Planning NSW New Planning System 2012 paper by David Holland

22 Sep

Submission to NSW State Government on Green Paper

For some time myself and colleges in the planning discipline have felt that a more strategic approach to planning would be a better course. We have watched the integrated approach produce a variety of unintended developments over the years.

Following are some links to some of the work we have done with this philosophy of strategic planning in mind.

Central Coast Regional Growth Area by Dr. Ray Rauscher and Kevin Armstrong

Submission for the North Wyong Structure Plan NSW Australia

Submission on discussion paper on long-term transport planning for NSW: Paper

Submission on discussion paper on long-term transport planning for NSW: Article

Wyong Transport precinct, a proposal for renewal

Blue Haven Train and Bus Interchange 2012 

While subscribing to the move towards a more strategic approach to planning environments, I have concerns that proper consideration of natural environments could be sidelined in favor of economic consideration. My concerns stem from the stated overarching objectives of the new planning system as stated below:

  1. Promote economic development and competitiveness
  2. Connect people and places
  3. Protect the environment
  4. Improve people’s quality of life
  5. Resolve land use trade-offs based on social, economic and environmental factors
  6. Effectively manage growth and change.

Perhaps a cynical view, but with one chance to get the strategic plan in place, often real public participation is limited to a few interested persons until the final reality of a project going ahead. A typical human trait is to let others do the work until it affects themselves. So as a result big business, who are able to pay consultants to be engaged in this strategic phase are likely to sway the public participation component away from natural environmental considerations in favor of economic advantages.

Very few of the public have both the expertise and the time to be intimately involved in the strategic phase for planning.

Let us remember the strategic approach made some 10 or so years ago by the Department of Planning in NSW and the public participation on the Central Coast of the “Shaping the Central Coast “ strategic planning project.

Two observations are worth mentioning.

  1. Not many people participated in this planning phase
  2. No follow-up or resultant plan was produced connected to the project.

Possibly some of this data collected in around the year 2000 during the project was used in the 2006 Central Coast Strategic plan, however this plan, having its own public participation phase did not gain a lot of public participation in the broader community either.

Following is a paper using a model example in the Wyong Shire for public participation:

Local Government precinct committees and ecologically sustainable development, ESD based urban planning by Dr. Ray Rauscher

Concerns related to the Green paper proposal for New Planning Scheme objectives

I have some concerns and issues with the language of the objectives of the new plan.

The objectives are as follow as from the green paper.

Objectives

The new planning system will need to be:

  •  Simple – reduce complexity and remove red tape
  • Certain – provide predictability and certainty about how decisions are made for both investors and the community
  • Transparent – base decisions on strong community participation and evidence
  • Efficient – achieve time frames for completion of planning processes through increased 
accountability for efficient decision-making
  • Integrated – promote greater cooperation and partnerships between all levels of government, and 
balance environmental protection with economic growth
  • Responsive – provide flexibility to respond to change and ensure markets are competitive 


These form the objectives of the new Act.

The achievement of sustainable development will remain the main objective of the Act.

Commentary on the language of the Objectives

“The Removal of Red Tape”

Language like “the removal of red tape”, both lack professionalism and is an emotive term. It suggests that the current system of checks and proper assessment has no value except to bind up the process. These checks are in a system of integrated development, where objectives are codified.  As stated in the green paper these codes may not seem to be relevant in the assessment process, but one should remember that they were put in place to achieve an objective often not in the interests of a developer. These checks, while in my opinion often inadequate to preserve the integrity of natural systems, are an attempt to consider non-economic relationships in the landscape.

Another concerning phrase is “balance environmental protection with economic growth”.

The word balance can be interpreted in at least two different ways that can result in inappropriate developments occurring.

These meaning are:

  1. Balanced with the idea of equality. This would mean that an equal amount of loss of the environment must be the required balance for an equal amount of provision for economic growth. As equality is difficult to measure between these notional ideas, it is most likely that developer sponsored consultants will argue for a significant loss of unquantifiable environmental values as a trade-off for economic growth arguments.
  2. Balanced in the sense of reasonability. The argument would be on the part of the development proponents consultant, that it is reasonable to destroy a specified amount of environmental values to achieve a ‘reasonable amount of economic growth.

This term ‘balanced’ in this context is a word that becomes very subjective. In other words, its application depends on the views of the user. In this case the proponents consultant and the proponent of a development that has clear economic values attached to it. Having been a consultant for a range of developers I am aware of such arguments.

As a result, developments will be far from what others might consider “balanced”.

Another term used is ‘flexibility’

Flexibility seems a progressive term, but in reality could dilute the intentions of a planning instrument. Under the current scheme State Environment Planning policy Number one (S.E.P.P. 1) provided up to a 10% variation to the planning Codes and instruments. This variation was sort by proponents and assessed by local council planners. However, all applications with such a provision under the current system went through a public exhibition stage.

Flexibility in the context of the objectives is more nebulas than just applying it to variations of standards or of a strategic plan, it seems to be weighted towards providing unplanned for economic values to a development to assist developers to get bigger profits. I hope that I am too cynical in saying this. If this were the case and provision was built into the planning legislation to maximize profits of a development, then properly considered and public participation endorsed strategic plans and their defining planning instruments will be heavily eroded through an unfettered flexibility approach.

