Support TOD Disallowance Bill

Please write letters to the Upper House Crossbench calling on them to SUPPORT The Hon. Scott Farlow, MLC & Shadow Minister for Planning’s DISALLOWANCE BILL opposing the Transport Oriented Development (TOD) program across Greater Sydney, including in Ku-ring-gai.  

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Sydney’s ‘land banking’ crisis

Read Greg Callaghan’s article ‘Left to rot: The ‘ghost homes’ scourge in our big cities – amid a housing crisis, Sydney Morning Herald, 13 July 2024

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Vale Don Brew

FOKE member Don Brew (1935 – 2024) was honoured by Ku-ring-gai Council for his fearless and dedicated advocacy for Ku-ring-gai’s heritage.

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Hope – Interim Heritage Order

Ku-ring-gai Council is working hard to protect Ku-ring-gai’s 23 Heritage Conservation Areas.

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It’s YOUR home. YOU don’t have to sell

The Transport Oriented Development and Well-Located Housing SEPPs have triggered a surge of interest among developers, leading to a frenzy of activity akin to a gold rush. Developers are increasingly reaching out to homeowners with offers to secure “Option Contracts” for the future purchase of their land.

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Good news – Lourdes planning proposal rejected

Retirement Village owner, Levande’s amendments to redevelop the Lourdes Retirement Village, 95 Stanhope Road, Killara has been rejected by the Department of Planning following the Sydney North Planning Panel (SNPP) decision in December 2023. Yesterday FOKE received the news they have been rejected by the Minister’s delegate.

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Despair – Low- & Mid-rise Housing & Dual Occupancies

Thanks to all who attended Ku-ring-gai Council’s community forums on the NSW Government’s Low and Mid-Rise Housing plans.  

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Ku-ring-gai’s C.E.W. Bean honoured by UNESCO

Former Co-founder and President of FOKE, Anne Carroll OAM, talked about the life and work of her grandfather, Charles E.W. Bean at the Ku-ring-gai Historical Society meeting on 22 June, 2024.

Charles Bean (1879-1968) was a historian and an Australian war correspondent. He was editor and principal author of the 12-volume Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918, and a primary advocate for establishing the Australian War Memorial (AWM). He was also a conservationist as the founder of the Parks and Playgrounds Movement of NSW which he established in 1930.

Many consider Ku-ring-gai as the birthplace of the Australian conservation movement with conservationists such as Charles Bean, Annie Wyatt, Eccleston du Faur, John Sulman, Paddy Pallin, Robert Pallin, Nancy Pallin, Alex Colley, Charlie Veron.

C.E.W. Bean’s diaries, photographs and records are recognised by the National Committee of Australia Memory of the World (AMW) listing. UNESCO Australian Memory of the World (AMW) Program honours documentary heritage of significance for Australia and the world, and advocates for its preservation. Find out more HERE

Trees – a timely reminder

If you missed Ku-ring-gai Councils Tree Forum on 26 March, 2024 it is worthy watching again – especially in light of the NSW Governments ‘deforestation designed’ planning SEPPs

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Minns forgets his “avalanche of many ugly, poorly built developments” speech

FOKE wishes to remind Premier Chris Minns what he said on the floor of the Legislative Assembly on 8 August 2018 about planning for Greater Sydney.

Read the full speech on Hansard

Read Premier Minns and his TOD SEPP by:

Paul Scully, MP, Minister for Planning & Public Spaces State Environmental Planning Policy (Housing) Amendment (Transport Oriented Development) 2024 under the Environmental and Planning Act 1979 HERE

18 June, 2024

345 Pac Hwy, Lindfield must not set dangerous precedent

See GB.11, Agenda, Ku-ring-gai Council meeting, Tues 18 June 2024 at 7pm HERE

A private Planning Proposal has been received by Ku-ring-gai Council for 345 Pacific Highway (opposite the new Coles development) on the corner of one of the Ku-ring-gai’s most dangerous intersections on the Pacific Hwy, Balfour Road and the Havilah Road underpass.

This Planning Proposal is not supported in its current form.  However the Ku-ring-gai Planning Panel and Council Officers are recommending to allow 12 storey heights & Floor Space Ratio to 3.5: 1 on this site, by amending the Ku-ring-gai LEP.  

Amending the Ku-ring-gai LEP to allow 12 storeys on this site would set a dangerous precedent for all other local centres in Ku-ring-gai, including St Ives.

Currently the KLEP 2015 allows for up to a 9 storey development in this E1 zone.

The TOD SEPP which Council is challenging in the Land and Environment Court  only allows 6-8 storeys on this site and a FSR of 2.5:1.

So why is Council considering amending the Ku-ring-gai LEP to allow 12 storeys?

The proposed amendment will set new height and built upon standards not just for Lindfield but for the whole of Ku-ring-gai.  This is something that should NOT BE SUPPORTED.  

Please send an email to all Ku-ring-gai Councillors

Then copy your email to MPs:

Matt Cross MP 

Alister Henskens SC MP

11 June, 2024

Forums on Low & Mid-rise Housing

It is important that you attend Ku-ring-gai Councils public forums that will explain the NSW Governments LOW AND MID-RISE housing plans and their potential impacts on your neighbourhood.

The low and mid-rise housing provisions are due to come into effect in mid 2024. They aim to provide Sydney with 377,000 new homes.

They propose terraces and manor houses (two storey apartment blocks) on sites within 800 metres of all train stations, and other major retail areas such as St Ives Shopping Village.

Dual occupancies will also be allowed in most residential zones across NSW, providing a site is larger than 450 square metres. See more information HERE

Register to attend HERE

Gordon Mon 17 June 6.30-8.30pm Council Chambers
Commenara Thurs 20 June 6.30-8.30pm Turramurra Masonic Hall
Wahroonga Tues 25 June 6.30-8.30pm Turramurra Masonic Hall
St Ives Wed 26 June 6.30-8.30pm Christ Church
Roseville Mon 1 July 6.30-8.30pm St Albans Church Hall

READ Low-and Mid-Rise Housing Polich Refinement Paper, Version 1.0 Prepared by DPHI LMR Policy Team, 29 April, 2024 HERE

11 June, 2024

TOD Disallowance Bill

Read more about the TOD Disallowance Bill HERE

Scott Farlow, MLC & Shadow Minister for Planning, has introduced a Private members Bill into the Legislative Council. This Bill is the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 to enable State Environmental Planning Policy (Housing) Amendment (Transport Oriented Development) 2024. The aim is to disallow the Transport Oriented Development (TOD) program that is a blunt and one-size-fits all instruments that will have catastrophic impacts on Ku-ring-gai s tree canopy, environment, heritage and amenity.  

On 5th June 2024, Scott Farlow said:

“The Coalition supports measures, including increasing density along transport corridors, to meet ambitious housing targets, but they must be done right and in consultation with local communities. This has not been the case with the Transport Oriented Development State Environmental Planning Policy, which provided no opportunity for community consultation despite increased community participation being an object of the Act”.


The Bill will be introduced into the Legislative Council.

Please urge MLCs to vote for the TOD Disallowance Bill.

Please ADAPT and EDIT in your own words the letter below:

Then send the email to each member of the crossbench asking them to support the Disallowance Bill.

Their contact emails are HERE

Read TOD SEPP by:

Paul Scully, MP, Minister for Planning & Public Spaces State Environmental Planning Policy (Housing) Amendment (Transport Oriented Development) 2024 under the Environmental and Planning Act 1979 HERE

18 June, 2024

Ku-ring-gai remains steadfast on TOD legal action

FOKE thanks Ku-ring-gai Councillors who voted to continue the legal action against the NSW Governments undemocratic and environmentally and heritage destructive Transport Oriented Development (TOD) program.

A majority of nine councillors stood steadfast in their support to continue the legal action against the TOD.  

Watch Ku-ring-gai Council meeting HERE.

Since coming into effect on 13 May, 2024, the TOD continues to cause anguish, distress and despair for residents and particularly to those living within 400 metres of Gordon, Killara, Lindfield and Roseville Stations.  

The TOD will allow 6 to 7 storey apartment buildings on most sites within 400 metres of Gordon, Killara, Lindfield and Roseville railway stations.

Residents remain in shock to think that a NSW Government would allow Ku-ring-gai’s unique and irreplaceable heritage and environment to be so willfully destroyed by developers.

Many residents are now being threatened with financial and housing insecurity. Those living within the TOD are being pressured to sell their properties with threats that if they don’t their properties will be devalued.

Ku-ring-gai Councillors know they have no choice but to take legal action.  The NSW Government has shown no indication that they will negotiate with Council.  Instead, Minns appears determined to push through this undemocratic TOD hyper-overdevelopment SEPP that will be catastrophic for not only Ku-ring-gais heritage and environment but NSWs.

It is pleasing to hear that the NSW Liberals are prepared to overturn the TOD program.  

We now have hope that Councils legal challenge and the Coalitions Disallowance Bill will stop the disastrous TOD.


Read TOD SEPP by:

Paul Scully, MP, Minister for Planning & Public Spaces State Environmental Planning Policy (Housing) Amendment (Transport Oriented Development) 2024 under the Environmental and Planning Act 1979 HERE

11 June, 2024

Stop Crs Spencer & Pettett selling out Ku-ring-gai

Attend Ku-ring-gai Council meeting
Tuesday 4 June, 2024 7pm
Council Chambers 818 Pacific Highway, Gordon (entrance at rear of Council)

Send the message to all Ku-ring-gai Councillors: STAND UP FOR KU-RING-GAI


Read Crs Spencer & Pettetts Notice of Motion HERE

Cr Cedric Spencer & Cr Jeff Pettett have called for an Extraordinary General Meeting on Tues 4th June 2024 at 7pm to rescind Ku-ring-gai Councils legal action against the NSW Government’s undemocratic, unaffordable and unsustainable rezonings – known as the Transport Oriented Development (TOD) program.

Their actions are irresponsible and go against resolutions councillors have consistently voted for since November 2023.

Legal action is the only power Ku-ring-gai Council has to save ratepayers millions of dollars in infrastructure costs that will come with the rezoning for high density housing in Roseville, Lindfield, Killara and Gordon.

Already developers have announced they want the TOD program to be extended to other areas.  This rings alarm bells for more high density rezonings for Pymble, Turramurra, Warrawee and Wahroonga.  This means more environmental and heritage destruction for Ku-ring-gai—wiping out its tree canopy and heritage conservation areas.

Cr Spencer & Cr Pettett’s motion signals a “green light” for developers to make super profits from what is the largest rezoning ever in the history of Ku-ring-gai and Greater Sydney.

If passed their actions could destroy Ku-ring-gai’s tree canopy, heritage and lead to planning chaos with no additional infrastructure.

FOKE’s evidence to TOD Inquiry

FOKE was invited to give evidence to the NSW Parliament’s Upper House Inquiry into the development of the Transport Oriented Development Program (TOD) on Monday 20 May 2024 in the Macquarie Room, Parliament House, Sydney.  

FOKE concluded its evidence calling on the NSW Government to immediately withdraw the TOD program because of the devastation it will cause not only to the natural, built and cultural heritage of Ku-ring-gai but for Greater Sydney.

During FOKEs session from 12.15 pm, Mr Frank Howarth AM (Chair, Heritage Council of NSW); Mr David Burden (Conservation Director, National Trust of Australia (NSW) and Ms Jozefa Sobski AM (Vice President, Haberfield Association Inc) presented evidence as well.

Following FOKE’s presentation the Save Greater Sydney Coalition (SGSC) which FOKE is a member of, presented their evidence.  It was a powerful presentation!

Read list of speakers at Upper House TOD Inquiry 20.5.24 HERE

Watch video of FOKE’s evidence to the Upper House TOD Inquiry Hearing 20.5.24 HERE

Read transcript of FOKE’s evidence to the Upper House TOD Inquiry Hearing 20.5.24 HERE

Read FOKEs Submission to the TOD Inquiry 27.3.24 HERE

Read further information about the Upper House Inquiry HERE


Read TOD SEPP by:

Paul Scully, MP, Minister for Planning & Public Spaces State Environmental Planning Policy (Housing) Amendment (Transport Oriented Development) 2024 under the Environmental and Planning Act 1979 HERE

FOKE’s evidence to Planning & Climate Change Inquiry 10 May, 2024

FOKE presented evidence to the NSW Parliament Upper House Portfolio Committee No. 7 regarding its inquiry into the planning system and the impact of climate change on the environment and communities on Friday 10 May 2024 at the aks Room, Dee Why RSL, Dee Why from  12.00 pm to 12.45 pm. Appearing alongside FOKE was Friends of Lane Cove National Park Inc.

