The high-density planning policies of the New South Wales Government have resulted in catastrophic failure.
- Catastrophic Planning Failure
- Saving Our Suburbs and Communities
- Overall Planning Policy
- NEW Approach to Planning
- Planning to be Open and Accountable
- Development of New Areas
- Recommendations to Government
The high-density planning policies of the New South Wales Government implemented over the past two decades have proven to be a complete and catastrophic failure, resulting in:
- Increased traffic congestion
- More people crowding
- Poorer health outcomes
- Overloaded infrastructure
- Less employment opportunities
- More unhappy people
- Worsening mental health
- More greenhouse gases
- Destruction of heritage and the environment
- The highest housing costs in the English speaking world
- Public perception of detrimental planning decisions being forced onto communities
- Public perception of corruption
The restrictive New South Wales planning system gives the power to make planning decisions to government and council officials. It also provides the potential for developers to make large profits. Such profits give the resources for developers to make large donations to the political parties in one way or another. In spite of political donations legislation, people will still find ways to influence politicians by these means. This is a recipe that reeks with corruption.
Numerous cases have been documented that show a large donation being made shortly before permission is granted for a particular development. In response to long-term escalating public anger the New South Wales Government in December 2009 passed legislation to prohibit donations from property developers. However the public cynically considers this will not solve the problem and that "donations" will be given in other ways.
Communities react adversely to planning decisions that they see as imposed upon them.
It is essential that planning be based on evidence. NSW Planning has consistently refused to provide any detailed rationale for its pursuit of high-density policies, relying instead on aggressive assertion and the scorning of other views. They dismiss research that contradicts their assertions but won't produce any of their own, nor enter into any rational debate. It appears that sectional interests have gained far too much influence and access to decision-makers and policy-drafters.
It is apparent that a completely new planning system is required, a system that can be seen as fair and transparent.
By "saving our suburbs" and "saving our communities" we mean ensuring that we get:
- The sort of town or neighbourhood and housing we want, without government forcing unwanted development on us
- The sort of hospital and healthcare services you need
- The best possible education for our children so that they can earn a decent living
- Roads that are safe from traffic and safe from violence and crime
- The young and the old listened to, instead of being ignored by bureaucrats and politicians
- Government that works for you instead of for "the party"
- Those who have mental illnesses should receive treatment instead of being put in gaol or abandoned on the streets
- Teenagers and young adults who cannot read well enough to get good jobs should be given special education to improve their reading, rather than being allowed to drift into crime and end up in gaol
- Costs of water & electricity should be reduced to what it costs the government to supply them (including external costs)
- Return to NSW a fair share of the GST revenues currently going to the resource boom states of WA and Queensland
- Water and power infrastructure should be funded by government bonds which would also give people a safe place to put their superannuation, savings and retirement money, instead of being funded from quarterly water and power bills
- Good fast public transport
- Local members of parliament whose first loyalty will be to voters, not any political party or its faceless hierarchy
As in other areas of government, health issues require transparency and efficiency and are best dealt with at the local level. State Government instrumentalities are too big to relate to the population and too small to make far-sighted changes. To increase transparency and efficiency, health services will be controlled locally wherever feasible. At present there is a swollen bureaucracy both at the centre and within hospitals, which makes decisions on the basis of political expediency Decision making must be based on the needs of patients and not on political considerations. Transport facilities and area characteristics will be taken into account. The location and expansion (or contraction) of hospitals seem to depend on patronage and mateship rather than rational considerations.. The views of hospital boards and professional staff are ignored by ministerial appointees who, instead, depend on advice from their friends. The obsession with bed numbers and waiting lists should be replaced by more and more outreach services suitable for an aging population and such services should be controlled locally.
There is a wide body of evidence that shows that high-density has adverse health effects. Extensive studies in Europe of millions of people have shown that the rates for psychosis were up to seventy per cent greater in the denser areas and there was a greater risk of depression as well as other illnesses.
