The NSW Planning Green Paper, outlining a number of proposed changes to the planning system, was released in July 2012. Councils, planning practitioners, developers and members of the community were invited to have their say on the proposed changes, via consultations, submissions and online forums. What follows is a revised version of our submission on the Green Paper, with explanatory notes added for those who haven’t yet read it. If you’re one of those people who just doesn’t have time to read a 90-page document, fill in our contact form to request a copy of our 7-page summary.
We are entirely in favour of increasing code assessment, even though in theory it will impact on our income as the number of DAs decreases. Code assessment provides certainty to developers, landowners and the community.
The Green Paper proposes increased community participation at earlier stages of the planning process. Community engagement is a big challenge: generally people only care about new development when it affects them directly. Those without an interest in the field will be largely oblivious to the proposed changes and how they may be affected. Community education and setting a suitable level of community participation is crucial.
It is imperative that universities are fully involved in the new planning system. At present, planning qualifications have little relevance to the work that planners actually do, and it is the on-the-job training that really matters. The introduction of the new system should be seen as a chance to reform planning education. To get the best out of the new system, we need to create a new generation of strategic planners.
The Green Paper proposes making the planning system, from development applications through to strategic plans and mapping, available online. Mapping is a big concern for us. Under the current system, one council might have all maps on a Google style viewer, another might have PDF maps, and another might have no online maps at all. A simplified, state wide system of mapping would have a huge impact on the productivity of the planning profession. Making the new, simplified system accessible online will allow more members of the community to engage with planning and handle their own planning matters.
Residential Flat Buildings
The Green Paper proposes the repeal of existing State Environmental Planning Policies. We’d love to see the end of SEPP 65 (Design Quality of Residential Flat Buildings), which promotes a system that allows the opinions of a small, select group (the Design Review Panel) being able to substantially delay a development that complies with all numerical controls set by council. This highly subjective process removes certainty, increases costs and delays projects. Subjective opinion has no place in a system that encourages code assessment. A clear and concise set of numerical standards would be far more appropriate.
We would like to see some form of penalty for councils that don’t assess planning matters in a timely fashion. Ongoing monitoring is essential in order to ensure that councils that create unnecessary delays are penalised, whilst those that consistently meet targets are recognised.
Suburban Character Zones
One of the new zones proposed in the Green Paper is the Suburban Character Zone, which will be used to preserve the urban character of an area by preventing high density development. A number of communities in metropolitan and regional NSW are extremely resistant to change, while a number of councils have campaigned against being subject to state-wide legislation in the past. In the case of a toxic combination of a NIMBYist community and an anti-development council, what measures will be in place to prevent a blanket Suburban Character Zone over the entire LGA?
On the whole, we applaud the principles behind the Green Paper. The planning system in NSW desperately needs a complete overhaul. The current system is too complicated, time-consuming, and costly, and results in poor outcomes for communities and land owners. We are certainly in favour of creating a new simplified framework without the many thousands of pages of SEPPs, s117s, LEPs and DCPs.
As we see it, there are two key challenges facing the NSW Department of Planning and Infrastructure. Firstly, the Department must ensure there is sufficient resourcing to implement the new system.
Secondly, the proposals must not be watered down to appease those who oppose change without reason. NSW has seen a number of successful media and political campaigns based on an anti-development ideology. These campaigns increase fear of change in the community, create uncertainty within the property community, limit investment in the state and lower productivity. Development and growth in NSW is being stifled because of uncertainty and needless delays. This needs to change.
Andrew Neil, Senior Urban Planner