The Upper House Portfolio 7 Committee consist of:

Chair: Higginson, Sue (GRNS, LC Member); Deputy Chair: Ruddick, John (LP, LC Member); Members: Buttigieg, Mark (ALP, LC Member); D’Adam, Anthony (ALP, LC Member); Farlow, Scott (LIB, LC Member); Munro, Jacqui (LIB, LC Member); Primrose, Peter (ALP, LC Member)

FOKE Introductory Statement

Thank you for the opportunity for Friends of Ku-ring-gai Environment, or ‘FOKE’ as we are known, to comment on Portfolio Committee No. 7’s Inquiry into the NSW planning system and the impact of climate change on the environment and communities.

In speaking about Ku-ring-gai, FOKE wishes to acknowledge the traditional owners of Ku-ring-gai, and that it is on the land of Gammeragal (Roseville) Darramurragal (Turramurra) and Guringai (West Head) Country.

FOKE is a community group, run by volunteers.  It celebrates its 30th Anniversary this year.  During these three decades FOKE has advocated for the protection of Ku-ring-gai’s natural, built and cultural heritage.

FOKE is deeply alarmed at the state of the current planning system and takes the view that it endangers the lives of residents from the accelerating impacts of climate change.  Ku-ring-gai, being surrounded by three national parks, is in a high bushfire prone area and with properties exposed to flood hazard.  With escalating climate change Ku-ring-gai will face more frequent, intense and life-threatening bushfires and flooding.

FOKE unreservedly opposes a NSW planning system that weakens environmental protections.  Stronger environmental protections at the state and federal level are urgently needed to stem the crisis of biodiversity extinction and the climate emergency.

The increasingly “one-size fits all” NSW planning system needs to be overhauled to ensure planning decisions prioritizes resilience, climate safety and biodiversity conservation.  In its current form it offers little protection.

Central to FOKE’s submission is the view that there has, and continues to be, a public policy failure with successive governments’ urban consolidation policies that drive dangerous climate by escalating the environmental crisis through land clearing, deforestation, habitat destruction, loss of canopy and seedbank.

FOKE is deeply concerned that the current NSW planning system and poor controls exerted by planning instruments, continues to profoundly change the landscape of Ku-ring-gai and its critically endangered ecological communities, particularly its remnant Blue Gum High Forest and Sydney Turpentine Ironbark Forest; as well as their capacity to regenerate into the future. It will also destroy Ku-ring-gai’s natural beauty and its urban villages, many of which are located within or adjacent to heritage conservation areas or national parks.

Over 70% of Ku-ring-gai’s Endangered Ecological Communities (EECs) are located on private land.

FOKE takes the view that the survival of these Endangered Ecological Communities are key to the survival of Ku-ring-gai’s tree canopy. Yet these Endangered Ecological Communities are under threat due to the decades of local government powers being weakened. 

Since the introduction of external planning panels and the deregulation and privatisation of compliance and enforcement regulators, local governments no longer have the regulatory and enforcement powers to refuse most development applications and ensure the ongoing conservation of its natural environment.

Complying development, SEPPs and substantially weakened legislation have fueled tree removals on private land replacing small houses with oversized ‘McMansion’ type houses and apartment buildings, replacing trees and gardens with hard surfaces and reducing the property’s capacity for deep soil landscaping. Without adequate deep soil landscaping provisions on private property Ku-ring-gai’s Endangered Ecological Communities and canopy cannot survive into the future. Deeply alarming is that there is less than 1% left of Blue Gum High Forest in the world.

FOKE is concerned that current development proposals are assessed in isolation without consideration of the cumulative impacts of previous planning and development decisions and their impacts on the environment.

FOKE calls on the NSW Government to implement a new fit for purpose climate planning system, based on ecologically sustainable development and which uphold the highest standards of biodiversity conservation and climate resilience.

Find list of speakers at Inquiry Hearing on 10 May 2024 HERE

Watch video of FOKE’s evidence at Inquiry on 10 May 2024 HERE or BELOW:

Read full transcript HERE

Read FOKE’s Submission HERE

Watch the Public hearing – PC7 – Planning and the impacts of climate change, 17 June, 2024 HERE

Council takes legal action

Ku-ring-gai Council unanimously voted to take legal action against the NSW Governments Transport Orientated Development (TOD) State Environment Planning Policy (SEPP) at its Council meeting on Wednesday 8 May, 2024.

The NSW Government’s Transport Oriented Development (TOD) housing policy will “fatally” weaken Ku-ring-gai Council’s heritage, setbacks and tree canopy controls for Roseville, Lindfield, Killara and Gordon. 

FOKE remains concerned about the proliferation of defective cookie cutter, apartments that are unaffordable and are unsustainable and environmentally destructive. The NSW Governments top down one-size fits all housing policy is undemocratic, unaffordable and unsustainable.

Despite multiple requests from Ku-ring-gai Council since November 2023 to collaborate on infrastructure outcomes and establish a 12-month extension for appropriate planning, the TOD SEPP comes into effect on Monday 13 May, 2024.

In a media release dated 9 May, 2024, Ku-ring-gai Mayor Sam Ngai argues that “the TOD in its current form will lead to a Swiss cheese effect in our suburbs, with multiple high-rise buildings surrounding heritage properties.”

“We have not taken this decision lightly, but we owe it to residents to fight for our environment and quality of life. Based on our legal advice, we believe we have a strong case and the financial benefits to ratepayers far outweigh the cost,” said Ku-ring-gai Mayor Sam Ngai.

Read Ku-ring-gai Council’s full media release here.


Read TOD SEPP by:

Paul Scully, MP, Minister for Planning & Public Spaces State Environmental Planning Policy (Housing) Amendment (Transport Oriented Development) 2024 under the Environmental and Planning Act 1979 HERE

Ku-ring-gai’s WAKE UP letter to NSW residents

READ Ku-ring-gai’s open letter to NSW residents, published in early May 2024:

An open letter to NSW residents – WAKE UP

We’ve all heard about the NSW Government’s plans for increased housing. But no-one has heard anything about how our schools, hospitals, roads and parks are meant to support this population growth.

Read full letter HERE

GeoRegion = GeoWonder

Dr Peter Mitchell OAM will talk about FOKEs fascinating Ku-ring-gai GeoRegion project which celebrates Sydney’s unique geological heritage

When: Saturday 18 May, 2024

Time: 2-4pm

Venue: Roseville Uniting Church, 7A Lord Avenue, Roseville

Includes afternoon tea Free but donation welcome RSVP

For more background information about the FOKE Ku-ring-gai GeoRegon read:

  • The Ku-ring-gai GeoRegion, a community initiated and supported project of potentially international significance, May 2024 HERE
  • The Linnaean Societys Review Paper, The Natural and Cultural History of the Ku-ring-gai GeoRegion, NSW by R.J. Conroy, U.A. Bonzol, J.J. Illingsworth, J.E. Martyn, P.B. Mitchell,I.G. Percival, A.M. Robinson, D.F. Robson, and J.B. Walsh (2022) HERE

    Dr Peter Mitchell is a former Associate Professor and Head of Department of Physical Geography at Macquarie University.

    This event was organised by FOKE to celebrate the Australian Heritage Festival 2024.

Grant for GeoRegion

FOKE and Steering Committee members of the Ku-ring-gai GeoRegion project were delighted to attend the Grants Presentation night on 20th February. FOKE sincerely thanks the Board of the Community Bank- Lindfield and Districts, and in particular Board Member and former Ku-ring-gai Council mayor Jennifer Anderson, for nominating the Ku-ring-gai GeoRegion for the grant of $1,000.

In 2018 FOKE initiated a project to add extra protections to, and increase awareness of, Ku-ring-gai’s natural and cultural heritage focusing originally on Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. This has since developed into a much broader area which includes other protected areas and most of the suburban areas within the municipalities of Hornsby and Ku-ring-gai, and extending to include the Northern Beaches coastline.

The proposal has been endorsed in principle by the Geological Survey of NSW and is supported by the Hornsby, Ku-ring-gai and Northern Beaches councils and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, all of which are collaborating through an established geotrail development group. We are also pleased to know that our project has the full support of State and Federal electorate members of parliament across the GeoRegion including, the current NSW Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment, Trish Doyle MP.

The grant will enable the Steering Committee to develop a website devoted entirely on the Ku-ring-gai GeoRegion which will serve to enhance signage information relating to the existing geotrails and future geotrails, supporting interested visitors, school groups, geology students, and citizen scientists.

We thank the Bendigo and Adelaide Bank Ltd for the wonderful work the Bank does in supporting projects which benefit local communities.

Save Sydney Rally

RALLY Save our Suburb 12th March Sydney Domain Ipm

ON Tuesday 12 March 2024 1pm

AT Tree of Knowledge behind Parliament House, Hospital Road, Domain. Map here.

PROTEST against the new planning laws proposed by the NSW Government.

THREATENS every suburb across Greater Sydney, Blue Mountains, Central Coast, Lower Hunter, Greater Newcastle and Illawarra-Shoalhaven.

BRIING banners identifying your suburb or council area.

SPEAKERS will include MPs, Mayors & Community representatives.

SHARE with your networks, community groups, neighbours, friends and family.


CONTACT KATHY COWLEY, President, FOKE, for more information

TOD Inquiry Announced

The NSW Parliament has announced an Upper House Inquiry into the Development of the Transport Orientated Development Program (TOD).

Submissions are due on 28 March 2924.

The TOD Program will devastate Ku-ring-gais heritage conservation areas and environmentally sensitive lands particularly the 400 metres surrounding Roseville, Lindfield, Killara and Gordon Stations.

Both the TOD Program and the Low and Mid-rise Housing State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) will include a “non-refusal” standard which will disallow Ku-ring-gai Council heritage and environmental controls.

The TODs 3:1 FSR and 6-7 + storey heights (with no minimum lot size or lot width) will effectively wipe out Heritage Conservation Areas and remove critically endangered Blue Gum High Forest (BGHF) and Sydney Turpentine Ironbark Forest (STIF) in Roseville, Lindfield, Killara and Gordon. 

The Upper House Committee consist of:

Chair: Sue Higginson MLC (GREENS)
Deputy Chair:  John Ruddick MLC (LDP)

Mark Buttigieg MLC (ALP)
Anthony D’Adam MLC (ALP)
Scott Farlow MLC (LIBERAL)
Jacqui Munro MLC (LIBERAL)
Peter Primrose MLC (ALP)

The Terms of Reference can be found here.

It is critical that as many submissions be sent in by members of the community.

Say NO to NSW Government

Send your submission HERE by deadline Friday 23 February, 2024

Ideas to help you send your submission:

The NSW Minns Government planning ‘reforms’:

  • are grossly UNDEMOCRATIC.

  • are flawed. They undermine the integrity of the entire NSW PLANNING system and will lead to planning chaos.

  • will destroy the character, heritage and environment of Sydney’s diverse suburbs with a “one size fits all policy”.

  • fails to consider local amenity impacts, including overshadowing, loss of privacy, loss of scenic views, loss of streetscape.

  • fail to ensure good quality and good designed apartment buildings.
  • put the interests of property developers before the COMMUNITY.

  • will allow super windfall rezoning profits to be ‘gifted’ to property developers.

  • will not address the housing affordability crisis.

  • will open the NSW planning system to “corruption risk” with the introduction of the ‘non-refusal standards’ (including money-laundering).

  • deny natural justice for those residents living within a  Transport Oriented Development (TOD) with no opportunity to object.  

  • deny natural justice for those residents living across Sydney with the introduction of the Changes to create low and mid-rise housing occurring just before the Christmas, New Year and school holidays.

  • lack transparency and accountability. The Minns Government refuses to release the “Cabinet in confidence“ evidence justifying why Roseville, Lindfield, Killara and Gordon had the necessary infrastructure to take further density.   the TOD to be introduced 400 metres surrounding Roseville, Lindfield, Killara, Gordon Railway Stations can take the increase in density.

  • are environmentally irresponsible when Sydney’s natural ENVIRONMENT is under severe with the escalating threats of climate and biodiversity extinction.

  • fail to acknowledge Sydney’s environment interconnections. Ku-ring-gai is the lungs of Sydney. What happens to Ku-ring-gai’s trees will impact on Western Sydney’s, Northern Beaches, Sydney Harbour’s and the Hawkesbury River’s environmental health.

  • will devastate Ku-ring-gai’s natural environment with the overriding of existing Council protections including Tree & Vegetation Development Control Plan (DCP), Urban Forest Policy, Threatened Species Community.
  • Fail to acknowledge Ku-ring-gai as an environmentally sensitive area.  

