Will Barry O'Farrell Act On Planning?


Introduced by former Planning Minister Frank Sartor in 2005 and loathed by councils, community groups, and environmental activists across NSW, Part 3A of the Environment and Assessment Act has never been short of controversy or criticism.

As the NSW state election campaign gains momentum, voters anticipating policy announcements in the contentious area of planning have been left disappointed. The O’Farrell Opposition has made some small promises — such as extending Sydney’s light rail — but has been reluctant to address hardline issues such as health reform.

The NSW planning regulations should be a gift to the Opposition. They have attracted enormous community backlash and exposed the government to accusations of corruption. O’Farrell knows this, and has promised to scrap Part 3A itself, but has failed to reveal exactly what it will be replaced with — instead promising a planning ‘review’ after the election. The Coalition’s failure to give the electorate any concrete indication of their plans in this area is nothing if not remarkable.

Part 3A of the planning legislation gives the Planning Minister, currently Tony Kelly, the final say on all major developments with a price tag of over $10 million. In essence, it gives the state government the power to approve all large-scale developments — while undermining the role of councils by overriding the planning laws they have set in place.

An investigation late last year by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) found that leaving all the power to the Planning Minister under Part 3A was a substantial corruption risk — and one that required reform. As a result, the ICAC recommended that the Minister for Planning refer private sector applications under Part 3A which exceed development standards by more than 25 per cent to an independent quasi-judicial body for determination. 

The most controversial Part 3A approval in NSW is the development of Barangaroo, redevelopment and extension of the eastern side of Darling Harbour which will cost an estimated $6 billion — and transform it from a disused port into to a living, lifestyle and shopping precinct. The development has faced rigorous and constant criticism — and construction has barely begun. Community groups and the Greens are calling Barangaroo the largest example of failed planning legislation in NSW.

What was initially crowned the winning design by architect Phillip Thalis, become the object of a money-making scheme in which countless amendments and additions were made by developer giant Lend Lease in accordance with the Barangaroo Delivery Authority (aka the NSW State Government). As amendments were made, action groups such as the Barangaroo Action Group and Australians for Sustainable Development (AfSD) formed in response. Their concerns include contamination at the northern headland (the issues is currently before the courts),  the height and bulk of the buildings, and the planned hotel on the harbour.

Critics have also condemned the state government for its lack of community consultation: neither the community or the City of Sydney council were consulted before amendments were made. Shadow Minister for Planning Brad Hazzard joined the chorus, upbraiding the government for failing to consult with the Coalition on the planning process guiding Barangaroo. "Kristina Keneally has insisted that we have been consulted. It is simply not true. We have just been told, just as the community has been told what Labor intends to do," he said at a community meeting late last year. 

Other pre-Christmas 2010 Part 3A surprises that sailed through include the Huntlee approval in the Hunter Valley and the Sandy Shores development at Hearnes Lake. Coffs Harbour City council suggested the latter site was suitable for 35 lots, not the 200 it was approved for by the Planning Minister. 

There’s been no shortage of criticism of Labor’s planning laws from community groups across the state, so why can’t O’Farrell come up with an answer about the future of
planning under a Liberal state government? He has made all the right noises
with vague statements such as "taking the politics out of planning" and
"returning planning powers to the community", but these mean nothing
when an alternative plannning policy is not on the table.

"Mr O’Farrell says he will
scrap the notorious Part 3A of the state’s planning laws but either
can’t, or won’t, say what he intends to replace it with," says NSW Greens MP David

The Greens are proposing to replace Part 3A with an Independent State Planning Commission that will decide on state significant infrastructure and large-scale projects. Shoebridge called for the proposed commission to garner broad community support with elected members approved by a 75 per cent majority in both houses of parliaments. "This will get rid of the idea of this next government imposing its friends and its mates on the independent state planning commission," he said at a community meeting late last year.

The NSW Liberals launched their campaign for Macquarie St in Penrith with the slogan "Real Change for New South Wales". O’Farrell promised an honest, stable, and capable government. He looks likely to lead the Coalition to a landslide victory, but if he can’t come up with concrete alternatives to unpopular and dysfunctional policies like Part 3A, the voters of NSW will be stumbling blind to the election.


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