Thwarted planning laws to return through back door

Janine Kitson

The struggle for a fair and balanced planning system continues. The Federal Government’s Gonski backflip resonates with many NSW community groups who are dismayed at the O’Farrell Government’s failure to fulfil its election promise of returning planning powers to local communities and restoring transparency to the planning system.

Despite community opposition NSW Planning Minister Brad Hazzard remains determined to push through his developer-driven planning laws. Ignoring Upper House amendments in late 2013, it is now expected that he will bypass parliament and use special powers to impose a developer-driven planning agenda across NSW.

Developers and business elites have dominated the planning agenda of both major parties for some time. The new Liberal proposals are even worse than Labor’s deeply unpopular planning laws. The Liberals’ planning agenda aims to fast-track planning approvals, reduce or remove planning controls, and turn low-rise suburbs into high-rise enclaves. The party wants to bulldoze environmentally sensitive bushland and push species like the Powerful Owl towards extinction. The agenda will exacerbate the gap between the super-rich and poor by creating ultra-expensive housing. As green spaces vanish and urban wildlife disappear, children will grow up with little exposure to nature.

The “reforms” blatantly place the business and developers’ profits of billions of dollars before the needs of the public. They also fail to tackle the challenges of the 21st century — climate change, food and water insecurity, congestion, pollution, housing affordability and renewable energy.

O’Farrell’s Planning Bill has major deficiencies and will:

  • provide a myriad ways for developers to apply for high-density re-zonings
  • continue the deeply unpopular private certification system
  • not improve housing affordability
  • exacerbate the risk of corruption associated with planning and development decisions
  • remove environmental and heritage protection safeguards.

Sydney is unique in that it contains rare urban forests, woodlands and wildlife corridors and bushland. This biodiversity and its habitat values need increased protection. Yet the O’Farrell planning agenda will exacerbate its destruction.

Even in O’Farrell’s own electorate — Ku-ring-gai, a Liberal heartland, where some of Sydney’s most environmentally sensitive remnant forest and bushland exist — residents are outraged as they see environmentally sensitive land being trashed by the cumulative impact of multiple rezoning for high-rise development.

Early 20th-century planners and architects such as John Sulman, Norman Weekes and Walter Burley Griffin had a vision for planning. They wanted NSW to be beautiful, healthy, green and livable, with plenty of trees, bushland and parklands. Later, in the 1970s, the Green Bans rallied to save The Rocks and other inner city suburbs from demolition. This grassroots movement enshrined the principle of community participation in planning legislation. In 1992, the United Nations Earth Summit at Rio de Janeiro enshrined the principle of Ecological Sustainable Development as a planning principle. These visionary planning reforms are to be jettisoned for a planning agenda that only values perpetual economic growth.

NSW cannot afford to have its garden suburbs trashed by the global “corporate city” movement that puts profit before community and the environment. Please visit the NCC website for action against the NSW planning changes at

Janine Kitson is Federation’s delegate to the NSW Nature Conservation Council ( and is currently on long service leave.