Greater Cities Commission Repeal Bill 2023

Greater Cities Commission Repeal Bill 2023

(Second Reading Debate, 28 November 2023, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

I contribute to debate on the Greater Cities Commission Repeal Bill 2023. New South Wales is experiencing a housing crisis. Rent and house prices are soaring at unprecedented levels, forcing severe housing stress on the community. A generation of young people may never experience the security of owning their own home, with property becoming out of reach for anyone who does not have intergenerational wealth. The solution is multifaceted. Housing supply is one of the necessary components. It is well acknowledged that we will never be able to reduce the cost of housing when demand so overwhelmingly exceeds supply. I welcome the Government's commitment to increasing housing supply, but caution that it will only address housing affordability if it is done right. Good planning for growth must be coordinated and holistic. Homes need to be where people want to live and where there is access to public transport, infrastructure, services and jobs. There is no point creating future wastelands of eroded environments and hopeless poverty.

To get planning right, we need to bring communities on the journey with us. While there are people who will oppose development regardless of how sensitive it is to the local environment, most people are reasonable, and their fears and concerns about how their neighbourhoods could change should be considered and addressed. Urban consolidation can get community support when it promotes rather than reduces amenity, quality of life and access to infrastructure and services. When the Greater Cities Commission was created, we were promised that it would provide independence in establishing housing targets for Sydney and metropolitan districts in partnership with councils. The Greater Cities Commission Repeal Bill abolishes the Greater Cities Commission and transfers those functions to the planning secretary. The Government says the move will reduce duplication and increase coordination because the new Department of Planning, Housing and Infrastructure will be responsible for the same planning function across the entire State.

I will not oppose the bill, as it is up to the government of the day to determine the mechanism it considers best placed to plan the State's housing targets. Notwithstanding that, I am concerned that without an independent coordinating body, housing targets could become politicised and community concerns could be steamrolled. Commentary has already begun about getting councils out of the way to boost targets. It is true that some areas have been doing the heavy lifting in urban consolidation, but comparisons between different areas are not always helpful without context. Due to local constraints, some areas will never be able to provide comparable uplift. For example, the Paddington Heritage Conservation Area in the Sydney electorate is considered the most intact Victorian terrace village in the world. Requiring it to match targets with former industrial infill regions is not possible without destroying Paddington's vital heritage values.

So far the narrative has alarmed some communities and councils because it has implied that arbitrary targets could be imposed in areas based on nothing more than blanket quotas. Targets must be planned strategically, with sensitive consideration given to a range of factors including the natural environment, heritage, sustainability and infrastructure. Increasing density is much easier if we take communities on the journey with us, rather than railroad them and their concerns. Their input can improve outcomes. Pyrmont, in my electorate, and Green Square, in the adjacent Heffron electorate, are examples of suburbs where massive density continues to receive community support because it has coincided with amenity improvements and new infrastructure and services.

Indeed, like the increase to the parklands at Moore Park, which will come soon, thanks to changes that are being made to Moore Park Golf Course. The City of Sydney has worked closely with communities to ensure that they benefit from densification. The planning secretary will need to work with councils to understand the constraints and potential of each area in order to determine appropriate targets and neighbourhood improvements that are needed to support growth, while ensuring that communities are healthy and environmentally sustainable into the future. Partnering with councils will prevent targets from being ad hoc and will help to get the most out of our city land and to protect the fringes. I ask the Minister to commit in his speech in reply to ensuring that the planning secretary will consult with councils on targets before they go on exhibition and before they are made.

Many say that Labor lost the 2011 election because it was seen to have steamrolled community concerns to fast-track major developments through the unpopular part 3A of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. We do not want to make the same mistakes. Urban density is a challenging journey that will require consultation, collaboration and partnerships with those affected. As we work to boost housing supply, our focus must be on where the real shortfall is, and that is social and affordable housing. We need to build 5,000 new social homes every year for the next 10 years just to meet the current waiting list. Without that safety net, a large number of people will continue to live in housing insecurity and many will become homeless. All rezoning should result in a 10 per cent to 15 per cent affordable housing uplift and, where residential developments occur on government land, it should result in a minimum of 30 per cent social and affordable homes, which through these mechanisms must be in perpetuity.

It is important to remember that not all development increases supply. In my electorate developers are increasingly buying up older buildings with multiple lower-cost units or redeveloping boarding houses to convert them into luxury apartment buildings with fewer apartments. The City of Sydney is working to stop the net loss of homes, and planning controls are needed. There are many challenges ahead, and we need to work cooperatively with councils and communities to solve the housing crisis. I thank the Minister and the Government for their work on this legislation.

Let's work together to celebrate and protect our great city!