13 February 2014 — Fears have been raised that the NSW Government will use existing powers to push through reforms to the planning system that were rejected by parliament last year.
Significant changes were made to the package of bills put before parliament last November, however the government refused to vote on the Upper House amendments, with Planning Minister Brad Hazzard saying the government would take three months to decide whether to pass the amended bill or go back to the drawing board.
However, according to the Newcastle Herald, Premier Barry O’Farrell told a press conference in Maitland on Monday that the government would “get on and seek to deliver those changes using the existing powers that Labor gave the planning ministers”.
Corinne Fisher from the Better Planning Network, which had been critical of the reform process, said the government was now trying to get the unpopular reforms through the back door using “powers they have railed against for years”.
“Aren’t these the very powers that discredited the current planning system in recent years?” Ms Fisher said.
She said the government had failed to convince both the community and parliament that the planning reforms would result in a fair and equitable planning system.
“The Government set out to please just two stakeholder groups – the mining and development lobbies – and has ended up pleasing no one.”
Urban Taskforce chief executive Chris Johnson, meanwhile, welcomed the news that the government would use its existing powers to push through its planning agenda.
“We believe the government should proceed with the reforms as outlined in their White Paper and that most of this can be done through existing legislation,” Mr Johnson said.
“NSW housing supply cannot wait until after the next election. The government can develop a package of changes that come from the proposed reforms and implement these within the existing Planning Act.”
He said that driving new housing was of key importance, and that the community had been rile up by “scaremongering” from the Greens.
“Claims by the Greens that the Eastern Suburbs will have ‘high rise to the seaside’ or that the government plans ‘to bulldoze the North Shore’ are clearly gross exaggerations that are intended to stir up community anger against change to the planning system.”
Greens NSW planning spokesman and MP David Shoebridge told The Fifth Estate Mr Johnson had obviously not read any of the Greens’ material on planning reform.
He said that the government’s proposed system, even as amended, was “an extremely top down planning system” with little if any powers for councils in local planning decisions.
Code assessable development, the centrepiece of the reform removed in the amendments, acted to exclude residents from having a say, Mr Shoebridge said, and that 20 townhouses could be built on someone’s street without any input from residents allowed.
He said the move to push ahead with the government’s original planning system was “laying bare the government’s intent from day one: to take democracy out of planning”.
Mr Shoebridge said the Greens supported sensible infill development, but that the “utopia of high-rise development put forward by the property industry” was not in the community’s interest.