Greater Sydney Commission Bill

Greater Sydney Commission Bill

(Debate, 27 October 2015, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

The Greater Sydney Commission Bill creates a new commission that will coordinate planning across the Sydney metropolitan area including through the preparation of district plans for the six Sydney districts in partnership with councils, review of the metropolitan plan, and provision of annual infrastructure priority lists.

We need to plan for expected population growth in a way that is coordinated and holistic. Focussing development on the fringes of the city on agricultural and biodiverse rich land, and without transport, infrastructure, services or jobs, has had significant social and environmental impacts. Similarly, city infill development has produced impacts from lack of infrastructure and services like schools, transport and open space, lack of affordable and social housing, excessive provision of car parking, loss of heritage and amenity impacts on neighbours.

There is a cynical sense in the community that Sydney planning is really about opportunities for developers to make money while delivering for government coffers, at the expense of long term public outcomes.

I hope the Greater Sydney Commission will change this and create a new approach with social and environmental needs at the forefront.

The bill clearly sets out very positive objectives that cover integration of social, environmental and economic considerations with regard to ecologically sustainable development, integrated planning, resilient planning, affordable housing, productivity, liveability and environmental quality.

There will be three commissioners each with responsibility for social matters, environmental matters and economic matters.

I support integrated long term planning, but is this bill enough to produce the needed outcomes?

Often bureaucratic planning bodies produce little more than colour coded maps identifying how many residential lots and commercial spaces an area can fit with needs like infrastructure and services mentioned in short corresponding paragraphs.

For this process to work, infrastructure lists must identify specific locations including land for rail corridors, stations and schools. This has not happened in the past.

Pyrmont for example is the most densely populated suburb in the country and most apartments were built in the last 20 years yet it received no new education facilities and little open space – thanks to the City of Sydney, Pyrmont was recently delivered a beautiful waterfront park. Green Square will house an extra 40,000 new residents by 2030 and it doesn’t have new public transport planned and there was a surcharge on its train station thanks to a government contract in the 1990s.

Without the political will and budget commitments nothing will change. We don’t just want a list of needed infrastructure but a mechanism to make it happen.

New schools, new parks, new public transport and new hospitals will be needed. Existing education, open space and public transport already can’t cope with the demand and the commission should be planning for infrastructure already needed across Sydney not just to deal with new development.

For example in the inner city, the changing demographics and lack of forward planning has led to a shortage of education infrastructure and the need for a new high school.

I hope the priority given to social matters and inclusion of affordable housing in the commission’s objectives will result in a better approach to affordable housing. Increasing housing supply is not enough to create affordability, particularly in areas of high demand and high value like the inner city, which is getting too expensive for the key workers needed to make it function. This has wider economic impacts on business, tourism and liveability.

We are also seeing the sale of inner city social housing to reinvest in properties further from the city, where there are fewer job opportunities, services and infrastructure.

Major projects like Barangaroo have small affordable housing targets - the focus has been on luxury apartments and it is not even clear whether the small proportion of affordable housing required by government will be delivered on site. The government has not released social and affordable housing targets for other inner city redevelopments like the Bays Precinct and Central to Eveleigh.

The city’s diversity is at risk and I hope the Greater Sydney Commission will promote a Sydney that is diverse across the metropolitan area with social and affordable housing targets in all areas of development, not just in the fringes.

We want Sydney to be a healthy and environmentally sustainable place.

This means ensuring people can walk, cycle or catch fast, affordable and efficient public transport to and from work and to take their kids to school. Active and public transport must be a priority for the commission. It must also consider the best way to power new developments and require green energy such as solar-only redevelopments.

Cities also need to provide opportunities for social connections in people’s day-to-day lives and public space must be a major part of future planning.

We have heard a lot about councils’ failure to incorporate district plans into their local environment plans and how this prevents integrated planning. But often ad hoc planning is the result of developer applications for proposals that are contrary to strategically established plans which the current planning process allows for.

Developers can get a spot rezoning for non- compliant development approved by applying to a regional planning body or sometimes to the Planning Assessment Commission.

At the state planning level we see developers changing approvals all the time – Barangaroo is the classic example. An initial competition was held with the winning design receiving broad community support. As the process advanced, modifications were made at the request of the developer to expand height and bulk where floor space ratio has now more than doubled since initial approval. This is not strategic planning, this is ad hoc planning for private profit at its worst.

Will the Greater Sydney Commission process prevent such ad hoc planning? Will developers have greater influence on the commission’s planning process from the beginning? It is unclear and the community will watch closely.

What people want to know is whether the Greater Sydney Commission will really produce public benefits. Scepticism remains because unlike the Greater London Authority, it is an unelected body and will not be answerable to the public. I share this concern.

The commission will likely preside over major changes to the Sydney landscape, creating new, and changing existing neighbourhoods. Community involvement and public transparency are vital to preventing significant impacts. Under the bill there are no requirements for the commission to meet in public and meeting minutes don’t have to be published until three months after a meeting. This is not best practice – achieving transparency requires public meetings which follow procedures such as publication of agendas and papers in advance, and minutes within days of a meeting. Councils do this already.

Draft district plans must go on public exhibition within 12 months. This period may be too short given the commission needs to develop draft plans in partnership with all councils of a district. Drafting plans is time consuming and requires lengthy assessments and a level of early community feedback. The risk is that the collaborative approach will suffer, reducing council input, as the commission attempts to meet the timetable. The government must monitor this situation closely.

The bill gives the commission power to delegate directly to council staff. This is contrary to the approach taken in the Local Government Act which set up a structure for staff. There does not seem to be any limits on the commission’s ability to bypass the General Manager or council to direct council staff and it is not clear how this would work.  Councils should receive compensation for the loss of staff to commission duties and I ask the minister to address this in reply.

I hope we will see a new holistic and integrated approach to planning with this bill that ensures delivery of infrastructure, services, diversity across the metropolitan area, and vital public outcomes. 

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