Aerial view of urban sprawl and the rapidly growing south western Sydney suburb of Oran Park.

What are we willing to trade for cheap housing? The NSW Planning Minister’s recent decision to scrap the draft Design and Place SEPP (State Environmental Planning Policy) leaves communities open to the long-term costs of climate change and natural disasters, not to mention long, car-dependent commutes and lower quality of life.

Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (WSROC) and many other organisations had been working with the NSW government to develop the Design and Place SEPP, a piece of legislation that would require developers to include measures to reduce urban heat, prevent exposure to natural disasters, and include plenty of room for trees, parks and other community infrastructure. 

Unfortunately, the Design and Place SEPP has been scrapped due to concerns about house prices.

While affordability is a real challenge, this decision fails to understand that mortgage repayments are just one cost-of-living hurdle for Western Sydney communities. Whether you rent or own, cutting corners on housing quality increases costs in other areas. 

Western Sydney households already use 100 per cent more energy to cool their homes in summer

Poor quality housing means higher energy bills and insurance premiums for the life of a home. Western Sydney households already use 100 per cent more energy to cool their homes in summer, and in high-risk areas, annual insurance premiums leave households with a no-win choice between insuring their homes and contents or keeping up with mortgage repayments.

The Design and Place SEPP contained further measures to prevent new housing in disaster-prone areas – measures that the minister said would threaten affordable housing delivery. Natural disasters destroy lives, they threaten community safety, and cause long-term financial and emotional trauma. On the back of a second year of catastrophic floods, how can the minister honestly argue that high-risk housing is affordable or sustainable?

On the back of a second year of catastrophic floods, how can the minister honestly argue that high-risk housing is affordable or sustainable?

When we talk about housing affordability, we can’t forget that the design of new suburbs is equally important. At the community level, poor design results in housing as far as the eye can see, without enough local jobs, schools, or parks. This costs communities several hours per day stuck in traffic gridlock, higher travel costs, with less time available to spend with family.

The long-term, social cost of poor urban design leaves communities with higher medical costs. Western Sydney residents suffer far higher rates of chronic diseases like diabetes than communities in other parts of the city; increasing pressure on families and the hospital system. Research tells us this is due to a combination of lifestyle factors such as long commute times, less time and space for physical activity, and even poorer access to fresh food.

The minister’s decision to scrap the Design and Place SEPP, based on feedback from the development industry ignores years of work from leading experts and state-wide stakeholders.

The minister’s decision to scrap the Design and Place SEPP, based on feedback from the development industry ignores years of work from leading experts and state-wide stakeholders. It also disregards the efforts of many government agencies to acknowledge the risk to communities across the state; the most recent bushfire and flooding disasters have left whole communities devastated. 

The suggestion that the planning rules we already have in place are delivering great outcomes for communities is laughable.  

The NSW government’s glossy strategic plans might talk about walkable, liveable, resilient Western Sydney communities, but what’s being delivered on the ground – particularly in lower-income areas – are sizzling hot concrete jungles that drive up energy bills, apartment blocks with major structural defects, and communities suffering disasters that could have been avoided. 

Reducing planning requirements, does not make housing more affordable, it simply kicks cost-of-living down the road for individual businesses and households to deal with, and creates more problems than it solves. 

Western Sydney’s rapid development is a one-shot opportunity to establish liveable, safe, affordable communities that will be in place for decades to come.

I ask the Minister for Planning and Housing, Anthony Roberts, whether he is comfortable being the person who denied Western Sydney residents more resilient, better-quality housing on the back of consecutive natural disasters, in a context where costs of power, transport and other essential services are skyrocketing, and in opposition to the work his own government is doing to mitigate and adapt to climate change.  

If the minister believes business as usual is keeping communities safe, happy and well, I invite him to join me on a tour of Western Sydney to see what our communities have to say.

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  1. Oh God, what that photo reveals about our planning system, no trees in sight, no open space no parks just black roofs, black roads and black future for the residents.