NSW Planning Reform – Submission-re Green Paper September 2012

22 Sep

by Kevin Armstrong

Firstly, I comment that the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act should always have ecologically sustainable development (ESD) as its overarching objective.

A genuine commitment to ESD requires legislative mechanisms that mandate consideration of environmental matters and set minimum environmental standards.

The new planning act must enshrine ESD including use of the precautionary principle and intergenerational equity.

These considerations appear to have been lost in the proposed reforms.

The new Planning system must prescribe mechanisms for managing climate change impacts and mitigation. Climate change adaptions and mitigation and coastal management practices must be considered at Statewide level during strategic planning processes.

Urban sustainability .. and best practice design appear to have faded from prominence in the proposed reforms. Energy use and environmental footprint are, to a large extent, determined by the type of residential housing we build; knowing what we do about global warming ands sustainability, it’s just plain dumb to continue building poorly oriented houses with black roofs, no eaves and air conditioning !

I believe that BASIX needs strengthening to include passive solar design. There should be a mandatory requirement to install photovoltaic generation when installing either air conditioning or a pool pump. Surely we are smart enough to make a connection between the use of these two devices and the availability of solar energy !

At the urban level, planning must more closely co-locate residential and service facilities (schools, shops, recreation, employment) to reduce transport demands and should mandate techniques such as WSUD (Water Sensitive Urban Design) including separation or drinking and non-potable water supply and capture and re-use or storm water run-off for irrigation.

The remainder of my submission will follow the order of presentation of the four fundamental reforms to the NSW planning system:

1. Community Participation – Involving the community early on key decisions that will shape our cities, towns and neighbourhoods

The reform proposals provide no mechanism for community engagement – especially when engagement is required at the strategic level removed from immediate impacts and outcomes.

Whilst they may have a keen interest in what is to be built ‘next door’, across the road or in the immediate vicinity of their homes … few in the broader community have any real understanding of planning legislation, theory or processes. There is a real lack of understanding the processes and timeframes of strategic planning.

Extensive community education and information will have to be provided to empower the community to participate in any meaningful way at the strategic level.

Most communities have engaged at various times with ‘strategic planning’ – on the Central Coast with numerous versions of the Central Coast Regional Strategy, REDES, Conservation Strategy, Transport Plan, Infrastructure Strategy etc – only to experience long delays, many revisions of ‘draft’ documents, then a change of government and a new round or proposals.

Whilst such processes may appear ‘normal’ to bureaucrats, the community will rapidly tire of extensive delays in finalising top-level / peak framework strategic documents. I instance the ‘North Wyong Shire Structure Plan’ which remains in ‘draft’ form – despite having been exhibited in 2010 and the long delays and internecine squabbling over establishment of the Warnervale Town Centre .. over some 15 years !

The NSW Government – via DoPI – will need to ensure conciseness, clarity and transparency of documentation to encourage effective community consultation. By way of example, most in the community were effectively precluded in participating in comment on the recent Part 3a application relating to Gosford Waterfront / The Landing … because of the dozens of ‘old’ / prior documents submitted as part of the application, the thousands of pages of reading required to properly understand the proposal .. and the extensive GIPA process required to obtain key information such as proposed building footprints, heights and likely shadow effects.

In return for its engagement, the community will expect DoPI to ensure that merit appeal rights are available for all significant proposals … including state significant development and infrastructure.

2. Strategic Focus –Preparing good policies up front to guide growth and development

I agree with a more strategic approach to planning, rather than the current system where decisions are made development by development or site by site. That is inherently inefficient, time consuming, costly and wasteful.

The proposed planning instrument regime: NSW Planning Policies, Regional Growth Plans, Subregional Plans, Local Land Use Plans will require that DoPI NSW finalise the upper level planning instruments.

In my local area, there have been totally unacceptable delays in finalising the (draft) North Wyong Shire Structure Plan, the (draft) Central Coast Conservation Strategy, the (draft) Central Coast Transport Plan and a regional Infrastructure Strategy. DoPI NSW has nevertheless forced both local Councils (Gosford / Wyong) to submit new LEPs.

Existing environment protections must be maintained in the new planning system (including those set out in existing State Environmental Planning Policies). NRM targets should be included in strategic and subregional plans and flow down to Local Land Use Plans.

The integrity of the system would be enhanced by annual reporting of performance / changes at all levels .. similar to the current “State of the Shire” / State of the Environment reports.

3. Streamlined approval: a faster and more transparent development approval process, aiming to maximize code complying development

Most would agree that efficient processes are desirable, provided there are safeguards to address environmental concerns and protect citizens’ rights.