  • Fail to acknowledge Ku-ring-gai’s Aboriginal heritage that is a local government area that has one of the most significant Aboriginal sites in Sydney.

  • will push Ku-ring-gai’s Critically Endangered Ecological Communities (Blue Gum High Forest, Sydney Turpentine Ironbark and Duffys Forest) and its wildlife and birdlife to extinction (Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act).

  • will destroy Ku-ring-gai’s tree canopy. Already Ku-ring-gai’s tree canopy is under serious threat with an 8-9% slash in tree canopy cover. The NSW Housing Strategy will accelerate this destruction. It will destroy the vital wildlife corridor/national park railway line ridge.

  • will have an adverse impact on Lane Cove National Park, Garigal National Park, Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. As well the integrity of the remaining pockets of intact Blue Gum High Forest at the Dalrymple-Hay Nature Reserve (St Ives), Sheldon Forest (Turramurra) will be placed under pressure. Other bushland reserves include Ku-ring-gai Flying-Fox Reserve (within 400 metres of Gordon Railway Station), Granny Springs Reserve (Turramurra), Swain Garden, Seven Little Australians Park.

  • ignores Ku-ring-gai’s geography. geology and climate. Ku-ring-gai suburbs are located on a thin ‘railway line’ ridge that climbs to about 200 metres and has the highest rainfall in Sydney. There are many creeks running from this ridge east and west, flowing down into either the Lane Cove, Garigal or Ku-ring-gai National Parks. The canopy trees, bushland reserves, gardens are environmentally critical to the survival of these national parks. The NSW housing policies will lead to more intensive hard surfaces.  During high rainfall events this will lead to flash flooding, with pollutants, rubbish and weeds being flushed into the National Parks.
  • will result in wildlife extinction. Ku-ring-gai has more native species than the entire United Kingdom. Ku-ring-gai is a hot bed of biological diversity that supports over 800 native plants, 170 fungi and 690 fauna species (including the threatened species – Grey-Headed Flying Fox and Powerful Owl.

  • ignores the evidence that Ku-ring-gai is one of Sydney’s most ecologically sensitive places.

  • Fail to provide an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) regarding the  multiple rezonings since 2004 when the last major rezonings occurred as LEP 194.

  • will demolish Ku-ring-gai’s hard won HERITAGE Conservation Areas that includes the nation’s best 20th Century domestic architecture.

  • fail to acknowledge and respect the character, heritage and environment of a local area. They are blunt, one-size-fits all changes that will irreversibly destroy a community’s liveability, character, heritage and the environment.

  • abrogate NSW’s obligations to protect individual heritage items (eg Eryldene)  and Heritage Conservation Areas . If allowed it means that heritage protection will be extinguished across NSW.

  • will destroy Ku-ring-gai’s heritage where the ‘natural dominates the built form’. Ku-ring-gai’s garden and bushland suburbs will be demolished and replaced with hard surface concrete.

  • fails to recognise Ku-ring-gai’s significance to the Australia’s cultural, natural and environmental pioneer history. Ku-ring-gai is the birthplace of the modern Australian environment movement with environmental pioneers such as Annie Wyatt (founder of the National Trust of Australia), Charles Bean, Eccleston du Faur, Alex Colley, Paddy Pallin.

  • will overwhelm existing ageing INFRASTRUCTRE for stormwater, sewerage and drinking water, train carrying capacity.

  • fails to address the risks that Ku-ring-gai faces from climate fueled bushfires, wild storms and flash flooding.
  • will cause continual traffic congestion chaos. Ku-ring-gai has limited access roads to the Pacific Highway. In an emergency how will the ambulance get to the hospital? Streets will be impassible with additional carparking.

  • are silent on controls to ensure new multistorey developments have net zero emissions with roof top solar and community batteries for the high energy required for lifts and air conditioning.

  • fail to provide the funds to purchase additional land for more parks, playgrounds, green spaces, sporting fields, swimming pools as well as services such as schools, hospitals, libraries and community and recreational facilities.

  • fail to acknowledge that over the past 20+ years, Ku-ring-gai Council’s attempts to strengthen the protection of Ku-ring-gai’s heritage and the environment have been ignored, denied or delayed by the NSW Planning Department (eg 10/50 vegetation clearing rule). Concurrently environment, heritage and local government powers have been significantly weakened. It is time to strengthen urban environmental protections – not extinguish them.


“You have something special here in Ku-ring-gai. Fight for it.” – Tom Uren

Ku-ring-gai is about to be destroyed.

It is now time for residents to fight for Ku-ring-gai.

The NSW Government is planning to destroy Ku-ring-gai – its tree canopy, its heritage homes and its character.

IT IS IMPORTANT for residents to:

a) complete a Ku-ring-gai Council online survey about their say on the planning changes

b) send feedback to the State Government’s planning department here.


The NSW Government proposes dual occupancies in low density residential zones on block sizes of 450sqm. A block of 900 sqm will allow four homes to be built on it.

The NSW Government’s blanket zonings will allow terraces, townhouses, manor houses (two storey apartment blocks) and 6 to 7 storey mid-rise apartment blocks to be built within walking distance of railway stations. Possibly too for Ku-ring-gai’s local centres – East Killara, East Lindfield, West Gordon, West Pymble, West Lindfield, South Turramurra, North Turramurra?

Ku-ring-gai’s future will be dramatically different – traffic congestion, high rise with the removal of thousands of trees. Heat stress turbocharged. Wildlife extinguished. Heritage erased.

In April 2024 the NSW Government plans to implement ‘Transport Oriented Development’ (TOD).

TOD allows blanket 6 to 7 storey unit developments within 400m of the Roseville, Lindfield, Killara and Gordon railway stations. Eight to nine storeys will be allowed if developers provide “affordable housing”.

Heritage Conservation Areas WILL NOT BE PROTECTED.

The NSW Government has indicated it will NOT CONSULT Ku-ring-gai residents over its TOD high rise rezoning changes.

For more information see Ku-ring-gai Council: ‘Proposed changes to NSW housing policy and its impacts on Ku-ring-gai’.

NSW Government announces intentions for MORE HOUSING DENSITY

At the last Ku-ring-gai Council meeting, less than two weeks before Christmas 2023, Mayor Ngai tabled a Mayoral Minute : “The Trickle of Information Regarding Housing Density Changes – Tuesday 12 December 2023”about the State Government’s  intentions for more housing density for Ku-ring-gai.  

Below is FOKE’s summary of the Mayoral Minute.  The full Mayoral Minute can be read here.

The State Government intends to legislate two State Environmental Planning Policies (SEPPs) to override Ku-ring-gai Council planning controls. 

1. SEPP relating to “diverse and well-located homes”

The NSW Government has announced it intends to legislate new planning controls to allow terraces and townhouses from being built in R2 Low Density Residential zones and residential flat buildings (apartments) to being built in R3 Medium Density Residential zones.

This would shift the goalposts with unintended consequences on infrastructure, planning, and biodiversity.

It is understood that if this “diverse and well-located homes” SEPP is legislated by the NSW Government it will:
• increase housing density within 800m walking distance to a well-located area’, ie  close to existing train stations and town centre precincts (it remains unclear as to whether local neighbourhood centres will be includes)
• Multi-dwelling houses to be allowed in R2 zones within 800m walking distance of well located areas
• 6 storey apartments to be allowed in R3 zones within 400m walking distance of well located areas
• 3 storey apartments to be allowed in R3 zones within 800m walking distance of well located areas and
• Dual occupancies to be allowed anywhere else in NSW zoned R2.

A letter sent to Ku-ring-gai Council from the Department of Planning on 16th July 2021, indicates it wants Council to implement ‘medium density’ (then townhouses) in Roseville, Roseville Chase, Killara, Pymble, Wahroonga, West Gordon and North St Ives.

2. SEPP relating to “transport oriented development”
• The SEPP intends to allow 6 storey apartments on any zoned land within 400m of each train station, although it has not been confirmed whether this is 400m walking distance or 400m radius
• The planning controls will allow building heights of 6 storeys (21m) with a floor space ratio of 3:1
• New parking rates will apply
• No minimum lot size or lot width rules will apply and developments in commercial areas must make sure street frontages are activated
• The State Government does not believe further support for infrastructure is necessary
• The SEPP will apply to Heritage Conservation Areas, although details on this remains unknown
• The SEPP will designate each area as “special entertainment precincts” with venues trading later and exempt from normal rules about amplified music.

Ku-ring-gai Council has responded with concerns about: 
• The lack of consideration for infrastructure (transport, stormwater, education and recreation)
• The significant loss of tree-canopy, which is vital to protecting biodiversity as well as to support climate-change resilience
• The potential impacts to the character of Sydney, including impacts to our Heritage Conservation Areas
• The lack of detail publicly available on either SEPP
• The perceived rush to implement each SEPP
• The perceived lack of public consultation regarding the above.

The situation is compounded by the State Government’s withdrawal of $9.8m funding for the Lindfield Village Hub commuter carpark, which has put the project in jeopardy, delayed the delivery of housing, and sabotaged the good faith efforts of both Council and the potential developer.

A. That Council notes this Mayoral Minute, awaits the release of detail on each SEPP, and continues to voice its concerns both individually and in co-operation with other local councils and industry bodies such as LGNSW and NSROC.

B. That as soon as practicable after the public release of detailed information on each SEPP, Council will inform the residents of the impacts of proposed changes as well as any public feedback or consultation mechanisms available to them. Council will also respond as necessary to protect the interests of current and future residents of Sydney.

FOKE supports Mayoral Minute 21 November, 2023

14 November 2023                    

Dear Mayor and Councillors

FOKE wishes to express its support for the Mayoral Minute of 21 November, 2023 that outlines his initial response to The Hon Paul Scully MP, NSW Minister for Planning and Public Spaces letter (dated 30/10/2023 and received on 9 November, 2023).

It is important that the integrity of Ku-ring-gai zoning controls or Local Environment Plans (LEPs) be upheld to ensure Ku-ring-gai’s environment, heritage, character and amenity, especially in its R2 Low Density Residential Zones, be protected for future generations to enjoy.

FOKE commends the Mayoral minute for its clarity and careful consideration on the challenges ahead for Ku-ring-gai.

FOKE strongly supports a rigorous and transparent public consultation process to allow residents to have a say.  We recommend that Council refer to the 2002 questionnaire sent to all residents that was used as part of the consultation process for the then Ku-ring-gai Residential Strategy.

FOKE shares the Mayor’s concern about the unacceptable loss of tree-canopy and asks that an audit be done on the cumulative loss of trees since 2004 as well as what planning controls are needed for climate-change resilience as we face increasingly dangerous bushfires, wild storms, flooding and extreme heat stress that will endangers the lives of residents and threaten the natural environment.

FOKE shares concerns townhouses in low residential areas in R2 zones would considerably alter the heritage character and environment of Ku-ring-gai.

FOKE shares the Mayor’s concern about significantly increasing Ku-ring-gai’s population without necessarily the funding for or provision of adequate infrastructure (transport, stormwater, education and recreation and environmental restoration projects) to support the increase.

FOKE requests that the four baseline studies (Heritage and Neighbourhood Character, Infrastructure, Environment and Traffic and Parking Studies) carried out for the preparation for the Ku-ring-gai Residential Strategy in 2002 be assessed in light of the development that has occurred since 2004.

For over twenty five years FOKE has argued that Ku-ring-gai requires planning controls that protect, threatened and endangered ecological communities, national parks and environmentally sensitive areas. 

We thank and commend this Mayoral Minute.

Yours sincerely

Kathy Cowley



cc  Matt Cross MP Member for Davidson

cc The Hon Alister Henskens SC MP Member for Wahroonga

cc The Hon Paul Fletcher MP Member for Bradfield

FOKE Thanks Mr McKee

FOKE President Kathy Cowley wrote to Jehn McKee, on 14 November 2023, thanking him for his service as Ku-ring-gai Council General Manager from 2006-2023.

Read FOKEs letter below:

Dear Mr McKee

FOKE wishes to thank you for your many years of service to Ku-ring-gai Council as its General Manager since 2006 and as its Director of Finance (2001-2006) since you first started working for Ku-ring-gai Council in 1998.  An enormous and respected legacy that is greatly appreciated.

We thank you for your leadership that has been important in protecting so much of Ku-ring-gai’s natural, built and cultural heritage from overdevelopment, forced amalgamation and higher density rezonings.

We greatly appreciate your determination to successfully oppose the NSW Government’s forced amalgamation agenda in 2017 and your record of sound financial management.

