Stephen Albin

Last week’s long-awaited announcement on the Greater Sydney Commission has been widely welcomed by many involved in the property sector. For a city of global scale it might come as a surprise there never really has been any one body responsible for its growth.

While there have been plans going back to the Cumberland Plan for the growth of the city, adherence has been optional as no one group has been responsible for implementation.

It would be fair to say that the growth of this city has been left to almost 50 local governments and a multitude of state government departments (who also have no one leader and often have conflicting agendas). The outcome has been to create a city where development is close to unviable. All levels of government use the industry as a “milch cow” to line their coffers with goods and services taxes, developer levies, stamp duty, land taxes, state infrastructure charges, biodiversity offsets and now NBN costs all coalescing to make Sydney one of the most expensive places to run a development company in the world – and definitely not the place for delivering affordable housing product.

The Greater Sydney Commission adds the structure to the process. By creating a board comprising the heads of Department of Planning and Environment, Transport for NSW and Treasury, they bring a strong coalition of bureaucracies. Introducing six new district representatives will bring the community into the growth mix. With three new commissioners – social, environmental and economic – there will be new expertise injected into planning for growth. It will be interesting to see how the different perspectives bring their skills together to promote the responsible growth of Sydney.

Under the Commission, there are a range of other Committees. The Joint Regional Planning Panels will now be folded into the Commission. The Sub-Regional Plans will become District Plans and the Infrastructure Delivery Committee will be where agencies do their bidding and draft their capital expenditure programs to support growth. Finally, there is a strategic planning committee where they will prioritise growth precincts and areas that will accommodate growth, with statutory support.

It sounds and looks good on paper. If the Greater Sydney Commission is the go-to body for development then they have just wiped out numerous conflicting clearance points that have delayed approvals by years. But, if it is not, then a whole new level of bureaucracy has been created that may create significant unintended consequences.

UDIA NSW has been active in providing thought leadership on the Greater Sydney Commission and believes that if it is done correctly it will achieve great things.

There are a couple of differences in the model we proposed. For starters, there is no one actually responsible for development on the commission (at the moment). This is a major concern for a couple of reasons. First, property developers are responsible for delivering growth in this state and building more than 95 per cent of the housing we live in. If they are not at the table then you risk going back to delivering plans that cannot be implemented. Secondly, property developers are important stakeholders whether some other interest groups like it or not. The industry is one of the top contributors to gross state product and is one of the largest employers in the state.

The Greater Sydney Commission has a big job ahead and there will be some defining moments that will be a barometer of its success. It will be successful if it can bring together clearance points, act with the authority that is expected of it and create an extension to the industry that the prosperity of this state is so reliant. If not, then we have just established another expensive optional planning exercise.

Stephen Albin is chief executive of the Urban Development Institute of Australia NSW.

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