The higher concentration of traffic present in high-density increases atmospheric pollution. The resulting greater concentrations of P10 and P2.5 particles is considered by the World Health Organisation to cause three times more deaths than do traffic accidents. The state planning policy of forcing high-density into communities that do not want it has to be stopped.
As in the case of health issues, many educational problems are best dealt with at the local level (P&C organisations and the school staff). There are multiple accounts concerning leaking roofs, smelly toilets, decrepit buildings and "temporary" classrooms which the Department of Education (with its swollen bureaucracy) is unable or unwilling to fix.. When the Rudd/Gillard Federal Government handed out its largesse in 2008-9, private schools (locally controlled) generally received better value for money than state schools which were hamstrung by state governments. Save Our State will support all practical measures that facilitate the transfer of the day to day control from the state bureaucracy to the staff and parents of individual schools.
Transport must be viewed holistically instead of through faddish sectional viewpoints. There must be an optimal mix of public and private transport. A city is two dimensional, public transport is one dimensional and cannot go from everywhere to everywhere at desirable times. Funds must be set aside for both public transport and private transport facilities. There should be greater emphasis on user pays for private transport. Public transport should be optimally placed to cater for high traffic volumes, fulfil a social need and be grade separated from private transport. Public transport should be modernised so as to ensure efficiency accords with best world practice. There should be optimal coordination between the various modes of public transport, especially with regard to time-tables and ticketing.
It is vital that the Commonwealth Government organise an objective study to ascertain the number of people that Australia can sustain. The most suitable body for such a study is the CSIRO. Food security especially is a most important issue. The New South Wales Government should insist that such a study be undertaken.
If the population is to increase development should aim at developing towns across the whole state. This should include:
(a) Whole of State Development and re-population of declining regions
(b) A viable decentralisation policy. A mix of incentives and infrastructure provision can be used to deal with the time and distance issues raised by decentralisation. These include high-speed rail, top class telecommunications and personal and company tax incentives. Save Our State applauds the Evocity initiative to encourage Sydney residents to move to an inland centre. Described as centers of energy, vision and opportunity, the cities of Albury, Armidale, Bathurst, Dubbo, Orange, Tamworth and Wagga Wagga have united in a campaign for people to live, work and invest in their cities. Due consideration must be given to the maintenance of biodiversity and ecosystems and the preservation of prime agricultural land. This imaginative move should encourage more evenly spread development across our state. There are very few countries or states in the world that rely on the development of only one city.
(c) The creation of satellite cities. Each to be as autonomous as practical and linked by high-speed transport and communications. The planning for each satellite city would emphasise:
- the creation of green belts
- optimal location from an environment perspective
- good transport networks - easy walk/bike/public transport to centre and a road network designed to facilitate public transport routes
- optimal environmental design – water reuse in city and downstream, thermal properties, power cables underground, sustainable plantings
(d) Judicious expansion of Sydney. This will be better environmentally than increasing densities. The infrastructure for these new (or nearby) areas should be funded by the State and/or Commonwealth
(e) Higher densities, where feasible, for those communities where the majority, through their local council, express this wish and which will evolve over time. As land values in the community increase more and more in that community will be inclined to want to develop or sell to a developer. A community should have the right to veto a development proposal if this development can be shown to be undisputedly against the larger public interest.
Full advantage should be taken of the availability of Federal infrastructure funds.