We recognise your significant achievements including your commitment to:

  • Heritage protection for Ku-ring-gai through the Gazettal of Heritage Conservation Areas across Ku-ring-gai Town Centres.
  • Environmental stewardship for Ku-ring-gai through an IPART approved Environmental Levy that provided $4 million a year for a range of environmental projects in 2019.
  • Establishing an award-winning open space acquisition strategy that has led to the creation of 15 new parks and playgrounds from 2006-2020.
  • Local government excellence as recognised by Ku-ring-gai Council winning the A R Bluett Award for best performing metropolitan council in NSW in 2014.
  • Ensuring Ku-ring-gai Council was one of the first councils to respond to the Greater Sydney Commission’s requirement for new local environmental plans with the adoption of Ku-ring-gai’s Local Strategic Planning Statement in 2020.
  • Implementation of a development contributions scheme to provide new community facilities in areas of high density development.
  • Sound financial management through a combination of rigorous debt reduction, increasing income, land purchases and strategic long-term planning.
  • Improving budget outcomes through the integration of Ku-ring-gai Council’s asset management, financial and operational planning and associated reporting.
  • Rate restructuring that provided $36 million for infrastructure renewal over 20 years.
  •  ‘Activate Ku-ring-gai Civic Redevelopment Program’ to revitalise Ku-ring-gai’s main centres.
  • $29 million multi-purpose recreational area for netball, soccer and golf for Ku-ring-gai residents.
  • $20 million fitness and aquatic centre at West Pymble.
  • Refurbishment and modernisation of Ku-ring-gai’s central library at Gordon.
  • Building a new Council depot at Pymble as well providing new headquarters for SES volunteer emergency services.
  • Provision of the large public space and underground parking for 130 cars at Lindfield.

We will not forget how you steered Ku-ring-gai Council through difficult State Government challenges.  Your successful management of Council’s financial performance ensured Ku-ring-gai Council was one of the only councils in NSW to meet the State Government’s financial criteria under the ‘Fit for the Future’ sustainability program. Nevertheless, the NSW State Government proposed merging Ku-ring-gai Council and Hornsby Council. When Ku-ring-gai Council resolved to oppose this merger, you led a successful legal challenge to the merger process resulting in a win in the Court of Appeal that maintained Ku-ring-gai’s independence.  

Thank you again for the huge difference you have made in leading, protecting and retaining so much of Ku-ring-gai’s natural, built and cultural heritage and in the strategic planning and delivery of new infrastructure for Ku-ring-gai.

We wish you the very best in your new endeavours ahead.

Yours sincerely

Kathy Cowley


PHOTO CAPTION: John McKee talking about how engaged his Senior Management team on a collective leadership journey for the Australian Applied Management Colloquium, 2014

Vale Dr Tony Recsei (1938-2023)

FOKE was pleased that a Mayoral Minute for FOKE member, Dr Tony Recsei.

Read it below:

KU-RING-GAI COUNCIL MAYORAL MINUTE: Vale Tony Recsei: Respected Volunteer and Community Leader

“On behalf of Council and the Ku-ring-gai community this Mayoral Minute pays tribute to well-known Ku-ring-gai resident Tony Recsei, who passed away unexpectedly last month while on holiday in South Africa.

Tony Recsei was a highly respected member of the Ku-ring-gai community and longstanding Warrawee resident. Born in South Africa, he was Managing Director of pharmaceutical company Pharmador which his father had started in the 1930s.

Being a successful businessman was just one part of Tony’s life however. He was passionate about flying, earning his commercial pilot’s licence at an early age and flying around Australia in the Piper Twin Cherokee that he owned.

Tony was a devoted Rotarian; eventually becoming President of Turramurra Rotary Club.  He was also a gifted pianist who was President of the Sydney Mozart Society; a not-for-profit organisation devoted to raising awareness of classical music.

Many will remember Tony for his activism on planning matters which he led on behalf of Ku-ring-gai and the wider Sydney community.

In 2000, he established the Save Our Suburbs organisation to oppose State government urban consolidation policies. He was staunchly opposed to forced rezonings in local communities, believing that they led to over-development and environmental degradation.

Right up to his death, Tony Recsei continued to call for governments to introduce planning reforms to protect residents from inappropriate development. He wrote several research papers on planning issues and engaged in discussions with the NSW Department of Planning and the Urban Taskforce, among others, to argue the case against over-development.

Tony married Greta Behrmann in 1960 and they remained together for more than 60 years until his death. He is survived by Greta, children Derek and Elaine, grandchildren Carl, Krista, Bryce and Giselle and great-granddaughter June. Our sincere condolences to Tony’s family on his untimely passing. He was a highly cultured and much loved family man, as well as being a tireless advocate for the causes he believed in. May he rest in peace.”


(Moved: The Mayor, Councillor Ngai)

A.      That the Mayoral Minute be received and noted.

B.      That we stand for a minute’s silence to honour Tony Recsei.

C.      That the Mayor write to Tony Recsei’s family and encloses a copy of the Mayoral Minute.


FOKE Submission: Opposition to rezoning Patyegarang/ Lizard Rock, Morgan Road, Belrose (PP-2022-3802)

FOKE opposes the rezoning of land at Patyegarang, Morgan Road, Belrose (PP-2022-3802), formerly known as ‘Lizard Rock’ on public exhibition until 7 November, 2023

FOKE wishes to express its strong opposition to the proposal to rezone 71ha of high conservation value bushland at Patyegarang, Morgan Road, Belrose (PP-2022-3802), formerly known as ‘Lizard Rock’.  If the 450 residential dwellings at Morgan Road, Belrose/ Oxford Falls are approved it would have a detrimental, devastating and irreversible environmental impact on the Northern Beaches’ biodiversity, climate, bushfire safety, strategic planning as well as setting a dangerous precedent for other bushland sites, some of which will impact on Ku-ring-gai’s bushland.   

Friends of the Ku-ring-gai Environment (FOKE) is a community based organisation aimed at protecting and conserving the natural, built and cultural heritage of Ku-ring-gai. 

FOKE opposes the rezoning proposal of Patyegarang, Morgan Road, Belrose (PP-2022-3802) for the following reasons:

Negative impact on Biodiversity

NSW is facing an extinction crisis with over 1000 species on the threatened list, yet the Patyegarang Planning Proposal will clear massive areas of intact and pristine bushland that will destroy habitat and exacerbate NSW’s biodiversity crisis. 

FOKE notes that the planning proposal seeks to rezone 19.8ha of the site for C2 Environmental Conservation purposes but argues that this is inadequate in protecting the high biodiversity of the whole site. 

If approved the rezoning will lead to irreversible loss and local extinction of endangered species including powerful owls, red-crowned toadlets, bandicoots, lyrebirds, wallabies, threatened glossy black cockatoos and endangered heath monitors.

Negative impact on the Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment

If approved the rezoning will create unacceptable increases in stormwater runoff that risks flooding the Wakehurst Parkway and Oxford Falls Roads. 

Excess stormwater runoff will also negatively impact on threatened species including the red-crowned toadlets and spotted-tail quolls and other marine animals living in and around the Narrabeen Lagoon.

Negative Impact on Sydney’s air quality, temperatures and carbon emissions
If approved the rezoning will exacerbate air pollutants, increase urban heat and reduce opportunities to capture greenhouse gases.

Urban bushland provides vital ecological services, such as oxygen, and water.  Urban bushland sites, such as Patyegarang “plays a key role in the climate system” providing essential carbon sinks to regulate Sydney’s temperatures and help store carbon. The NSW Government has a responsibility to commit to climate action and ensure it contributes to keeping  global warming to no more than 1.5°C as agreed in the Paris Climate Agreement.  Australia is one of twenty countries that is responsible for about 75 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Negative Impact on Life and Property during Bushfires
The site is located on bushfire-prone lands above a forested valley.  Northern Beaches Council has identified the site as having ‘extreme bushfire risk’ and evacuation problems with limited egress.

In a changing climate, bushfires are increasing in frequency and intensity.  It is no longer acceptable for new developments to be built in bushfire areas.   They pose unacceptable risks to the safety of residents, RFS and SES volunteers. Preserving bushland corridors are also vital escape routes for wildlife during bushfires.  If the NSW Government is committed to implementing the recommendations of the ‘Bushfire Royal Commission’ it must reject this rezoning proposal.

Broader Strategic planning implications

This rezoning proposal is effectively a ‘spot’ rezoning and inconsistent with key aspects of the Greater Sydney Region Plan, North District Plan, Northern Beaches Local Strategic Planning Statement – Towards 2040, and Northern Beaches Local Housing Strategy, particularly in terms of the preferred location and type of new housing and impacts on the environment and Metropolitan Rural Area.

The site lacks infrastructure and appropriate services (schools, open spaces, sports fields, bus services, health services, libraries). 

Despite the proposal seeking a limit of 450 dwellings, it is highly likely that once approved, further rezoning applications will occur to increase the site’s density.

Unacceptable traffic and urban sprawl
Theproposal will add to traffic congestion along Forest Way, Wakehurst Parkway, Warringah Road and Mona Vale Road contributing to more greenhouse gases.  Evidence shows that long-term exposure to traffic-related air pollution has detrimental impacts on human health.   

Precedent for further inappropriate overdevelopment

If the Patyegarang Planning Proposal is approved it sets a precedent for further rezonings of Northern Beaches Aboriginal Land that that includes the 135-hectare bushland site at Ralston Avenue in Belrose (only 3.5km from the Patyegarang/Lizard Rock site) adjoining the Garigal National Park and the Ku-ring-gai bushland suburbs of St Ives, East Killara and East Lindfield. Development on this site poses extreme bushfire risk with the presence of overhead power lines with electrical currents between 66,000 to 500,000 volts surging through them. 

Overwhelmingly community opposition to rezoning proposal
The Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council (MLALC) owns 912ha of bushland in the Northern Beaches, much of it permissible for residential development under the Aboriginal Land State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP). Ownership has been made possible by the NSW Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 that supports First Nations people’s economic self-determination through property development. 

However, development needs to be assessed on its planning merits.  The proposed development is not ecologically sustainable and not in the public interest.

On 29 June 2023, a Northern Beaches Bushland Guardians petition, signed by 12,000 people, including FOKE members and Ku-ring-gai residents, was presented to the NSW Legislative Assembly calling for the NSW Parliament to “repeal the amendments to the State Environment Planning Policy (Planning Systems) so that 227 hectares of land in the northern beaches is no longer subject to the development delivery plan.”

Sydney is blessed to have this bushland site, Patyegarang, with its rich Aboriginal cultural heritage and high conservation value. This is something that the NSW Government should celebrate and protect.

FOKE thus strongly urges the NSW Government to reject the Patyegarang, Morgan Road, Belrose (PP-2022-3802) planning proposal.

Yours faithfully

Kathy Cowley


cc The Hon Paul Scully MP Minister for Planning and Public Spaces

cc The Hon Stephen Kamper MP Minister for Lands and Property

cc The Hon Jihad Dib MP Minister of Emergency Services

cc The Hon Penny Sharpe MLC Minister for Climate Change, Minister for the Environment

cc The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP Commonwealth Minister for the Environment and Water

cc Ku-ring-gai Mayor and Councillors

cc The Hon Matt Cross MP Member for Davidson

cc The Hon Alister Henskens SC MP Member for Ku-ring-gai

cc The Hon Paul Fletcher MP Member for Bradfield

FOKE Submission: Inquiry into the planning system and the impacts of climate change on the environment and communities

Read FOKE’s submission into the UNSW Legislative Council’s Inquiry into the planning system and the impacts of climate change on the environment and communities

3 November 2023

Dear Ms Higginson

RE: Inquiry into the planning system and the impacts of climate change on the environment and communities


Thank you for giving us the opportunity to make a submission to the Inquiry.

Friends of the Ku-ring-gai Environment (FOKE) welcomes this inquiry into the planning system.  The urgency to protect NSWs natural, built and cultural heritage has never been so important with the impacts of climate change.

FOKE was established in 1994 to protect and conserve the natural, built and cultural heritage in the Ku-ring-gai local government area, located on the northern ridge of Sydney. FOKE is a member of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW and the Better Planning Network.

For over thirty years FOKE has called on successive NSW Governments to implement ecologically sustainable planning policies.  FOKE has also called on successive NSW Governments to limit urban densification rezonings in environmentally sensitive bushland suburbs such as Ku-ring-gai, as they have been key drivers of environmental degradation.  

The scale of the environment crisis has now intensified since FOKE was first founded in 1994. The cumulative impacts of urban densification policies have continued to degrade Ku-ring-gai’s environmentally sensitive areas as well as others across NSW. 

