to these and allied issues. Here’s a few things they could do.
Lock in a greenbelt to stop urban sprawl. The Cumberland Plain Conservation Plan covering much of the area west of Campbelltown is weak and will crumble under developer pressure. Proposed conservation reserves are planned for 15-20 years into the future and irreplaceable ecological communities aren’t even zoned environment protection. You can guess how short their lifespan will be.
Despite encompassing an expanding and healthy koala colony, vital to the future of the species, massive developments such as at Appin, Wollondilly and Gilead are eating into habitat.
Their proponents and the Department of Planning spent years trying to undermine an effective bushland grid of corridors and road underpasses that will give some level of security for Koalas.
The NSW Chief Scientist had to be called in to spell out the key metrics for an effective and fenced set of corridors (425 metres average width, no less than 250m at any point) – otherwise koala land would be fragmented and road kills significantly increase.
Entrench environment protection along with infrastructure before development
Whether the Minns government can give substance to its claim to want to curb urban sprawl and save koalas remains to be seen. Just as there are demands that critical public transport, school and health infrastructure should be delivered before tens of thousands of people take up residence – so too, should environment protection be entrenched before development occurs.
What about the delivery of green spaces and trees in new developments?
They are social goods delivering immediate health benefits to new residents and ensuing generations. They are particularly important where greater density is anticipated.
Anything to say premier?
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One of the impressive aspects of the sustainability policy dumped by Minister Roberts was the retention of deep soil on private land upon which mature, shading trees could grow. Key developers are continuing their opposition focused on repeating past mistakes that delivered treeless, boiling suburbs. Does the Minns government have anything to say?
Total Environment Centre is proposing a city-wide blue-green grid of linked up parks and waterways, protected by legislation. From the koala lands of western Sydney, along mangrove and bush lined streams and parks to the coast where whales migrate. What a great legacy for a government to deliver!
Sydney needs a green vision and a government that can implement it on the edge of Sydney and in the established suburbs. As the Minns government resets planning policies and crafts its departmental structures, let’s not forget what’s at stake.