New planning system for NSW all about certainty for developers

Good planning can add value and pleasure to people's lives and the well-being of communities. Bad planning can destroy lives and communities. The NSW Government is reviewing the 30-year-old planning system which, given the sad and unhappy context of recent experiences under the previous government - where it became a developers’ playground and where former Sydney Lord Mayor Frank Sartor (back in the day when we liked his pronouncements about planning and private certifiers) ridiculed the Land and Environment Court by referring to it as the Land and Developers’ Court – is not before time.

The previous Government became notorious for removing planning powers from councils for "state significant projects" and the gradual decline in the quality of our built environment accelerated. We applauded the incoming State Government for the immediate removal of the infamous Part 3A. And we happily accepted the opportunity to have some time with Tim Moore and Ron Dyer who started the "clean sheet of paper" review.

It's not just Maria and the von Trapp family who understand that it makes sense to begin at the beginning and, as the plucky Maria sang, "it begins with doe". We just hope it doesn't begin with “dough”. Developers have had it delivered to them on the plate for too long and it's time the needs of the community become the first priority.

Effective consultation with the community in developing a planning instrument to regulate development is a worthy goal. Clearly not as easy to provide as policy makers would like, it makes sense to create expectations in planning instruments for both developers and the community in the development that is proposed to take place. But in the rhetoric that accompanies the Government’s Green Paper, all we hear about is the need for certainty for those who want to build things and no mention at all of certainty for those who want to live next to them, or across the road or in the same village or town. This is the significant flaw in the Green Paper’s strategy.

There are problems about encouraging the community to participate in a process which is only seen as relevant when it has an immediate impact next door. Town hall and community meetings are so 1950s and everyone works so hard and so long these days that if we are going to go out at night, we don't really want to go to a local meeting and talk about the planning instrument which, at the time of the meeting, is not of immediate concern or impact. Better consultative mechanisms will need to be found.

We support assessment commensurate with complexity (bring back the old BA/DA process please) and while we can embrace the concept of setting local planning controls with community consultation and then easing the process for applicants who file applications that comply with those controls, the fundamental flaw in the strategy is what happens to those applications that fall outside the planning instrument.

If it complies with the instrument it can be assessed and approved but if it doesn't comply it shouldn't get past the front counter.

There is certainty for developers in understanding what will get approved and there is certainty and comfort for a community in knowing that only that which falls within the instrument, will get approved. But have a look at page 57 of the Green Paper, or, better still is the diagram that appears on the page:

It's hard to accept the credibility of a Government committed to certainty when you look at the diagram numbered 3. This blue envelope, what, three or four times the bulk and scale of that allowable in the planning instrument, still gets "full merit assessment". It shouldn't, it should be rejected. It looks like a junior version of the discredited Rozelle Village. Village, indeed.

Page 57 tests the underlying principles in this process. If certainly is to be provided to everyone affected by development, then developments which fall outside the planning instruments should never, ever be considered until the planning instruments change.

Otherwise, the work of our members goes on pretty much unchanged. While the Local Government and Shires Association will contest the removal of elected councillors and the establishment of "independent panels", we know that the quality of working life of professionals in local government involved in a development currently called up for consideration by the Council, can only improve. And we are yet to hear from one member who doesn't believe that their experience of independent panels already is more positive, more informed and more professional than dabbling councillors.

If you would like to feed in to depa’s view, please do so. And if you would like to have a say on the Green Paper you can use this link to a community-based survey being supported by UnionsNSW.

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