NSW Planning Green Paper

The Future of Planning In NSW

James Ryan 13.7.12

Tomorrow the NSW Planning Minister will release the ‘Green Paper’ produced as a result of the Governments ‘Planning System Review.’

NSW is about to take the biggest leap in planning for 30 years. Back then community pressure was building for residents to have a say in planning decisions.

The EP&A Act and associated mechanisms were a breathtaking inovation at the time, requiring public exhibition of all but the smallest developments, allowing written submissions (including objections) from residents and concerned citizens, mandating an environmental assessment of development, and not only allowing rights of appeal but setting up a special court (Land & Environment Court) to hear objections.

In the intervening years the EP&A Act has been progressively watered down giving objectors less appeal rights and facilitating quicker development.

The worst debasing of the EP&A Act came in 2005 with the introduction of a completely new Part of the Act, Part 3A, which gave such enourmous discretion to the Minister that the ICAC judged it a corruption risk.

In 2011 largely on the back of extensive community unrest the NSW Coalition were swept to power promising to repeal Part 3A and hand planning power back to the community.

We should read ‘back to the community‘ as having a special meaning. It means local residents can access the plans and reports, they can speak at local forums (their local Council) and make a detailed written submission. They can trust that a fair and objective decision will be made based on the merit of the application in the local context, and regardless of who the appllicant is.

Any ‘handing back’ which does not enhance local participation will not meet the NSW Coalitions’ election promise.

Following the March 2011 election there was initial excitement as Part 3A was repealed. There was then a thoughful pause as it was realised that of the 500 Part 3A projects ‘on the books’ 250 if these would continue to be assessed under the flawed legislation. Effectively the community were left with several years of Part 3A development in the system. It was a hollow victory.

Since then the outlook has become decidedly darker.

Keep in mind that as a community we aren’t silly. Without being professional planners we usually know 4 things.

We know developers want to make a profit (and will claim their own development is urgently needed, environmentally sound, has widespread support, and will provide low cost housing).

We know that strategic planning which looks at the big picture will provide a better long term result that ad hoc decisions.

We know that pollution and environmental degradation is cumulative. A development that clears 1 ha of bushland may not be the end of the world, but when 99 such developments occur in sequence the local bushland and environment will never be the same.

And finally we know that each local area is different, and often important details are missed by consultants and public servants who are under pressure to provide a quick result.

Ultimately we can say a planning system needs:

1) An overall presumption that planning decision must be made for the good of all and must leave the community in the same or better position than before.

2) Strong institutions required to make decisions based on merit, and objective and accurate environmental assessments to allow the meritorious decision to be made.

2) An assessment system that takes into account the cumulative impact of developments.

3) Enforceable strategic plans.

4) A system that is locally accessible, open and transparent.

5) A system which provides for public submissions on both planning and development decisions and which can be reviewed by the courts.

After 30 years the people of NSW will not easily accept a planning system which cuts them out.

Unfortunately of late Minister Hazzard seems to have been behaving remarkably like the previous Labor Planning Ministers who caused the community revolt. In a grim sign of what may be ahead of us the Planning Minister has done the following:

1) Openly asked developers to nominate land for fast track housing development.

2) Placed on exhibition an ‘Urban Activation Precincts’ proposal which allows developers to nominate land for rezoning.

3) Has leant tacit support to the UDIA suggestions to abandon the Sydney Metropolitan Strategy.

4) Supported the idea that once strategic planning has occurred residents will no longer have rights to participate by making submissions on the ensuing development applcations.

5) Indicated he would grant dwelling entitlements to the notorious paper subdivisions of North Arms Cove, Blacktown and Shoalhaven.

On a wide view Minister Hazzards’ Green Paper will be judged by how much it is prepared to be visionary and provide NSW with a planning system which is truly cogniscent of the need to nurture our environment and the desperate need to have community based strategic planning provide a blue print for development and re-use that benefits the whole community.

It is time to recognise that the role of developers should be restricted to providing logistical and construction functions once the strategic planning has been finalised by the community.

From a close up perspective the Green Paper will need to satify an informed and educated community who rightfully demand an increasing say in what their local community looks like and the extent of cumulative impact which is acceptable in their lives and local environment.

Lets see how the ‘Green Paper’ meets the test.

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