SOS will work for a completely new approach to planning which will:
- recognise the importance of family-friendly suburbs in the middle and outer rings of Sydney and family-friendly areas in country towns
- fully assess the environmental, social and economic sustainability of proposals before they are approved
- Future development should only be permitted where it can be provided with effective physical and social infrastructure to match the expected population for each settlement
- require that infrastructure be upgraded before additional development in existing developed suburbs is permitted (such as higher density multi-unit dwellings in single-residential areas). Such infrastructure should include public transport as well as 'soft' infrastructure such as community facilities
- require bureaucrats and minister's to work at arms length from developers who should not be formally advising the minister on how much development is permitted (as is currently the case with the Ministers' Advisory Committee)
- Ban politicians and Council and Ministerial staffers form working for developers either as consultants, waged-salaried staff, or volunteers, after they leave Govt. service for a minimum of 2 years
- require that - where Government Departments, agencies or Authorities are the proponents of infrastructure projects, alone or in partnership with private enterprise - they will not enter contractual arrangements that absolve them or the Government of legal responsibility for poor outcomes including detrimental health and environmental effects
- require State Government regulatory authorities to publicly address objections and points at issue raised by the community during the approval process through a process of public debate involving all interested or affected parties and moderated and arbitrated by an independent expert arbitrator
- require developers to pay a fair contribution to the contingent costs of development in existing areas, such as upgrading infrastructure
- incremental development applications which rely on financial viability arguments must not be accepted
- remove the Minister of Planning's ability to determine State Planning Policies (SEPP'S), to refuse to approve planning documents which protect the environment or heritage or to call in developments without parliamentary approval. Specifically SOS will work to repeal Section 39 of the Environmental Planning & Assessment Act 1979 and to ensure all SEPPs are brought before State parliament for public scrutiny and final approval. Further SEPPs will only be applied to matters that have State significance and not be used to over-ride local and regional planning matters. Elected local councils and regional bodies will be given greater planning autonomy to ensure there is full accountability in the decisions that affect local and regional constituents
- review all current SEPP's and ensure the abolition of SEPP 5 and SEPP 53
- remove the ability of private certifiers to police development consents, and return regulatory powers to councils
- ensure that the benefits of infrastructure projects are equitable and fair to both the local and wider communities
- require in-tunnel filtration of road tunnels to prevent harmful impacts on motorists and residents
- review the role of the Land and Environment Court
Compensation and compulsory acquisitionFair and adequate compensation must be offered to people who are adversely affected by major developments. The extent and application of compensation is to be determined by a mutually acceptable independent arbitrator, without cost to those affected. Compulsory acquisition should only be for genuine public purposes and the new Land Acquisition (Just Terms Compensation) Amendment Act 2009 must be repealed.
There must be fundamental reform not just of planning policies but also of the department which implements them, and regulatory authorities that advise and monitor developments and infrastructure projects. Unless this occurs any changes will be 'paper' changes which do nothing to reverse the declining quality of life caused by poor planning and regulation.
Planning should be shared between a centralized State body (Department of Planning) and dispersed local communities. The centralized body should limit itself to establishing general principles, plan for and establish major infrastructure, deal with matters of genuine State significance and coordinate those matters that cross borders of local communities that cannot efficiently be dealt with at a local level.Strategic planning and management should be separated from development assessment, both on a State and local level. The system should guarantee that the community's needs and aspirations are reflected in legislation and planning proposals. Public involvement should be organised to genuinely inform people and allow their views to shape policies and plans.
1. The Environmental Planning and Assessment Act must revert back to its original objectives of environmental protection and social integrity. There has been a centralisation of power in the hands of the Minister and ministerial appointees which has resulted in problems of potential and actual conflicts of interest, a lack of due processes and transparent procedures and an increased perception of undue influence. Currently most regulations are made by Ministerial fiat and are not subject to Parliamentary scrutiny. Political and economic matters should not be given preference over social and environmental considerations.
2. As far as is practical rule making and rule application should be separated. The State Government and councils, where applicable, should make the rules.
All laws should be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny. Part 3A of the Act must be repealed and replaced by legislation that ensures that any development decision made by the Minister genuinely concerns a matter of State significance. For applications of a minor nature the provisions of the Act prior to the introduction of Part 3A should apply. Applications of major significance should be assessed by an independent planning commission appointed by all parliamentarians. All recent approvals made prior to the 2011 election should be immediately repealed and referred to this commission for reassessment. In general power must be restored to elected representatives. All decisions made must be reviewable.
Councils should be encouraged (but not forced) to use independent hearing and assessment panels to make individual planning decisions based on parliamentary and council rules. Such panels could consist of one councillor, one council official and other members for each hearing drawn from a central pool of assessors allocated by an independent authority.
