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COMMENT: It didn’t take long for the development lobby to jump in and trash the NSW planning minister’s new planning policies for more “beauty and liveability” in communities.

The new draft design and place state environmental planning policy puts people first.

It calls for placemaking and housing thatputs heathier communities, housing choice, cooler and walkable suburbs and sustainable development at its heart.”

Among the outcomes would be the opportunity for “designers to think outside the box and support innovation and creativity when building new homes, suburbs and cities,” planning minister Rob Stokes said.

“Great places aren’t always the product of rules and regulation, they are the result of place based design that puts communities at their heart.

“This principles-based policy is an important step in defining what matters and how through good processes and wiser decision making we can build a beautiful and prosperous future,” he said.

It’s a good idea to pick up on the word prosperous. The minister here is referring to the entire community, not just the prosperity of the development industry. It’s a subtle and important distinction.

Predictably, and within 24 minutes of the SEPP’s official release (we were told) at 8 am on Friday in landed the Property Council’s equally heartfelt complaint that the SEPP was “unworkable” and would have a “detrimental impact on housing investment, affordability and job creation”.

Presumably building paper mache houses in this market would be more productive for job creation especially in the health sector which would need to pick up the pieces.

Impact on housing development? Well maybe developers would need to stop putting houses on tiny blocks with no room for a tree, open plan, single glazing (like 81 per cent of all new houses as natHERS assessor Tracey Cools told a recent conference, in disgust)

Housing: woeful, inadequate, poor outcomes? Take your pick

Property Council’s NSW Executive Director Luke Achterstraat said the SEPP threw “uncertainty” into the planning mix. But wait: fevelopers in general constantly rail against the exclusion of spot rezoning. So do they want certainty or not? They should make up their minds.

The new SEPP would provide “every excuse for panels to not approve further housing build” the Property Council said before linking this somehow to the price of housing and the inability of people to buy their first home.

As if supply or planning delay is the driver for the housing bubble under way right now, while we all know that if the prices started to fall developers would instantly stop the supply. (Well, no-one likes an existential threat do they, especially if they are there to make money, so that makes sense.) Besides, social housing is the rightful job of government, isn’t it?

So what part of the outcomes exactly does the property industry object to?

Here are they are so you can take a guess:

  • Greater housing diversity and choice, including provisions for flexible layouts for families, space to work or study, adequate sunlight, more storage and usable balconies
  • Homes that are more comfortable in both winter and summer and are cost effective to heat and cool
  • More, and better quality parks within reach no matter if you live in an apartment or new greenfield suburb
  • Greater permeability in new subdivisions that make it easier to walk or cycle to key destinations
  • Beautiful and productive high streets and centres that are better for business
  • Commercial buildings that operate at net zero, from day one of coming online

At least the PCA said the SEPP was well-intentioned before launching into an attack about the “rigid application of vaguely defined principles will simply lead to well-designed projects sitting in a queue”.

“No details around holding costs, increasing building material costs, administrative burden and other aspects of feasibility have been provided,” the PCA complains, again indicating this will result in less affordable housing.

Again the data says this is not a problem. If we’re looking for a reason for the housing/tulip bubble look to the cost of money: it’s a global phenomenon.

The environment groups that are actually in tune with the built environment were prepared for the onslaught.

The conservation movement welcomed the intention of the SEPP but the government would need to “resist the developer wrecking ball” a media statement said on Friday. 

Total Environment Centre director Jeff Angel said: “The developer lobby’s response to the policy has been, quite typically, an hysterical overreaction confected to protect the industry’s mega profits at the expense of communities and environment.  

“Look at the mess that developers have made of Sydney so far. If the government were to follow the developer lobby’s prescriptions, we’d end up with half the trees, twice the heat and double the heating and cooling costs.”

“Look at the mess that developers have made of Sydney so far. If the government were to follow the developer lobby’s prescriptions, we’d end up with half the trees, twice the heat and double the heating and cooling costs.”

Jeff angel

Nature Conservation Council Acting Chief Executive Jacqui Mumford said: “The government could go further to help communities meet the challenges of the 21st century, including a hotter climate, but the draft policy is a vast improvement on current arrangements.  

“The developer lobby’s vision for Sydney housing is cheap, fast and profitable. The people have a very different vision. They want Sydney to be a place that is beautiful, safe and livable.  

“It appears the government’s vision, expressed through this policy, supports what the people want more than what the developers are demanding. That’s a breath of fresh air.”

And guess what? 

Having a great city that’s cared for and well planned and well protected is what will continue to attract investment and innovation.

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  1. Health continues to support the property industry when people cannot go home from hospital because they can’t get in the door and/or use the bathroom. Then there are the falls that could have been avoided. Not to mention the cost of extra paid home care hours to do the things a person can’t do because of the design of the home.
    Fortunately, there will be design features for all new housing that will mitigate these issues in the next NCC. But NSW government isn’t going to participate despite intense lobbying by community advocacy groups. The answer is in your article – they think ‘flexible’ and ‘housing choice’ means the same thing. Even so, they still won’t sign up to these simple and effective design changes. Your guess is as good as mine as to why these features will be in other states but not NSW.