The scale and frequency of climate disasters continues to intensify with more extreme bushfires, flooding, storms, heat waves that are causing deleterious damage to human health and biodiversity resilience.  Yet the NSW Government persists with a developer driven planning agendas that intensifies these environmental crises. 

FOKE hopes that this Inquiry will result in ensuring that NSW has a planning system that can protect and restore natural environments and build resilient communities facing the climate crisis.

Successive governments have failed to implement strong environmental legislative protections in planning and environmental law.  Current laws are now so weak they are incapable of protecting endangered species and returning ecosystems back to health. Over 1000 species on the NSW threatened species list.

FOKE argues that NSW needs a stronger, more accountable and robust planning system that have objective of protecting environmentally sensitive urban areas including Ku-ring-gais remnant urban forests.

Land system changes from land clearing, tree clearing, deforestation and forest degradation are major causes of habitat and biodiversity loss in NSW. They also contribute to increasing greenhouse emissions and fuelling climate change with rising temperatures and increasingly frequent extreme weather events such as bushfire, floods, droughts and storms, and increases the spread of tropical diseases. Forests, bushland, trees and gardens play a major role in protecting biodiversity and reducing carbon emissions and curbing harmful climate change by capturing and storing carbon.

The planning system needs to ensure all new development is powered by renewable energy if we are to keep temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius. The planning system should ensure the electrification of all new residential development with solar energy, batteries, heat pumps, non-gas stoves and affordable electric vehicles, and support existing households to make that transition.  Net zero emissions must be integrated into the planning system as well as sustainable practices including water tanks, recycling waste water and other sustainable practices. 

Ecologically sustainable development needs to be core to NSWs planning system where conservation and environmental restoration and key objectives.  Financial viability must not be the priority consideration for development.

Planning powers need to be returned to the local government with the required resources to do so.  Concurrence approval from different departments needs to be ensured in the face of more intense and frequent bushfire.

Rezoning for medium to high density is a key contributor to climate change as it involves more concrete (a major greenhouse emitter), more energy (and if powered by coal or gas – a major greenhouse emitter) and more water (with less water in dams during sustained droughts).

Ku-ring-gai, as an urban forested garden suburb, is well placed to mitigate the effects of Sydney’s heat stress.  Its unique remnant Blue Gum High Forests are some of the best carbon capture in Sydney that keeps the city cool as well as improving its air quality. Sydney is one of the few global cities in the world that is surrounded by bushland suburbs, and national parks, as in Ku-ring-gai.  They are also home to an amazing diversity of threatened species that rely on this habitat for survival.  

FOKE challenges the paradigm of continual growth.  FOKE views that continuing economic growth is an unsustainable[1][1] that will lead to catastrophic unrestrained climate change.   The indefinite pursuit of economic growth is destroying places of natural beauty and life forms. FOKE fears that Sydney’s population growth will cancel out most climate gains from renewables and efficiency. 

Sustainable ecological planning is urgently needed if NSW is to be safe, liveable and biodiverse.  

Planning reform must ensure new developments are climate neutral by supporting the rapid transition to renewable energy. 

Abnormally high temperatures, increased heatwaves and more dangerous bushfires mean that there must be ‘no go’ planning zones.

One of Sydney’s last remaining wildlife habitats is in Ku-ring-gai and this national treasure should be protected by the NSW planning system.

A. Developments proposed or approved: 

(i)  in flood and fire prone areas or areas that have become more exposed to natural disasters as a result of climate change 

Ku-ring-gai has become more exposed to high bushfire risks as it is surrounded by three national parks and has bushland reserves. With a hotter and drier climate, bushfires are expected to increase in intensity, duration and catastrophe many of its suburbs- North Turramurra, East Killara, East Lindfield, West Lindfield, West Pymble, South Turramurra St Ives and North Wahroonga are exposed to high bushfire risk areas.  These bushfire suburbs have limited road access.  North Turramurra is particularly susceptible to bush fire and when there is an unstoppable bushfire and urgent and immediate evacuation of residents are needed it is difficult with traffic congestion and evacuating a high number of vulnerable older residents living in aged care and retirement villages.

Ku-ring-gai’s bushland ridges and valleys landscape are also more exposed to flooding with severe storm events that bring heavy rain and cause flash flooding as seen by the 2019 tornado that swept through Gordon and Pymble felling trees.

With El Nino declared and a high bushfire risk upon us, Ku-ring-gai faces significant fire danger with Ku-ring-gai being surrounded by three national parks.


The context of this is that Ku-ring-gai will be facing more threat from rezonings within bushfire pone areas and other urban areas.

The Lourdes Retirement Village Planning Proposal, 95-97 Stanhope Road Killara 2071 planning proposal

This proposes to demolish and rebuild as a seven storey ‘vertical’ building up to 6 storeys in height with 63 new town houses to be built along the bushfire flame zone for non-seniors. This poses threats to lives of its most vulnerable older residents and the lives of emergency rescue personnel. FOKE is concerned about inadequate and flawed assessments by the NSW Rural Fire Servicerelating to this planning proposal.

We attach the submission prepared by lawyer Catherine Brady which outlines in detail the concerns we have as objectors to the planning proposal.

Lizard Rock

FOKE opposes the ‘Patyegarang Planning Proposal’ at Morgan Road, Belrose, known as “Lizard Rock” rezoning proposal because it will destroy precious pristine bushland habitat, put lives at risk from bushfire, destroy wildlife habitat and set a precedent to destroy more bushland at a time when we need our bushland more than ever.

If approved, the Lizard Rock/ Patyegarang rezoning will bulldoze 45 sports fields of pristine bushland to build 450 new dwellings.

Successive NSW Governments have allowed the proposal to progress, despite opposition from the Northern Beaches Council.  If the rezoning for residential housing is approved, it will put lives at risk as it is a high bushfire zone.  It will pollute and degrade the Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment. It will bulldoze irreplaceable wildlife habitat. It will destroy Aboriginal rock art. It will exacerbate traffic congestion. It will contribute to more greenhouse gas emissions, exacerbating climate change. 

The public is overwhelmingly opposed to it, as indicated by a 12,000 signed petition to the NSW Parliament opposing the rezoning for residential housing in June 2023.

Approval sets a dangerous precedent for a total of 220 hectares of bushland across the Northern Beaches, including bushland at Ralston Avenue, Belrose.  This has devastating implications for bushland in Ku-ring-gai, as the Raulston Avenue site adjoins Garigal National Park and wildlife corridors leading to St Ives, East Killara and East Lindfield.


North Turramurra Recreation Area (NTRA) Sports Facilities

In October 22 the Ku-ring-gai Local Planning Panel approved the NSFA’s development application (DA) to construct a large, 50m long building at the North Turramurra Recreation Area (NTRA), to house a grandstand, NSFA headquarters and other unrelated amenities, including an exclusive gym, café and media room. This was despite massive local opposition via petitions and submissions to Council.

This DA to build a 200 seat grandstand at the North Turramurra Recreation Area (NTRA) in an area that is an E4 environmental protection zone (bushfire prone). This structure is expected to result in increased out of area traffic and increased noise, create a bushfire evacuation risk and further monopolise the site by one sports group. The structure will also further reduce the greenspace at the NTRA, by adding to the existing, large synthetic field. North Turramurra, a peninsula suburb, adjoins the Ku-ring-gai National Park and is in a high bushfire area a single access road, in a high bushfire area with the difficulties of access roads and evacuating older residents living in retirement villages.

Ku-ring-gai Council approved a Synthetic sports field on Norman Griffith Oval, West Pymble, near the Lane Cove National Park and in a high bushfire area. Residents took the matter to the Land and Environment Court but it was defeated.

The population pressure on local sports fields is now becoming acute with pressure to cover them with synthetic turf fields as has been approved at the Norman Griffith Oval, West Pymble which is surrounded by Sydney Turpentine Ironbark Forest in the catchment of the Lane Cove National Park. This has been enormously contentious as it is located in a high bushfire area and the concern about micro plastic pollution run off into the Lane Cove River in the Lane Cove National Park.

(ii)in areas that are vulnerable to rising sea levels, coastal erosion or drought conditions as a result of climate change, and


The context of this is that Ku-ring-gai will be facing more high density and medium density rezonings from the State Government and is under threat.


Too many canopy trees are being removed from the approval of development applications and from the result of the 10/50 Tree Clearing Code.  Trees are also dying from drought conditions and disease.

(iii)  in areas that are threatened ecological communities or habitat for threatened species

Ku-ring-gai local government area is surrounded by three national parks and threatened ecological communities of Blue Gum High Forest, Sydney Turpentine Ironbark Forest and Duffy’s Forest.

Ku-ring-gai is a place of environmental sensitivity.  It has three threatened ecological communities – Blue Gum High Forest (BGHF), Sydney Turpentine Ironbark Forest (STIFF), and Duffy Forest and habitat for threatened species.

NSW’s planning system provides insufficient protection of Ku-ring-gai’s nationally significant vegetation. The National Trust (NSW) has identified conservation areas combined with Blue Gum High Forest and outstanding 20th Century architecture and yet LEP 2015 – other planning instrumental together have treated Ku-ring-gai as a standard local government area.

Restoration, rewilding and regeneration needs to be key to the planning system.

Planning powers of local government have been drastically reduced. As well, the powers to review, amend, revoke or repeal development approvals that damage the environment are difficult to win at the Land & Environment Court.


The context of this is that Ku-ring-gai will be facing more high density and medium density rezonings under order from the State Government and is under threat.


Since 2004 Ku-ring-gai has contributed over 16,000 new homes in the form of high-density developments, medium density and seniors living proposals.  The rate of development is becoming ecologically unsustainable as most of the development is being focussed within environmentally sensitive and wildlife corridors within Ku-ring-gai.

(b) the adequacy of planning powers and planning bodies, particularly for local councils, to review, amend or revoke development approvals, and consider the costs, that are identified as placing people or the environment at risk as a consequence of:


FOKE has witnessed the cumulative degradation and destruction of Ku-ring-gai – one of Sydney’s most environmentally sensitive local government areas since it was formed in 1994. 

The cumulative impacts of multiple LEP rezonings (LEP194 + LEP200 + Ministers’ Sites LEP 2015) for medium density housing have transformed large areas of Ku-ring-gai with the removal of its distinct giant tree canopy.  Massive areas have had their soil and seedbank removed, covering it with hard surfaces that removes the capacity of the land to be regenerated and rewilded in the future – thus condemning this urban forest to extinction.  The soil and its geology have evolved over millennia and its removal is irreversible.  

As one of Sydney’s most environmentally sensitive areas it has had cumulative impact of multiple LEPs that have destroyed its canopy cover, gardens, green spaces, seed banks, habitats, and fragmented wildlife corridors.  Entire neighbourhoods have been bulldozed and replaced by concrete medium density apartments. The loss of trees has exacerbated the drying out of the soil, removing wind breaks and removing vital hollows for birds and wildlife.

FOKE has argued against NSW’s urban consolidation policies since it was formed in 1994.  Since then, the population of Sydney has increased significantly putting more demands on housing and the environment. Ku-ring-gai has experienced a 25% population increase since 2000.

As a consequence of ongoing urban densification pressures, Ku-ring-gai has had much of its garden and bushland suburbs and urban forests transformed into hard surfaces, loss of tree canopy and the loss of its remnant urban forests. Entire streetscapes and neighbourhoods have been transformed to hard surfaces with the loss of gardens, canopy trees and wildlife habitats. Soil and seed banks have been removed by excavations for underground car parking.  Vital habitat for its birds and other small marsupials has been destroyed. Ku-ring-gai’s remnant Blue Gum High Forests (Browns Forest/Dalrymple-Hay Nature Reserve, St Ives & Sheldon Forest, Turramurra) and STIFF risks extinction if this is to continue, as the largest remnants are along the Pacific Highway ridge and Northern railway corridor. It is reported that there is less than 1% remaining of the critically endangered Blue Gum High Forest left in NSW and the world.

Blue Gum High Forest is located on the Pacific Highway and North Shore railway line (that includes two State Heritage listed Railway stations) are located on the main Pacific Highway and North Shore railway line (that includes two State Heritage listed Railway stations) that has been targeted for higher densification.  It also contains some of the nation’s best 20th Century domestic architecture.

Ku-ring-gai is renowned for its Federation and interwar garden suburbs surrounded by bushland reserves and three national parks.  Its environmental sensitivity should have stronger planning and environmental protections. However the planning system for over thirty years has been geared for economic development rather than ecological conservation.

Stormwater and pollutants from developments run off into Lane Cove National Park due to the nature of the steep slope topography of Ku-ring-gai.

The significant impact of the 10/50 Tree Clearing Code has allowed the removal of hundreds of critically endangered trees which would normally require application for approval, and have been removed without transparency and accountability measures in place.

