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State significant: another step in redistribution of powers - 29.11.2004

The State Government's plans to rejuvenate the troubled inner-city suburbs reveal a broader agenda to strip planning powers from local councils in specific areas or along corridors that it thinks need renewal.

Five corridors are flagged for upgrade in the Government's metropolitan strategy, the blueprint that is being developed to co-ordinate the city's growth over the next 30 years.
Those corridors are the lucrative city-airport strip, Parramatta Road, Canterbury Road, the Hume Highway, and the arc from Royal North Shore Hospital through to the Ryde high-technology area.

If the bill before Parliament is passed without amendments to create the Redfern-Waterloo Authority, the minister appointed to take charge, the former lord mayor Frank Sartor, will have extraordinary powers over land and transport - and that model of governance could logically be extended to other areas, such as the renewal corridors.

Under the bill, not only will Mr Sartor be able to declare any property within the authority's boundaries "state significant", and thus immune to council intervention or heritage restrictions, he will have the power to annex virtually any area within the state, as his jurisdiction is not geographically constrained. He also has powers to acquire land compulsorily, without objection.

Not even his own authority board members, whom he will appoint, can stop him, as he has legislative powers to overrule their objections to ensure projects are not stalled.
This absolute rule, and Mr Sartor's stated desire to make things happen quickly in the area, would put him in potential conflict with the Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, an outspoken critic of the bill, and also the only person so far to have been declared an automatic board member.

Earlier this year, the Carr Government's top planning bureaucrat, Jennifer Westacott, withdrew an official report by the Government Architect, Chris Johnson, in which a powerful city-airport authority was canvassed, after the report was leaked. Government sources insist that plans to remove the eight-kilometre strip from City of Sydney are still being examined.
But while the authority's powers are incredibly broad, most of them are not new, and are styled on an existing body, the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority.

That authority has been embroiled in controversy for the way in which it has consulted, and developed land, on projects like Darling Harbour and Pyrmont. It has its own force of council-like rangers, and Mr Sartor will likewise be able to form his own posse of Redfern troops, to enforce the authority's regulations.

By Darren Goodsir, Urban Affairs Editor

Originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald
November 29, 2004