Greenfields sites

I applaud the strategic level planning undertaken by the Growth Centres Commission in developing greenfields sites in North West and South West Sydney. GCC planning at precinct level) integrated residential, services and employment lands and ensured co-ordination between various government service providers. Planning such development is much simpler because of the unconstrained nature of greenfields sites.

Brownfield sites / development within existing established areas
Planning extensive new development in existing areas is, in my view, considerably more complex by reason of limitations of existing land use characteristics and existing infrastructure.

DoPI will need to develop strong processes to properly explain zoning proposals which significantly change the character of existing areas .. be they residential, commercial or industrial.

I instance the Gosford Waterfront / The Landing proposal where a proposal for a Regional Performing Arts Centre was not opposed by locals; however, they strongly opposed its proposed location adjacent to the Central Coast Highway with inadequate access and parking. Proposed 4-6 storey wharf-like structures projecting into Brisbane Waters were also strongly opposed; these would forever destroy waterfront views and recreational use and threatened the character of existing low-key development along the waterfront.

I express real concerns regarding ‘flexibility’ and the ability of developers to submit non-conforming plans. Such an approach is totally inconsistent with strategic land use planning and zonings.

Any community supporting a strategic approach to land use planning must be provided with full consultation and objection rights where any proposal does not conform to the agreed land use zoning.

Again, merit appeal rights should be available for all significant development and infrastructure proposals – whether proposed by developers or the State.

4. Provision of infrastructure: ensuring that infrastructure supports growth by integrating planning for infrastructure with the strategic planning of land use .

It seems axiomatic that additional infrastructure be provided as part of the development of new communities; however, there are huge backlogs and endless arguments over who should pay for new infrastructure.

Three local examples will illustrate ‘worst practice’ –

1.  an extensive new community was developed at Kariong – but waited some 15 years for a ‘high school’; an underpass was belatedly provided only after a high school was built (on the opposite side of the Central Coast Highway to existing residences a multi-purpose (adaptable) school should have been provided on a timely basis as the residential area was developed.

2.  only in the last 5-6 years has there been any real attempt to upgrade strategic regional roads (Central Coast Highway, Avoca Drive, Tuggerah Straight, Warnervale Rd) – despite massive increases in the local population over 15 years previously.

3.  thousands of people moved into ‘Warnervale’ and surrounding suburbs up to 12 years ago – they still have no adequate railway station, regional shopping centre / service facilities or adequate road access

The NSW Government must integrate infrastructure planning with land use planning .. and ensure adequate funds are available (‘government’ provided or sourced from developer levies) to provide a range of infrastructure services on a timely basis.

Equally .. and missing from the current draft proposals, sustainable development requires that land use planning be integrated with natural resource management – to ensure local environmental issues are managed and wildlife corridors are provided as an integral part of effective land use planning.

5. A ‘delivery culture’ – Promoting a ‘can do’ culture in planning with government and local councils accountable for delivering results

Clearly the government sees itself as under pressure to respond to demands for increased / affordable housing. Whilst understandable, this approach is itself reactive .. rather than strategic.

A strategic approach to planning … must first address the key issues of desirable /

sustainable population including the key issues of food and water availability, transport and energy use.

There is a huge difference between ‘efficiency’ and ‘effectiveness’ – the former essentially being about productivity, timeliness and minimal cost .. the latter being about longer term values-based ‘worthwhileness’.

Our community will gain little if we make more ‘efficient’ our rush to develop everything before our eyes .. without considering longer term sustainability with a balanced approach to the interests of the community (social), our economy (financial), environmental concerns and governance processes (the quadruple bottom line).

Conclusion

NSW needs a holistic approach to resources use, community development, economic development and environmental management across the whole of NSW …

The current proposals for strategic land use planning might well be incorporated into such a broader framework. At a minimum, a foreword should explain this broader context.

Strategic land use planning .. even at the regional level .. will be totally ineffective if exploration / production of coal seam gas destroys aquifers and rivers (water supply), coal-fired electricity generation expands exponentially because of inefficient and inappropriate housing and profligate energy use (increased greenhouse gas / pollution), the community has to truck its food over hundreds of kilometres because prime agricultural lands close to the cities are covered with houses (ineffective energy use) and we continue planning in a fragmented way which requires each household to own several private cars and mandates multiple car trips – rather than public transport.

Email: Kevin Armstrong

This paper is subject to copyright; the written consent of the copyright owner must be obtained before any part of it is reproduced, adapted or communicated.   © Kevin Armstrong Copyright 2012
 
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One Response to “NSW Planning Reform – Submission-re Green Paper September 2012”

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  1. Planning NSW New Planning System 2012 paper by David Holland « Habitat Town Planning Forum - September 22, 2012

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