Razing of blocks of land and building energy guzzling McMansions approved under the Complying Development codes with limited land available for soft landscaping and deep soil areas for planting canopy trees.

Building retirement villages should not be allowed to be built in high bushfire risk areas.

Ku-ring-gai is home to an important maternal colony of the Grey-headed Flying-fox, located in the Ku-ring-gai Flying-fox Reserve, Gordon. The colony consists on average of about 30,000 to 40,000 bats during summer.  Heat waves kill flying fox colonies. There is considerable concern with climate change that flying-foxes will be vulnerable to periods of extreme heat: panting, fanning, shade seeking, and then with mass fatalities reported at temperatures of 43° C and above.  The changing fire regimes threaten wiping out other threatened species such as pygmy possums.

Increased urban densification creates conflict between humans on the bushland interface – smell of flying foxes; cats and dogs, traffic killing wildlife on busy roads; removal of trees because of perceived threats of tree branches falling on homes.


Unprecedented heat waves being exacerbated by increased hard surface from medium density developments.


·       NSW’s biodiversity is in peril and rapidly declining.
Sydney needs Ku-ring-gai’s trees and remnant forests to help cool it during times of intense heat waves.

·       Ku-ring-gai’s environment is important for the environmental health of Greater Sydney in keeping temperature clean, air health and absorbing greenhouse gases.

·       Ku-ring-gai is renowned as being the ‘green lungs’ and keeping Sydney’s temperatures cooler and air quality cleaner as well as capturing carbon.  In Europe most people live in areas of high fine pollutant particle pollution. Sydney is lucky to have places like Ku-ring-gai with its tall Blue Gums, Blackbutts to keep Sydney’s air quality clean.

·       We need a planning system that values biodiversity protection if we are to stop the extinction.

·       The natural environment is a dynamic and interconnected system.  As such the protection of Greater Sydney relies on the protection of Ku-ring-gai’s Blue Gum High Forests located along the Pacific Highway and Railway line along the North Shore ridgeline.

·       What happens in Ku-ring-gai has consequences for other parts of Sydney. Removing Ku-ring-gai’s remaining tree cover risks intensifying heat traps in Western Sydney. The Powerful Owl is at home in western Sydney as it is in northern Sydney.  There are the migratory birds that fly across Ku-ring-gai and other suburbs of Sydney.


·       Ku-ring-gai’s biodiversity has declined with the loss of wildlife and habitat corridors have been fragmented by development.

·       Ku-ring-gai is the catchment area for three national parks and as a result of densification with stormwater runoff from hard surfaces this has had negative impacts on the health of these national parks.

·       FOKE has no confidence that the current planning system is capable of protecting biodiversity loss for Ku-ring-gai.


·       FOKE argues that the planning system needs reform that is people and nature centred, rather than profit centred. 

·       Local government planning powers have been massively reduced where its residents’ democratic rights have been diminished.

·       At a time of increasing mental health, nature is more important for future generations.


·       Housing unaffordability is at crisis.

·       Despite repeated claims that the planning system and densification will improve housing choice, housing affordability and livability these have not been delivered.  The economic imperative of property development is the driving priority of the planning system and this must be reversed.

·       The current NSW planning system is not fit for purpose.  With the escalating and existential crisis of climate change the NSW planning system is an abject failure.

·       Neoliberalism economics have pushed the privatisation agenda of selling public land. The cumulative sell off of schools and public land have been lost opportunities for wildlife corridors, community land and more parks and playgrounds.

·       Historic properties such as ‘Hillview’ (owned by NSW Health) has been a model of ‘heritage demolition by neglect’ and shows the failure of the planning system to insist that heritage owners (including the government) maintain their properties.

·       Economic growth is a key threatening process. We need a new economic model of sustainable economics if we are to survive. 


·       Critical urgency and irreversibility of biodiversity extinction and climate change.

·       FOKE has no confidence that the current planning system is capable of protecting Sydney’s environmental values in a rapidly dangerous escalation of climate destabilisation, unless planning reform happens.

·       Climate change is bringing hotter and longer weather and more severe storm, wind, and flooding incidents.

(c) SHORT TERM planning reforms that may be necessary to ensure that communities are able to mitigate and adapt to conditions caused by changing environmental and climatic conditions, as well as the community’s expectation and need for homes, schools, hospitals and infrastructure.

·       FOKE urgently calls for an emergency, concerted, multidisciplinary effort to transition away from fossil fuels and rezonings for more medium density that will increase consumption, pollution and waste that is no longer appropriate with climate change and biodiversity collapse.

·       Policies to stabilize house prices to ensure affordability, including retaining small houses from being demolished and being replaced by ‘McMansions’. Other models may include cooperative housing schemes such as Ku-ring-gai Old Peoples Welfare Association (KOPWA) that provides affordable housing for older residents.

·       Removing influence of developers in wield too much power in the planning system

·       More environmental education is urgently needed.

·       Simplifying the language of planning.  It is almost impossible to read and understand planning documents.  They are incomprehensive for ordinary citizens to read and comprehend.

MEDIUM TERM planning reforms that may be necessary to ensure that communities are able to mitigate and adapt to conditions caused by changing environmental and climatic conditions, as well as the community’s expectation and need for homes, schools, hospitals and infrastructure

·       More land acquisition and rezonings for environmental protection.

·       Protecting Crown Land and other public land being sold off.

·       FOKE believes the best way the planning system can best serve people and the natural and built environment is to ensure that the planning system works and is administered by a public service that prioritises the community public interest planning system and environment before private commercial interests.

·       FOKE also says more research is needed into environmental protection and  extinctions, the impact of climate change on microorganisms, the freshwater biodiversity crisis of its creeks and rivers, endangered food webs, invasive species, tree extinctions

·       Once renewable transition occurs, we need to address the more complex issues of ecological overshoot and reduce consumption and increase public transport. 

LONG TERM planning reforms that may be necessary to ensure that communities are able to mitigate and adapt to conditions caused by changing environmental and climatic conditions, as well as the community’s expectation and need for homes, schools, hospitals and infrastructure.

·       Stabilising Sydney’s population and immigration numbers.  Population growth is having considerable impact on housing shortages, unaffordable housing, ecological collapse and climate change.


·       The Henry review of NSW’s Biodiversity and Conservation laws found the survival of biodiversity is impossible without significant change to how we value nature in NSW. The government will need to respond to the Henry Review of the Biodiversity Conservation Act.

·       FOKE endorses The ‘World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency’ report, endorsed by 14,859 scientists from 158 countries, that proposed a range of measures for restoring and protecting natural ecosystems, conserving energy, reducing pollutants, reducing food waste, adopting more plant-based diets, stabilising population and reforming the global economy.



The landscape of Ku-ring-gai has dramatically changed over the last 30 years. The cumulative impacts of land clearing and rezoning for urban densification has dramatically degraded much of the Ku-ring-gai landscape. Many suburbs of Ku-ring-gai have lost their low rise residential garden suburb character and its gardens, canopy trees and critically endangered vegetation and wildlife.

Ku-ring-gai is a place where many environmental pioneers such as Annie Wyatt (founder of the National Trust), Charles Bean (founder of the Parks and Playground Movement), Paddy Pallin (founder of the national parks movement) called for a vision that protected Greater Sydney’s green, forested and gardened suburbs.

FOKE is concerned that the cumulative impacts of poor planning decisions are now being intensified by climate change.  The crisis is dire.  FOKE fears we are at tipping points that will trigger new and devastating and irreversible environmental loss.

FOKE hopes that following this inquiry the NSW Government will reform the planning system so that it protects NSW’s natural and built heritage from climate change impact and changing landscape.

We need to end the nexus between property developers and commercial interests who have captured the planning system with political donations.

Climate change is threatening the fabric of our lives. FOKE looks forward to concerted emergency action to ensure our NSW’s planning system can keep us safe.

We look forward to the Committee’s deliberations and the results of the Planning System Inquiry.  It is hoped that the State Government will take the Inquiry outcomes into full consideration, so that the NSW planning system going forward can ensure that people and the natural and built environment are protected from climate change impacts and changing landscapes.

Yours faithfully

Kathy Cowley

cc Ku-ring-gai Mayor and Councillors
cc Matt Cross MP Member for Davidson
cc The Hon Alister Henskens SC MP Member for Ku-ring-gai
cc The Hon Paul Fletcher MP Member for Bradfield

[1][1]Overshoot is defined as the human consumption of natural resources at rates faster than they can be replenished, and entropic waste production in excess of the Earth’s assimilative and processing capacity.

Submission: Lourdes Village – inquiry into the planning system and the impacts of climate change

FOKE thanks Catherine Brady for her submission to the Inquiry into the planning system and the impacts of climate change on the environment and communities, 3 November, 2023


Thank you for the opportunity to make a submission. I write as a concerned citizen with a background in environmental law and more than 20 years’ experience in the NSW public service – including in the
Land and Environment Court and Department of Planning. I am prompted to write out of concern that the current planning system is overly biased in favour of developers and their short term profit maximisation goals. Access to justice provisions that once made the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 a model piece of legislation have been substantially eroded over the years. The planning system is also substantially weakened by provisions that excuse non-compliance with government policies, including those designed to manage climate change impacts. While ever these systemic issues remain unaddressed, the planning system’s ability to sensibly manage climate change impacts will be significantly compromised, and the potential benefits of any reforms proposed by this Inquiry will be limited.

To address this, both general and targeted reforms are required to the planning framework. Adequate
resourcing of regulatory authorities is also required so staff have sufficient time and knowledge to understand and manage the detail of complex projects. If resourcing is inadequate, regulatory authorities will continue to rely too heavily on proponents for analysis of submissions etc. This will prevent them from acting as truly independent and objective decision makers, capable of delivering balanced outcomes in the public interest.

My concern about such issues has grown in the course of responding to a planning proposal (2022-658) relating to Lourdes Retirement Village (95-97 Stanhope Rd, Killara) where my father lives. I have
used this as a case study to illustrate the shortcomings of the current planning system, particularly in relation to bushfire risks.

Lourdes Retirement Village Planning Proposal – a case study

The site of Lourdes Retirement Village is designated as bushfire prone land. It sits atop a ridge, is surrounded by bushland on three sides, and is at the end of a narrow cul de sac. The village operator
has sought approval to redevelop the site since 2017 and bushfire risks have been a key reason why approval has not yet been granted. The initial proposal to amend the relevant Local Environmental
Plan (Ku-ring-gai LEP 2015) was rejected by Ku-ring-gai Council in 2018, including due to Council’s significant concern about bushfire risks. The developer then sought a rezoning review by the Sydney
North Planning Panel (SNPP). A history of the proposal is available on the Ku-ring-gai Council planning proposal tracker here.

“If at first you don’t succeed”: planning system supports developers but not residents

In November 2018, the SNPP supported the proposal to progress to Gateway, subject to conditions (including the need to obtain Rural Fire Service – RFS – concurrence before the proposal could be publicly exhibited). Discussions regarding bushfire risks continued for nearly two years. In August 2020, a Department of Planning officer phoned to inform my father that the RFS could not support the proposal and the Department would not be forwarding it to Gateway – the proposal was “at an end”. In response to proponent pressure, however, the Department then changed its position, giving the proponent until the end of the year to come up with an approach that would be acceptable. While the proponent was given until December 2020 to develop an acceptable approach, the revised planning proposal was not submitted until August 2022. (I understand the Department of Planning is currently finalising its post-exhibition assessment report for consideration by the SNPP.)

The current proposal seeks to increase permissible building heights by 130% (from 9.5m to 22m) and increase the floor space ratio (FSR) by 150%. These changes are designed to allow a doubling of the
site’s resident population. In addition to rebuilding the current retirement village in vertical form (in buildings up to 6 storeys tall), the latest iteration of the proposal includes 63 non-seniors townhouses
on the site’s southern perimeter, adjacent to steeply sloping bushland and within the flame zone. This has reduced the amount of seniors’ housing in the proposed redevelopment and created additional
risks for all residents, and emergency personnel.

The length of time the process has been on foot (at least 6 years) has caused enormous uncertainty, stress and anxiety for elderly residents. The current planning system gives developers recourse to rezoning reviews when they are knocked back, and to assistance from the Planning Delivery Unit within the Department of Planning. (It is tasked with helping to progress proposals that are “stuck” in the system.) However, there is no equivalent process or team to protect the interests of residents who have to endure seemingly endless development proposal processes. This is grossly unfair. At some point, proposals that lack merit or are unsafe should be rejected outright.

