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REDWatch on the New Planning System Challenges

In this panel presentation by REDWatch Spokesperson Geoff Turnbull on "Citizens and city making: Who should be involved and how?" to a forum held by the Henry Halloran Trust at Sydney University on 18 April 2013, Geoff outlines, a couple of days afterr the release of the White Paper some of the challenges for community groups like REDWatch in the proposed New Planning System for NSW.

Who should be involved in city making and how?

City making is everybody’s responsibility. It is a civic responsibility and not just the responsibility of the government, planners, architects, developers and builders. It is a civic responsibility because we all have to live in or with what is built in our neighbourhoods. 

It is we who bear the externalised costs of developments; we who fund the public infrastructure or put up with its inadequacies; we who fund public housing and services for those not catered for by the market.

For the last 10 years REDWatch has been engaged with planning in Redfern & Waterloo. We have participated in Government defined consultation spaces as well as created our own spaces for dialogue and campaigns, and pushed successfully for improved community engagement and for outcomes that work for the community as well as for government.

We recognise that our area does not stand in isolation. How can it as part of the global economic corridor and the next station out from Central? In Draft Metro Strategy terms we live in an area where the NSW Government has been “addressing social exclusion upfront to make an area more viable for urban renewal”(p34 footnote 8). For us the Metro Strategy promises to support strategic renewal in this highly accessible Central to Eveleigh corridor (p84). Not mentioned are the proposed renewal of our public housing estates and the proposed removal of 1 in 5 public housing units in Redfern Waterloo under a dubious “social mix” policy.

Groups like ours have been involved in actively making our part of the city and we have to be actively involved in the decisions about broader city-making also.

The problem for us is how we participate more broadly when our membership mostly has day jobs and all have limited time and resources. We do not have the option of sending people off to industry functions and conferences where senior planning figures talk about Government or international planning policy. We are not invited to Government consultations about future policy. We are not part of the gossip circles or professional associations of the planning system. We cannot pay people to write our submissions and we do not have members who can afford to pay lobbyists.

In short we are the people who are last to find out about proposals, have to quickly analyse lengthy proposals without briefings, educate ourselves about the issues, inform our communities about possible impacts, listen to their response and then try and respond intelligently in a written submission, and we are expected to be able to do all this in four weeks with minimal resources! If we misunderstand or do not agree we are labelled obstructionist!

Last year REDWatch supported the establishment of the Better Planning Network which now counts over 350 community member groups across the state. It makes sense to us to have a “peak” group focusing on the proposed planning system changes and then feeding back this analysis into local groups rather than each of us doing it. It is very early stages for BPN but we have to look at how groups are linked across the state, regions and sub regions.

According to the Draft Metro Strategy our prime voice informing the planning system will be in the sub regional plan. We will be one of hundreds of groups trying to get their area’s issues recognised in a plan covering 17 councils reaching from Hunters Hill and Mosman to Botany and from Ashfield to Woollahra. This is a big change from dealing with our local neighbourhood Government Authority and City of Sydney Council.

REDWatch is one of the lucky ones, in that we have been dealing with planning issues for years. Spare a thought for what it means for Redfern Waterloo public housing tenants who Housing NSW found very difficult to get engaged. Many don’t believe that a government who can’t provide them with urgent maintenance and quite enjoyment of their homes could ever get itself organised enough to redevelop their estates and even if they did they say “Housing never listen to us so why would they start now”.

So you begin to see the huge challenge for government and residents that is coming in the new planning system for NSW if community engagement is going to be put at the front of this system. It has to work otherwise the screams at the back end when buildings go up and people haven’t had a say will be politically loud and long.

If anyone asks me, my advice is - don’t remove the ability for people to comment on DAs until you can demonstrate code assessable development and regional strategic planning are really working.

We all need to be involved in this process of city-making in our city. There needs to education about planning matters so we have an informed community to be involved in that discussion. There need to be processes that really listen to community concerns and explain back to the community what is being proposed in the plans and how it will impact on them. Having heard people’s input there needs also to be discussion so that, as far as is possible a community consensus emerges.

Community Engagement has a bad name in Redfern Waterloo. We have been over consulted and seldom recognise what we have said reflected in the final report. Community engagement will need to become a facilitator of community voices and ideas, not a filter to give proponents what they want to hear.

If we can do some of this then hopefully we really can have all citizens creatively involved in the making of our city.

Source: Geoff Turnbull REDWatrch Spokesperson 18//4/2013.  This presentation was also reproduced by the South Sydney Herald Making cities, building communities. You can see the presentations from this panel under People Building Better Cities on the Faculty of Architecture Thursday Night Lectures page.