Planning – a new approach?

Planning and Development Application (DA) processes in NSW are changing with major implications for the inner city. The SSH asked REDWatch spokesperson Geoff Turnbull to explain some of the issues in the June 2013 issue of the Souyth Sydney Herald.

The Department of Planning and Infrastructure (DoPI) has put on exhibition until June 28 both a 200 page A New Planning System for NSW White Paper and associated Draft Legislation. The White Paper has been the focus of the DoPI’s road show but it is the Act that will determine how the system operates. The two documents, however, currently contain significant differences.

Not available are either the transition arrangements from the existing to the new system, nor the details of the new codes and policies that are to replace the existing State Environmental Planning Polices (SEPPs) that govern the minutiae of the current system. “Trust us to deliver what is in the White Paper” is the subtext of the DoPI road show. This is difficult when developer groups say they have almost everything they asked for.

It is difficult even for professional groups to get clear answers. At a Heritage Council forum DoPI told heritage practitioners there would be no change as far as heritage was concerned, while later in the session DoPI invited input on how the codes would deal with heritage no longer subject to merit assessment. The Heritage Council publically lamented that DoPI had not listened to them and their three submissions.

One major change is the removal of the principles of Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD) which is one of the Objects of the current Act. ESD is recognised federally and in 60 other NSW Acts with established case law. In its place DoPI propose an object of “economic growth and environmental and social well-being through sustainable development”. Growth is the focus. Gone are the fundamental importance of the precautionary principle, the polluter pays principle and other pricing and incentive mechanisms, and biodiversity and ecological integrity. The DoPI road show treats it as a name change rather than a fundamental change in the focus of the system, and does not even acknowledge that key principles are being lost.

Building on the Coalition’s pre-election promise to return planning power to the people Minister Hazzard argues the main change in the new system is to get people involved in deciding the key elements upfront like strategic plans and development codes, so they will no longer need to comment on up to 80 per cent of DAs. The difficulties of shifting people’s focus from the local to the regional are universally acknowledged and new online mechanisms are proposed.

Sitting alongside the Minister’s upfront promise is the concurrent Metropolitan Strategy exhibition (see separate item). Community consultation has been poor and not in line with the new system and yet this strategy sets the planning parameters for Sydney’s future. So when people turn up to work on their sub-regional and local plans they will find the broad outline locked in. The Minister has extended the exhibition by a month to try to get more participation, rather than re-exhibit under the new system as requested by the Better Planning Network.

The community participation aspirations are not reflected in the draft Act. The Minister can override the plans and no plan or decision can be appealed against on the grounds that community engagement was not undertaken. The ICAC raised corruption risk concerns in their Green Paper submission but the Minister’s wide powers remain unaddressed in the draft Act.

With 80 per cent of DAs being under $290,000 DoPI wants to remove most of these from being exhibited. They want them dealt with by Council under new codes that should meet most contingencies. While neighbours will still be informed work will start near them, they will have no right to object to the development. Proposed in code development by DoPI is the ability to build up to 10-storey developments and rows of up to 20 town houses in appropriately zoned areas. So it’s not just about a home renovation next door. If zoned correctly much of the existing Redfern Waterloo Built Environment Plan 2 public housing redevelopment could be done under codes. Only those bits that exceed the code, say the 11th & 12th storey of some buildings would need to be exhibited and merit assessed.

One of the benefits of the new system is supposed to be that state infrastructure will now be delivered in tandem with new development or within three years. The aspiration is admirable, like much in the White Paper, but there is no way of forcing treasury or government to ensure it is delivered nor any way of stopping further development if the infrastructure is not delivered as promised. Again, it is a matter of stated intent and trust of government, planners and developers to do better than they have in the past without some of the checks and balances.

These are some of the issues. You can find more information and links to some of the issues guides under the “NSW Planning System” tab on

Source: South Sydney Herald JUne 2013 - Planning – a new approach?