Evident pressure on planning authorities to approve proposals

Even more concerning is the evident pressure on planning authorities to allow this proposal to proceed, purportedly on the basis that it will contribute to addressing the housing crisis. The Lourdes proposal will not solve the housing crisis. The latest iteration will actually reduce the number of dwellings on the site. But even if it did boost dwelling numbers, it should never be acceptable to locate 63 townhouses in the flame zone (as is currently proposed), with a minimum setback of just 3m from the fire hazard. (Retirement village developments should normally include a 100m asset protection zone to protect vulnerable residents.) A 3m APZ on this high risk site is laughable. It is even less than the setback included in the draft DCP that was exhibited with the planning proposal.

If approved, this proposal will put residents and emergency personnel in harm’s way, particularly given the lack of a defendable space to enable firefighters to protect property and residents. In
addition, it would create a terrible precedent that developers elsewhere would seek to follow.

Examples of pressure to approve the proposal are evident in correspondence published with the planning proposal (which is available on the planning portal here), and in documents made available in response to GIPA applications. Appendix M to the Planning Proposal sets out correspondence between the Department of Planning and the Chair of the SNPP, Mr Peter Debnam.1 (In 2018, the SNPP had included a requirement that “the concurrence of the RFS be received in relation to the proposal prior to exhibition.) In April 2021, Mr Debnam stated:

“I can see our words three years ago would have made it a little difficult for the RFS. Consequently, I agree the latest RFS advice of no objection to the Planning Proposal”satisfies our point 1 words regarding “concurrence of the RFS” with the detail to be assessed
at the DA stage and final concurrence provided by the RFS at that time.”

This is concerning. It appears to reveal a willingness to water down previous conditions in order to facilitate progression of the planning proposal. It also shows a lack of understanding of the process that the RFS should follow with respect to planning proposals. In accordance with the RFS document, Planning for Bushfire Protection 2019, the RFS is required to assess proposals in detail at both the
strategic planning phase (i.e. the current planning proposal stage) and at the development application stage. It is wrong to suggest, as Mr Debnam did, that detail need only be assessed at the DA stage.

Worryingly, email correspondence between the Department of Planning and the RFS reveals a similar lack of understanding by RFS staff of this two stage process (see “Appendix M – Bushfire
Correspondence – Rural Fire Service” on the planning portal). This highlights the need to ensure that staff are sufficiently trained and resourced to administer government policy in an appropriately robust

Further evidence of pressure to progress the proposal is evident in correspondence made available in
response to a GIPA Application to the RFS by Friends of Ku-ring-gai Environment Inc. (FOKE). Emails between Planning and RFS staff in January 2023 include comments such as “sorry to be persistent, but the pressure is coming from above the food chain”.

Developers have access, meetings; residents, community groups are being ignored

While there is evident pressure to progress the proposal as quickly as possible, there is no corresponding pressure to respond to residents’ concerns. Indeed, my father and I – along with several residents and community groups – have written numerous letters to the Minister for Planning without receiving any response. (Even the local MP, who has made representations on our behalf, has received no response to his letters.) Letters have also been sent to the Minister for Emergency
Services and others. More than four months later, we are yet to receive a reply. This raises important questions about the accountability of decision makers and whether their decisions are striking the
right balance between the competing interests of developers and the community.

While departmental doors seem to be always open to proponents, concerned residents or community groups are most often being ignored. So long as this pro-developer bias remains, decisions will
continue to be made that privatise gains and socialise losses – both in the form of costs incurred by future governments (e.g. the financial cost of boosting emergency response capacity) and community
members (e.g. economic cost of property damage or mitigation works, risk of injury or death due to climate driven natural disasters).

Failure to consider Ku-ring-gai Council submission
Of great concern is that the RFS appears to have ignored the 241 page submission by Ku-ring-gai Council which includes three expert reports on bush fire risks and evacuation issues, and concludes that it would be negligent to approve the proposal. (Council’s submission is available on the planning portal under the documents tab.)

In response to FOKE’s GIPA application, the RFS has released no documentation showing that it considered the Council submission. The documents that have been released make no mention of the
submission, and the advice provided to the Department of Planning is expressed as being “based on the proponent’s analysis alone. It appears the RFS has unquestioningly accepted the proponent’s
analysis, which contains errors and relies on outdated data, and has ignored Council’s up to date and site specific modelling and analysis, which contradicts the proponent’s analysis in many critical
respects. (Further detail is at Appendix A).

The failure to consider the Council submission constitutes a failure to consider relevant material, making the RFS position legally unreasonable as a matter of administrative law. We have sought to
bring this to the attention of decision makers, so far without success. If the proposal is approved, it would appear that concerned residents’ only recourse will be to bring judicial review proceedings. This
would be prohibitively expensive, with limited prospects of success. As such, it is not a viable option.
We need better processes to ensure that decisions are evidence-based and balanced. Strengthening decision making frameworks must be part of your deliberations about how to improve the capacity of the planning system to manage climate change impacts.

Also concerning is that there are no minutes of RFS meetings with the proponent and its consultants. Such a culture is not well suited to produce decisions that, in the face of worsening climate change
impacts, prioritise resident safety over the interests of developers.

Failure to consider climate change impacts

Several submissions in response to the Lourdes planning proposal expressed concern that climate change will increase bushfire risks. Submitters said it is inappropriate to double the population on a bushfire prone site (particularly when many of those residents will be vulnerable elderly), and to build 63 new townhouses on the very edge of the site, adjacent to the fire hazard. FOKE’s submission also expressed concern that “climate change has not been considered in the bushfire risk analyses”.

The proponent’s planning consultant, FPD, has prepared a Response to Submissions. (The RFS released this in response to the FOKE GIPA Application and can be made available to the Committee
on request. It will also be published on the planning portal in due course.)

Addressing concerns regarding climate change, the Response to Submissions states:

The Bushfire Consultant, Blackash, has advised the following:
The site is not considered a high bushfire risk area.
The site is in a locality that has not had widespread wildfire (nothing within 2km of the site) and is never likely to experience this as the vegetation is confined to relatively narrow pathways in directions that are not exposed to widespread and major bushfires (i.e. a bushfire attack from the northeast to southeast).

Development will be designed and engineered to provide outcomes well above current regulations and standards. The design can adequately protect against fires up to Fire Danger Index (FDI) 100, consistent with current regulations which do not design for fires above FDI 100. Therefore, any increase in fire weather because of Climate Change is not a consideration of the regulative (sic.) framework or fire fighting /emergency management practices. (FPD, Response to submissions, December 2022, p42 and repeated on p71. Emphasis added.)

The Response to Submissions does not mention the Council submission’s discussion of climate change. The Council submission notes the importance of taking a long term view as part of strategic
planning decisions, stating:

There is evidence that under a climate change future, fire events will become hotter and more intense under increased fuel loads, increased temperatures and increased drought conditions. There is also a greater likelihood of ignition in the landscape due to a potential
increase in lightning strikes. A re-zoning such as that proposed requires a strategic assessment of potential fire behaviour over the lifetime of any likely future development.

There is a particular challenge in planning emergency response strategies around vulnerable members of the community under the climate change scenario of hotter and more intense fire behaviour. … The opportunity exists within the redevelopment on site to respond to climate change by creating a more adaptive and resilient future community.

Climate change is a relevant consideration for this Planning Proposal and should be included within any Strategic Bushfire Study prepared. (From pp83-84 of Council submission PDF)

Given that decision makers are required to consider all submissions, and that several submissions raise climate change concerns, climate change is a factor that should be considered. However it is notable that the RFS document, Planning for Bushfire Protection 2019, does not mention climate change. This should be remedied and PBP 2019 should adopt recommendations of the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements. I urge the Inquiry to address this aspect of PBP 2019 as part of your recommendations.

The Commission recommended: “state, territory and local governments should be required to consider present and future natural disaster risk when making land-use planning decisions for new developments” (Recommendation 19.3). The Commission also noted: “Good land-use planning decisions can mitigate future risks. Decisions about new developments should be based on the best information available on current and future risks.” (para 19.60) It appears that, in the case of the Lourdes planning proposal, this recommendation has not been followed: the RFS position with respect to the proposal has been based on decade old data, rather than the up to date and site specific modelling prepared by Council.

Department, not just proponent, must assess submissions

The above discussion makes clear that the proponent’s Response to Submissions is inadequate. Yet, based on the outcome of various GIPA Applications, this Response to Submissions appears to be a key document that will inform the post-exhibition report being prepared by the Department of Planning. This is most concerning.

The Response to Submissions has been prepared by a consultant engaged by the proponent. This is not an independent party who can be expected to prepare an even handed and thorough assessment of submissions. For example, the response to submissions deals only briefly with the Council submission. It does not mention any of the detailed recommendations in the submission, nor Council’s conclusion that it would be negligent to approve the proposal. The conflict of interest is clear.

Set out at Appendix B is a table showing how the proponent’s response to submissions is circular and self-serving, simply reiterating statements made by the proponent and failing to grapple with conflicting evidence in submissions. This highlights the importance of ensuring that the Department of Planning is adequately resourced to conduct its own detailed and impartial analysis of submissions. (Documents released in response to GIPA applications suggest the Department had not undertaken such analysis, at least at the time the application was processed.)

While it is appropriate for proponents to be able to respond to submissions, the proponent’s Response to Submissions document should not be the “source of truth” when it comes to preparing advice for a planning authority such as the SNPP. The Department must review all submissions in detail and reconcile conflicting material (such as that provided by the Council and BlackAsh: see Appendix A).

Provisions that excuse non-compliance weaken the planning system

There are many provisions in the planning framework (and other regulatory frameworks) that are designed to protect decisions from challenge on the basis of technical non-compliance. While preserving flexibility is a valid objective, such provisions can fundamentally weaken regulatory frameworks, including those designed to manage climate change impacts such as bushfire risks.

Two examples that have come to light in connection with the Lourdes proposal are the final clause of Ministerial Direction 4.3, Planning for Bushfire Protection, and s9.1(5) of the EP&A Act.

Ministerial Direction 4.3 sets out requirements for planning proposals relating to bushfire prone land. These include the provision of appropriate asset protection zones (APZ), or other performance-based

measures designed to protect residents. For “special fire protection purpose” (SFPP) developments such as retirement villages, the Ministerial Direction states that APZ requirements must be complied

with and that performance based alternatives are not acceptable. (This is because SFPP developments accommodate vulnerable residents and hence appropriate APZ are essential to mitigate fire risks and enable safe evacuation.)

However, the final clause of the Direction allows a proposal to be inconsistent with the terms of the Direction if the Commissioner of the RFS advises in writing that the RFS does not object to progression of the proposal. In the case of the Lourdes proposal, this clause has been relied on to enable the proposal to proceed notwithstanding its failure to include an appropriate APZ. (For SFPP developments on a high risk site such as Lourdes, an APZ of 100m would normally be required. The current proposal proposes a setback of only 3m between the proposed townhouses and the vegetation/fire hazard. This allows no defendable space and will put residents and emergency personnel at grave risk.)

Similarly, section 9.1(5) of the EP&A Act states:

A local environmental plan (or any planning proposal or purported plan) cannot in any court proceedings be challenged, reviewed, called into question, prevented from being made or otherwise affected on the basis of anything in a direction under subsection (1) or (2).

The effect of this provision is to undermine the requirements imposed by Ministerial Directions. This section was referenced by the Commissioner of the RFS in responding to stakeholder concerns that the RFS had failed to comply with Ministerial Direction 4.3. (In other words, while there may have been non-compliance with the Direction, we could do nothing about it because of s9.1(5).)

Such provisions should be removed or heavily qualified to ensure that departures from requirements in Ministerial Directions or similar documents are:

 only permissible where absolutely necessary,

 minimised as far as possible,

 fully justified by reference to clear evidence, and

 achieve equivalent or better outcomes

Left unchanged, such provisions will continue to erode the rigour of the planning system and thwart efforts to improve management of climate change risks.


As I watch the fire season unfold with strong winds, record breaking temperatures, and emergency resources stretched across large numbers of uncontrolled fires, it seems unthinkable that the Lourdes planning proposal will be approved. If approved, the redeveloped village will be in place for decades and climate change impacts, which are already evident, will only get worse. Yet approval of the project is what appears likely to happen based on the experience of the last 5 years, and the information made available in response to various GIPA applications.

If we are going to make sound, evidence-based decisions to mitigate climate driven risks, we must ensure that the public interest, and the interests of residents impacted by planning proposals, are given due weight in the planning process. Currently, the process is stacked in favour of developers. When they don’t like a decision, they can seek a review, get more time etc. When a resident or community group doesn’t like a decision, it has few if any options. This needs to change.