3. Urban planning should be based on an assessment of existing physical and social infrastructure. It should also be based on the best available health and environmental standards. This is not done by the Department of Planning, and advice given by the Health Department and the EPA is often not sought or ignored.
The environmental impact of development applications should not be viewed in isolation. The cumulative impact of developments should also be taken into consideration.
At the present time there is an inappropriate relationship between bureaucrats at all levels in the Department of Planning and developers. The culture of the department and its approach to urban planning has resulted in bad planning, poor environmental outcomes, the loss of scarce green space and a 'bill' yet to be calculated due to the breakdown of overloaded infrastructure.
End forced urban consolidation- allow sensible land release, with infrastructure funded by the government. No increased densities should occur unless proper studies of the capacity of the existing infrastructure have been done.Significant increases in density should only occur where they can be accommodated by the existing infrastructure. This includes the road system, water, public transport and public facilities such as libraries, hospitals, schools, police, nursing homes, parks, sportsfields and open space. Poorly planned development creates far more problems than it solves.
Government Departments and Authorities should be required to reveal full and timely advice, information and reports that affect the public or a local community We will stop abuses of the Freedom of Information Act that prevent access to information. Government Departments and Authorities should not be allowed to conceal, alter, or in any way doctor advice or information received from Consultants or gathered by departmental officers. We will ensure the independence and quality of Consultants appointed to assess projects.
We will strengthen the watchdog Departments such as the Department of Planning, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), NSW Health and the Auditor General’s Department so that they are required to assess the wider environmental, health, social economic impacts of projects and can compel compliance from Departments and Authorities. These watchdog departments should be provided with the necessary powers and responsibility to invoke sanctions where standards of conduct or, in the case of infrastructure projects, conditions of approval are not met.Where infrastructure requires upgrading developers should be required to contribute a reasonable amount to the additional cost. This cost should be based on proper studies of existing capacity of physical/social infrastructure and the amount necessary to upgrade. The existing legislative provisions (s 94 plans) are in urgent need of review.
Representative Local Government
SOS recognises that developer influence and party politics have produced pro-development and, at times, corrupt local councils. Financial mismanagement, allocation of resources to special interest groups, neglect of basic infrastructure (roads, drainage, sportsfields), 'ward-heeling', planning failure and arbitrary decision-making are also matters in urgent need of attention.
The only effective and democratic way of dealing with these problems is through local communities reasserting control over Councils by more effective participation in the political process . SOS will support resident action groups who wish to stand local candidates. It will endeavour to provide practical assistance with campaigning and policy suggestions for such groups.
Ensure Meaningful Community Consultation
Community consultation is often a frustrating, tokenistic exercise where the community is told what will happen, rather than genuinely involved in the decision-making process. Well-founded criticism and opposition is often ignored, managed by professional spin-doctors or at best "noted" without making any difference to the final outcome.
SOS will work to ensure that community consultation is a genuine partnership with the local community to refine and improve a project concept through:
- A cooperative rather than adversarial approach;
- At council election time, council planning policy proposals should be submitted to the electorate by means of a referendum as a test of public opinion as well as the question whether councillors or independent hearing and assessment panels should decide on development applications (see above);
- Exchange of full and complete information – the whole truth and nothing but;
- Genuine attempts to resolve issues and problems;
- Respect for the skills and intelligence of community participants;
- Negotiation and compromise.
- Focus groups, Community Consultation committees and the like will be funded and resourced so that community participants can be fully informed and can contribute meaningfully. Where necessary, communities will be resourced to obtain independent expert advice. Recommendations from such bodies will be fully and properly considered. Cogent reasons must be provided and debated before any recommendation from the community consultation process is rejected.
- Any change made to a project after the Environmental Impact Study will be placed on public display and time allowed for community comment. The Environmental Planning and Assessment Act must be amended to ensure that no determining authority can approve a project where modifications have been made since the EIS unless there has been full community consultation and community support for the original proposal and all modifications. This will include an exhibition of the changes with time for public comment and discussion and negotiation with the appropriate community consultation groups.
