A Better Plan?

4 April 2013 | Posted In: #118 Autumn 2013, Civil Society Issues, Planning Campaigns, | Author: Erin Snelgrove

By Erin Snelgrove

Our Summer edition reported the battle being waged by the Rozelle Residents Action Group (RRAG) over the development of the old Balmain Leagues Club. The snapshot of a community enduring a carousel of proposals, rejections, audits and controversy supports a general concensus that changes to the current planning system are needed. But with the launch of the NSW Government’s Green Paper, A New Planning System for NSW, the Better Planning Network is not alone in asking if it’s a case of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” in a rush to address growth and stimulate the economy.

As we go to print, the imminent release of the state government’s white paper on planning has the Better Planning Network (BPN) ramping up its call for fairness in the representation of community interests to ensure appropriate and integrated urban development. Formed in response to the release of the Green Paper in July 2012, BPN now has the support of more thean 300 community groups.The BPN platform (see opposite) is supported by an independant survey found 78% of industry professionals believe the Green Paper is favourable to developers.

Randwick City City Mayor, Tony Bowen, echoes these concerns describing the recent declaration of two of the state’s first Urban Activation Precincts (UAPs) in its local government area (LGA) as “going totally against democracy in planning”, citing the comprehensive process his council has recently completed with its new Local Environment Plan. With vast tracts of its LGA effectively quarantined from the ordinary democratic process of council performing it rezoning functions, in close consultation with its community, Cr Bowen said he accepts that “there will be development, areas will change, but the community must have the ability for its voice to be heard”.

Planning Minister, Brad Hazzard has said that the “urban activation precincts process is completely transparent and reliant on extensive council and community consultation’’ but is also reported as saying the precincts would go out for public consultation ‘‘once finalised’’. Rejecting this notion, Cr Bowen describes the mechanism of UAPs as sidestepping councils completely and is concerned that a process allowing institutions or other state government departments to trigger development proposals is another O’Farrell attack on local government – despite a promise made at the last state election that planning powers would be returned to councils.

In response to Minister Hazzard’s comment that ‘’I know there are some councillors in Randwick, and elsewhere, who would like to maintain the status quo, but if taxpayers are going to pay $1.6 billion for light rail, and other greatly enhanced public transport infrastructure, consideration has to be given to how local areas can evolve to make maximum use of the new infrastructure’’, Cr Bowen is quick to point out that while the minister makes a valid point for one of the Randwick UAPs, a health and education precinct identified around the University of NSW and Prince of Wales Hospital, his greater concern is for the process in relation to the precinct proposed on on Anzac Parade between Maroubra and La Perouse.

A high proportion of the 14% of Randwick’s population living in public housing are located in this second precinct and Cr Bowen describes great anxiety around the security of their housing; worried about what will happen now that the state government has decided to realise the value of the land they call home, these residents who contribute an essential diversity in our immediate communities, and include the elderly, vulnerable and socially isolated, must be afforded a quality of life that at its base level is built on stability. In any case, he asks, “why shouldn’t public housing residents live close to the city, beaches and parks?”, calling on the government to guarantee that any changes in planning controls will be put on hold until there has been comprehensive council and community consultation on the plans.

The Urban Taskforce, a non-profit organisation representing Australia’s most prominent property developers and equity financiers, asserts a presumption for growth in its support for the new legislation, and claims challengers are anti-development and opposed to growth. Cr Bowen and Corinne Fisher say “we don’t want anything unreasonable”.

What is unreasonable, says People United Surry Hills (PUSH), is for the first a community hears of plans for a light rail system directly through their homes and parklands to be in media reports and in seeing lines on maps. Formed for just that reason – in response to the release of the NSW Government’s Sydney’s Light Rail Future in December 2012 – PUSH is challenging the government’s assertion that the development “has drawn on extensive research and stakeholder consultation, which has been carefully considered.”

Highlighting BPN’s concern that opportunity for community input into decision-making must be available at both the early strategic planning phase as well as when individual developments are being assessed, PUSH is calling for the state government to ensure appropriate and comprehensive community consultation from here on in (see over).

One thing is for sure, the community has not been afforded the opportunity to be heard, but it’s rising to the challenge.

 The Better Planning Network Platform

  • Community engagement in decision making is essential at every stage of the planning and development process.
  • Protecting our natural and cultural heritage is… fundamental to the wellbeing of our communities.
  • Development must put local residents and communities first.
  • Strategic planning must be evidence-based.
  • Development must comply with strategic planning instruments.
  • Infrastructure goes hand in hand with development.

Originally published in Inner Sydney Voice, Issue 117, Autumn 2013