O'Farrell Hands Planning Back To Developers


New South Wales faced one planning scandal after another under the former Labor governments. Who would have imagined that planning decisions made under the O'Farrell Government could be even worse?

Falling below the standard set by Labor on planning was a challenge — but with the most recent series of planning announcements by the Minister for Planning, Brad Hazzard, the O'Farrell Government has hit that all-time low target.

On Saturday the Government announced that eight new Urban Activation Precincts would "revitalise existing urban areas" across the Sydney Basin. In areas stretching from the south and north-west of Sydney through to Epping, Ryde and Randwick, the Government has plans to shoehorn in up to 171,700 new homes. And that announcement was trumped just days later when the Minister announced a new Sydney Metro Strategy.

This so-called strategy is the Government's plan for 545,000 additional homes and 625,000 new jobs for Sydney. But where will these homes be situated? Which suburbs will be bulldozed for the Government's proposed new high-rise towers? Who will be making the decisions?

One thing is clear. Despite a promise made before the March 2011 election to return planning powers to the community, and directly contrary to a more recent commitment to engage the community in detailed strategic planning in the Government's much-hyped 2012 Green Paper on planning, the O'Farrell Government wants business as usual for New South Wales planning.

This Government has decided it is time to officially hand over decisions on planning to the market; in other words, it is time to hand over decisions on planning to property developers. The Government is placing property developers squarely in charge of planning in New South Wales. By doing so, this Government is sidelining communities.

The Minister stated:

“We're trying to be less constrictive and restrictive and what we are saying is that the marketplace should have far more of a say in what the mix of housing is and where it will be.

“We can make forecasts on where we believe it should be, but we are not going to do what Labor did… they allowed the planners to be the sole determinant.”

It's a step in the wrong direction to move from allowing local councils and government planners to make decisions about strategic planning to letting  property developers and the market make the calls. The Minister for Planning and his Department are abdicating responsibility for strategic planning in New South Wales and avoiding appropriate consultation.

There are more than half a million new homes proposed. Already concerns have been raised that market-driven development will lead to more housing on the fringes of Sydney — in areas where there will be longer commutes, a lack of crucial infrastructure, and the loss of critical farmland. Developers may be all for it, but people in New South Wales do not want endless urban sprawl to deliver only developer profits.

This Government has made much of its so-called community-oriented approach to planning in New South Wales. Before the election, the Coalition promised, in its words, " to return planning powers to communities".

In the planning Green Paper emphasis was placed on consulting the community on strategic planning.  In direct contrast to this, the O'Farrell Government's metro strategy is marked by the same lack of consultation and failure to fund infrastructure that saw Labor's 2005 and 2010 metro strategies fail.

Further shifting planning decisions to developers is not in the community's best interests. Instead, it hands over these decisions to Labor's old mates, the New South Wales property developers.

By imposing hundreds of thousands of new homes and hectares of high-rise development on local communities across Sydney without ever speaking to local residents or putting aside any funds to meet essential infrastructure, the O'Farrell Government has broken its pre-election promise on planning. Its reheated metro strategy repeats the former Labor government's mistakes.

Announcing hundreds of thousands of jobs in western Sydney without putting aside a single dollar to deliver the promise is empty politics . Announcing thousands of new homes, without working out who will pay for the relevant infrastructure or where it will go is nothing more than shortsighted, empty policy rhetoric.

Western Sydney will not be helped by another pretty metro strategy while its public transport, roads, hospitals and schools are all failing to meet existing demand, let alone the demand from O'Farrell’s plan for another half a million people.

This Government promised in its pre-election blueprint for change to put "community participation at the centre of the new planning system". Both the metro strategy and the recent land releases have occurred despite the Government still being engaged in the review planning in New South Wales, with the release of the next stage in that process, the planning White Paper, imminent.

It is instructive that of the announcements we have heard from the planning Minister recently, none have been about the release the detailed planning White Paper. It was originally promised in November 2012, then February 2013 and now it has been indefinitely delayed.

Cynics might think that the delay in the White Paper was designed to allow for the announcement of a new metro strategy and the delivery of a promise to New South Wales property developers from the O'Farrell Government of thousands of hectares of greenfield development and new development without community consultation.

What we have seen from this Government is exactly what we got from Labor before it — a sham consultation process and planning laws that once again deliver for developers and leave local communities sidelined, bulldozed and ignored.

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