- When serious disagreement occurs between the community and the proponent, an independent consultant will provide expert advice to the community. Disputed reports will be subject to peer review, specifically addressing issues raised by the community and conducted by an independent consultant acceptable to the local community.
- No proposal will proceed until a mutually acceptable outcome has been reached between the community, the proponent and the contractor.
Instead of specifying land where development can take place, the Department of Planning should specify where development in the State cannot take place. It can be left to the private sector to initiate and develop new areas with Government taking a more passive supervisory role. The Department of Planning should ensure that properly designed user fees, markets and incentives are in place to optimise market-driven development for the long-term benefit of the wider community.
The planning and creation of new area developments outside council areas should be shared between the Department of Planning and local communities. The role of the Department of Planning should include:
- Specifying where development cannot take place
- Establishing general principles
- Planning for and establishing major infrastructure
- Dealing with matters of genuine state significance
- Coordinating those matters that cross borders of local communities that cannot be dealt with efficiently at local level.
Developers would prospectively purchase land in suitable unrestricted areas that comply with the principles of the Department of Planning relating to development. These could include such factors as:
- sustainable energy and water use
- avoiding significant agricultural areas
- avoiding environmentally sensitive areas, including national parks
- limitations of development within a certain distance of the coast
- protection of Koala and other native species habitats
- providing corridors for fauna and flora migration
The developer would apply to the Department or some other suitable authority for development of the area. A public hearing before an independent determining authority such as the Land and Environment Court would be held to determine the application. The application would include an environmental impact statement. Hearing submissions should be sought from the Department of Planning, the local Shire and interested members of the public. Applicant criteria that would have to be satisfied would include financial capacity, expertise and historical performance. The determining authority would have to be satisfied that the local community is in favour of the development.
The developer would subdivide the land. Requirements to be fulfilled would include such matters as:
- Complying with a state standard statutory minimum local environment plan and standard development control plan
- Complying with a minimum requirement for internal and external infrastructure
- Complying with standards relating to sales promotion
- Establishing financial guarantees that could be used to compensate the subdivided lot purchasers if the development eventually does not go ahead
- Provide sales contracts for purchasers that at least include adequate standard consumer protection clauses and information.
In addition to statutory minimums for land development, developments would most likely need to feature desirable facilities such public open space otherwise the plots ultimately will not sell.
Fixed interest bonds with some State and Commonwealth participation would finance infrastructure. In the event of competing applications vying for such funds there should be a tender process with awards being determined by, for example, the minimum requirement for public funds per residential lot produced.
There could be a provision in suitable circumstances for developments outside council areas for the development to develop its own local rules. In such an event the developer would write protective covenants for property owners that:
- Comply with general principles set out by the Department of Planning
- Specify the particular building and living conditions that will apply to the particular development
In conjunction with the Department of Planning the developer would create an owners' association or a board of directors to subsequently enforce and modify the initial covenants. In consultation with the Department, the owners' association would determine and enforce all necessary charges such as rates to repay its portion of the infrastructure bonds and to provide local facilities and services.
- Planning decisions will be seen as transparent
- Opportunities of corruption will be reduced
- Instead of having development forced onto communities, communities will be in a position of having to compete for development, which will result in a complete change of attitude to development in many communities
- Housing will become more affordable
- There will be more housing choice
- Housing will be more family friendly
- Traffic congestion will be reduced as ultimately will journey to work travel times
- The environment will be healthier for people
- Urban areas will be environmentally more sustainable
- Democracy will be improved with communities being able to make decisions for themselves in the suggested new areas
- The costs and benefits resulting from decisions will fall onto those who make them
- The State Government will seen more as a rule maker instead of a case by case decision maker and will not be directly in line for criticism of every planning decision
- Neighbourhoods should be in a much better position to evolve to meet changing conditions and changing tastes or requirements of owners than areas that are governed by remote planners
An overview of the rationale behind Save Our State policies and recommendations for policy reform can be seen on the Save Our Suburbs submission to the Department of Planning.
Click for our comments on the report released by the State Government titled The benefits and costs of alternative growth paths for Sydney: Economic, social and environmental impacts by the Centre for International Economics.