O’Farrell's plans encourage overdevelopment for NSW

Community consultation is set to be reduced under proposed changes to NSW’s planning system

Janine Kitson
Relief Officer 

The O’Farrell Government’s white paper, A new planning system for NSW, threatens NSW citizens’ democratic rights to have a say in how their neighbourhoods are shaped.

Despite the NSW Coalition Government negotiating with the property industry for months, the community has been only given until June 28, 2013 to comment on these sweeping planning reforms. If they become law they will profoundly affect every suburb, town, community in NSW. The white paper can be found at www.planning.nsw.gov.au/a-new-planning-system-for-nsw.

“This is the most significant backward step on public participation in more than a generation,” Nature Conservation Council of NSW chief executive Pepe Clarke said.

“Since the current planning legislation was introduced in 1979, members of the community have had a right to comment on the large majority of development proposals. These critical public participation rights improve the quality of development decisions and give the community a voice on development proposals that affect their local environment and way of life.”

The white paper recommends a system that effectively deregulates planning laws — where developers are no longer constrained by planning controls such as height restrictions, number of storeys and building sizes. There is grave risk that many suburbs across NSW will be transformed into high rise ghettoes with little consideration for their environmental or heritage context.

The reforms prioritise unregulated economic growth. Principles of ecological and sustainable development, the precautionary principle and intergenerational equity are ignored.

The proposals limit community participation and consultation to the strategic planning stage with no opportunity to object on future developments. However, developers can challenge any strategic plan.Communities will lose their right to have a say on 80 per cent of all developments, as they will be classified exempt and complying by private certifiers. The white paper proposes to fast track a wide range of developments, including commercial buildings, apartment blocks and land sub-divisions. Local councils will be unable to refuse proposals that comply with relevant codes. Many are concerned about proposals for “Enterprise Zones” that allow minimal planning controls in an area.

The proposals will also reduce the role of elected local government in planning decisions. Local elected councillors will be forced to implement unpopular rezoning onto their local communities.

When Barry O’Farrell was elected he promised that the Coalition Government would give planning powers back to the people. Instead, the white paper is the developer’s wish list, allowing unconstrained profits before community wellbeing. As well as reducing a community’s rights of participation, consultation and appeal in planning issues, the proposals will undermine protections for NSW’s environment and heritage. The white paper does not even mention climate change mitigation.

Many community groups are shocked at the recommendations for fast tracking developments and warn that they will lead to poor environmental and planning outcomes for communities across NSW. Many fear that they risk opening the planning system to corruption.

In addition to this planning review, the Government has released a Metropolitan Strategy for Sydney that forces increased densities onto areas, and introduced the Local Government Amendment (Early Intervention) Bill, which would give the Planning Minister increased power to stand down councils that are not pushing through a “sufficient” volume of development in the prescribed 10 to 25 days.

Janine Kitson is Federation’s Representative to the Nature Conservation Council of NSW.