Concern and recommendations:

  • The new planning system must 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 the use of the precautionary principle and intergenerational equity.
  • Proposed planning instrument regime: NSW Planning Policies, Regional Growth Plans, Sub-regional Plans, Local Land Use Plans must ensure that existing environment protections are maintained in the new planning system (including those set out in existing State Environmental Planning Policies). Natural Resource Management (NRM) targets should be included in strategic and sub-regional plans.
  • Although I subscribe to more initial strategic planning, codes may still be used for assessment of individual developments under the new integrated development model, recognizing that this component in the new planning scheme will be smaller than the present scheme. However it is recommended that the use of a code assessment process be used for genuinely known impact developments. That is developments that comply with the strategically formulated planning instrument. (Assuming the instrument has gone through scientific rigger and gone though a public participation process.)

The Government’s proposal to substantially expand code complying development will limit public participation opportunities, reduce accountability and weaken environmental protection unless the strategic planning implement or instruments are strong and prescriptive. (This statement opens the opportunity for a class of sub instruments similar to Development control plans (DCPs) providing finer detail for development compliance. These instruments should be reviewed regularly as planning opportunities change.)

  • The new Planning system must prescribe mechanisms for managing climate change impacts and mitigation. Climate change adaption and mitigation must be considered during strategic planning processes.                                  See link: Planning for Climate Change in the coastal regions of NSW .
  • Ensure that merit appeal rights are available for all state significant development and infrastructure.
  • Under the strategic planning instrument making phase, requirements for the carrying out of environmental studies, consideration of environmental criteria, and processes for effective community engagement must be included.
  • That regular 5 year reviews be undertaken for the plan making instruments both at the state and local/regional government levels to enable continued public participation on the evolving directions of the strategic plan over time.
  • Existing methods of public participation (for example notification procedures and exhibition periods) should be retained in the new planning system for individual proposals under the planning instruments. This is to ensure that the variety of potential controls that apply to the development within an instrument for a particular location is appropriate and acceptable to the community. And that any conditions set by the planning authority is acceptable to the community.
  • The Government’s proposal to require consideration of cumulative impacts during the strategic planning phase is a step in the right direction. The new planning system needs to provide a clear process for this to occur.
  • Flexibility for development applications The proposal to allow developers to make applications that do not comply with development controls will tend to undermine strategic planning efforts, goal and intentions.  In these circumstances, a full and comprehensive public consultation process should be engaged in. In the case of major land use change proposals, proponents should be required to wait until the 5 year review of the planning instrument to get approval. In some circumstances it may be appropriate to conduct a mini review at a 2 and a half year interval. However all public participation requirements must be met. As with plan making under the present scheme, merit appeals may have to be assessed by a regional planning panel or land and environment court. The only flexibility that should be allowable in this strategic new planning model should be the review process related to the planning instruments.
  • Public priority infrastructure applications – These must be assessed at the times of the planning instrument reviews. Government agencies should be able to work on plans well in advance so that these infrastructure priorities can be considered in the same way as a zoning change under the planning instrument, unless it is a complying development.
  • Merit Assessment The new planning system must mandate that environmental impacts must be considered during the development assessment phase of a development application. Recommendations 71, 72 and 73 of the Planning Review outline matters for consideration including Aboriginal heritage, air quality, biodiversity, climate change projections, human health and livability, soil, water and the water cycle, and the public interest.  These are important considerations and should be enacted in a similar way to present legislation which in part relies on other acts such as the Threatened Species Act etc.
  • Removal of concurrences There are insufficient reasons for departing from the recommendations of the Independent Panel for an improved concurrence process. It is not enough to require agency input at the strategic planning phase. Proper assessment of a development by concurrence agencies is required once all the impacts of a proposed development are known and to test its compliance with the planning instrument through a review process.  This insures that all related agency interests and stakeholders are consulted through the processes of the development application.
  • Accreditation of consultants .The new planning system should strengthen penalties for proponents who deliberately provide false and misleading information in the course of seeking an approval or permit under the new planning system. This advice or information should be able to be challenged by credited professionals and be available to the public on request to the regional planning Authority.
  • Corridor Planning – In this new planning proposal the government has proposed a strategic approach to planning a landscape or region. This means that a range of land use components will be considered and planned for in the plan. This should include natural areas connected by natural area corridors suitably wide to enable connectivity for biodiversity transfer and the provisions for habitat for a wide variety of naturally occurring organisms. This green paper must be applauded for including this component of the landscape. The attached link may be helpful in planning these natural spaces, as it is the intension of the new planning scheme to wind back the provisions of voluntary conservation agreements (VCAs).

See link:

Submission on the Review of the Biobanking scheme in NSW

I agree with the statement below from chapter 23, headed “Planning Culture” in the green paper.

“There needs to be a shift of culture and 
resources to focus more on strategy, outcomes and innovation, and move away from statutory planning, repetitive processes and bureaucratic procedures. In particular, resources need to move toward a next generation of planners who can lead the integration of infrastructure and land use, and better understand land economics and growth management.”

As a development control planner in the 1990s, I found the job less that stimulating, churning out similar development approvals all day. Since becoming independent, I have found a freedom to contribute to planning in NSW by offering ideas and submissions on a much more strategic level.  Hopefully, some of the papers available in the links above may contribute to this innovative approach hoped for in the ‘new planning scheme’.

Conclusion

Overall the strategy has given hope for a bright and prosperous future for the NSW planning. It is encouraging to have planning move towards a more holistic approach. The green paper flags that even with the growth in population the natural environment is important to preserve. It proposes green corridor links and will revolutionize the current planning scheme making the strategic a larger part of planning policy than the integrated planning approaches of the past.

We look forward to reading the White Paper with the above considerations included.

by

David Holland

Bachelor of App. Sc. Environmental Planning,

Grad. Dip. Environmental Management

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