We also need to ensure that the public service is resourced to discharge its duties to stakeholders in a robust and impartial manner. Over the past 20 years, there has been a gradual erosion of public service capability and capacity, and increasing reliance on analysis by proponents with strong vested interests. This must also be addressed. Provisions that excuse non-compliance with policy requirements must also be amended so that departures from regulatory requirements are minimised rather than routinely allowed.

Finally, targeted reforms are needed to ensure that the framework governing the management of bushfire risk grapples with the challenge of climate change and adopts a precautionary approach to future fire risks.

I wish you well with your deliberations.


Catherine Brady BA LLB LLM

First Ku-ring-gai GeoRegion Trail Signage Installed: Fox Valley Diatreme, Browns Field

The ‘Ku-ring-gai GeoRegion (KGR), an area of approximately 440 sq km, is a community-backed project initiated by FOKE. The GeoRegion embraces the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, other bushland areas, as well as the coast and estuaries located just north of Sydney.

To understand the area covered by the Ku-ring-gai GeoRegion and  its areas of importance, just click on this link to the Ku-ring-gai GeoRegion video.

The first geotrail signs have been installed to highlight the geology and biodiverstity evidenced at Browns Field in Wahroonga. Other proposed geotrails and geosites across the GeoRegion are being finalised to interpret the geological/landscape stories (inclusive of Aboriginal cultural heritage) that support the importance of the GeoRegion.
The Browns Field geotrail includes a number of geosites that are easily accessible and are interconnected around the now cleared parkland in the centre of the Fox Valley diatreme. A diatreme is a volcanic crater/plug formed by explosive eruptions which have then been eroded. Sites show highly weathered outcrops of fine to medium grained, quartz-poor fragmental volcanic rocks interlayered with much finer grained bedded rocks of possible crater-lake sediments.

Many rainforest plants unusual to the Sydney area are present, such as golden sassafras, jackwood, wild quince, giant maidenhair, fishbone water fern, strap water fern, and the sub-tropical rainforest tree – the koda (Ehretia acuminata). A population of the critically endangered scrub turpentine also persists at Browns Field.  

An explanation of this geological setting has been captured within the newly designed and installed signage (pictured) funded by Ku-ring-gai Council and managed by KGR Steering Committee member, Dr John Martyn (also pictured).

Importantly, these sites and trails are both interesting and educational. The Browns Field diatreme is the first and worth a visit to explore and learn what we have in our backyard! 

Ku-ring-gai Council’s E-News Omits News of GM’s Termination

FOKE has written to the new Acting GM David Marshall asking why news of the former General Manager’s dismissal was omitted ‘From the Mayor’ newsletter published on 22 September 2023.

Mr McKee’s termination was confirmed following the mayoral election that elected Cr Sam Ngai as the new mayor on 19 September 2023.

However, Cr Sam Ngai’s first mayoral message omitted news of the failed rescission motion that reconfirmed the 15 August 2023 resolution:

“A.   That the General Manager not be offered a new contract of employment and their current contract be terminated under clause 10.3.5 of the Standard Contract of Renewal (contract).

B.   That the General Manager be thanked for his many years of service to the residents and Council of Ku-ring-gai.

C.   That the Mayor be delegated authority to authorise the payment of 38 weeks in lieu of notice in accordance with clause 11.3 of the contract and take any other administrative steps associated with termination of employment.

D.   That Council appoint the Director Corporate to act in the vacant position of General Manager with immediate effect, in accordance with section 336(1) of the Local Government Act 1993.”

FOKE takes the view that Ku-ring-gai Council needs to immediately communicate this resolution to Ku-ring-gai ratepayers.  As well residents should be advised of Mr David Marshall’s appointment as Acting General Manager.

Cr Ngai wrote in his first mayoral column about the importance of ‘engaging in respectful dialogue’.

FOKE hopes that Cr Ngai remembers these words and formally thanks the former General Manager for his sound, stable management of Ku-ring-gai Council over 17 years as well as for his contribution and loyalty since his first appointment 26 years ago, as Finance Director.

FOKE also seeks reassurances from the new mayor that he will not impose restrictions on staff oversighting the Mayoral Facebook page and/or Council E-News.

At the Council meeting of 20 June 2023 Cr Sam Ngai put forward a motion to amend the draft Social Media Policy by deleting the requirement for council staff management of the Mayor’s official Facebook page. Cr Ngai has a reputation for blocking anyone on his personal Facebook site who disagrees with him.

FOKE looks forward to reading Mayor Ngai’s message of thanks to McKee immediately.  

Posted 25 September 2023

Outrage Over GM’s Sacking

Ku-ring-gai Councillors elected Clr Sam Ngai as the new Ku-ring-gai Mayor and Clr Christine Kay as the new Deputy Mayor at its meeting on Tuesday 19 September, 2023.

Following this mayoral election, an extraordinary meeting was held where an amended Rescission Motion by Councillors Pettett, Smith and Wheatley, dated 15 August, 2023 was moved.  This motion hoped to reinstate Mr John McKee as Ku-ring-gai’s General Manager.  However, the motion was defeated six votes to four. 

Those voting against the Rescission Motion were Councillors Cedric Spencer, Sam Ngai, Alec Taylor, Barbara Ward, Greg Taylor and Christine Kay.  Their vote effectively terminated Mr McKee’s position as General Manager. 

Clr Martin Smith before moving the Rescission Motion, tabled a document to all councillors, showing that Clr Smith had raised his concerns with the Council’s Audit and Risk Committee, outlining the following issues – reputational damage, no due process in the termination of the GM, no tabled performance review due to Councillor Kay not supplying her markings after repeated requests, litigation, and political jousting for the mayoral position.  Clr Smith stated that the NSW State MP was using unacceptable interference with the elected Ku-ring-gai Council Liberal member councillors and two easily influenced Independents.

Clr Kim Wheatley’s speech seconded the Rescission motion defending the General Manager stating that “Mr McKee in his 17 year tenure as GM of Ku-ring-gai Council has always received satisfactory or better in relation to his performance reviews.”  She called on councillors to “act lawfully and honestly and exercise a reasonable degree of care and diligence”.  

Clr Simon Lennon who had initially supported the termination of the General Manager’s contract at the Ordinary Meeting of Council on 15 August, 2023, reversed his decision and joined Councillors Martin Smith, Kim Wheatley and Jeff Pettett in voting for the Rescission Motion to reinstate the General Manager. 

Clr Lennon expressed regret that he had made a mistake in voting for the original motion to terminate Mr McKee as General Manager in August.  During the debate he attempted to move a compromise motion where Councillors would have further time to renegotiate the General Manager’s KPIs in consultation with Mr McKee.

Clr Spencer’s vote and speech against the Rescission motion revealed his longstanding desire to terminate the GM since he first attempted to do so two years ago when mayor.  His recent claims that he did not support the GM’s termination were exposed as untrue.   

Over the last 30 years, community groups have observed many alarming decisions voted on by councillors, but this decision to terminate Mr McKee as General Manager has utterly shocked the community with its lack of procedural fairness and potential political interference by a local state MP who congratulated the councillors sacking the General Manager. This decision now risks ongoing instability of Ku-ring-gai Council’s management. 

Among the six councillors who voted against the rescission motion only Clr Ngai and Clr Spencer spoke against it. Neither one provided any substantial justification for Mr McKee’s sacking.  Councillors Alec Taylor, Barbara Ward, Greg Taylor and Christine Kay remained silent as to why they were so aggrieved with Mr McKee. 

Despite warnings about the reputational’ legal risks and potential costs of an unfair dismissal from the Department of Local Government, Ku-ring-gai Council’s Audit, Risk and Improvement Committee, former Mayors, former Councillors, community leaders and members of the community – four Liberal member councillors and two Independent councillors ignored this advice.

The newly elected mayor, Clr Sam Ngai appeared unaware of his responsibility as the new mayor to advance community cohesion.  Instead, he dismissed concerns raised at a recent Public Forum by former Ku-ring-gai mayors, former councillors and esteemed community leaders who spoke strongly in support of the General Manager and against the actions of those terminating his contract.

Soon after the rescission motion’s defeat, the newly elected Mayor Clr Sam Ngai moved a callous and calculating motion to start the process in appointing a new General Manager.  This indicated that Clr Ngai had played a lead role in Mr McKee’s dismissal.

The newly elected Deputy Mayor Christine Kay also voted to support the termination of Mr McKee.

Both Clr Sam Ngai and Christine Kay hold high positions in the NSW Liberal Party.

Clr Sam Ngai, branch Treasurer, is involved in organised the Davidson Liberals Annual Davidson Business Breakfast.  No doubt he will be congratulated as the new Mayor of Ku-ring-gai at the upcoming event, on 21 September, 2023.

Clr Christine Kay is the Membership Secretary of the NSW Liberal Women’s Council.

FOKE expresses great regret that Ku-ring-gai Councillors Cedric Spencer, Sam Ngai, Alec Taylor, Barbara Ward, Greg Taylor and Christiane Kay have chosen to take a high-risk strategy of removing a well-respected and excellent GM with no justification.

FOKE fears that this will now lead to negative and long lasting impacts on Council stability. 

FOKE feels betrayal at the total disregard for the community. 

FOKE believes that the six Ku-ring-gai Councillors’ action seriously diminishes Ku-ring-gai’s democracy.

FOKE thanks Mr McKee for his years of public service to the Ku-ring-gai community and expresses its deep regret that personal grievances, self-interest and political machinations have led to his termination as General Manager of Ku-ring-gai Council.

Posted 21 September, 2023

For Ku-ring-gai’s sake reinstate GM


Tuesday 12 September 2023

“The decision tonight to reinstate the General Manger Mr McKee is a critical one for residents and Ku-ring-gai. One we’re very unlikely to forget!

We are shocked and dismayed that Mr McKee has been sacked without any warning or due cause.  We believe the sacking is not only, opportunist, unfair and against the principals of due diligence and good governance by an elected body of council.  

You have provided no credible or rational reason to sack the GM.  By sacking him at the last meeting you usurped the council’s meeting agenda which was to discuss the General Managers performance for  which we believe was measured as more than satisfactory.

So where are the reasons for this sudden and unexplained action?

  1. There has been no evidence or allegations of maleficence.
  2. No suggestion of scandal or misconduct.
  3. No evidence of lack of capacity or ability to carry out his work.
  4. and no calling from the general community of Ku-ring-gai to sack him.

Your sudden and drastic decision can only be seen for what it is, a tawdry political hatchet job, made worse by the frantic jockeying to be the next Mayor next week. Backed and supported by a local MP, who has no role or no right to interfere in Ku-ring-gai Council decision making.

Further the group of six has used an ideological argument that “it’s time for a change” which is not a valid argument to sack a loyal General Manager and with no justification bought forward to support it. His performance has been assessed by many councillors and past mayors, three of whom have written a public letter of support for Mr McKee, and reinforcing the fact that the GM has had a more than satisfactory performance not just for the last two years but for the last 17 years.

The sacking of Mr McKee is a high-risk strategy with the potential to destabilise the senior staff, disrupt the day-to-day management of the council, and will undoubtedly cause reputational damage to council  and councillors.

We fear destabilisation of senior staff could lead to the intervention of the State Government – such as an appointment of an Administrator.

Residents need to rely on a stable Council with experienced staff that can lead Ku-ring-gai through the next tranche of massive rezonings for which we are warned are on the agenda by the Labor Government.   Mr McKee has a consistent track record in leading this council through major challenges.

Councillors have been elected to consult widely with their constituents and to make decisions in the public interest not political self-interests.   The community’s reaction to this decision should give cause for the six councillors to look at their own actions as to whether they have put in a satisfactory performance.  The community will have the opportunity to assess that at the ballot box.

For Ku-ring-gai’s sake we urge you to right a wrong and reinstate Mr McKee.”

FOKE Calls on Councillors to KEEP Mr McKEE

FOKE is deeply disturbed that six Ku-ring-gai Councillors – Sam Ngai, Alec Taylor, Greg Taylor, Barbara Ward, Simon Lennon and Christine Kay – recently voted to terminate Mr John McKee, as General Manager of Ku-ring-gai Council. 

In an effort to retain John McKee as General Manager, three Councillors – Martin Smith, Kim Wheatley and Jeff Pettett – put forward a rescission motion. 

FOKE strongly supports this rescission motion to retain McKee as Ku-ring-gai Council’s General Manager.

This rescission motion will be determined at an Extraordinary General Meeting of Council this Tuesday 12 September at the Gordon Council Chambers, commencing 6.00 pm

Speakers need to arrive 10 minutes before the start of the Public Forum to ensure they are on the list to speak.

It will be important for councillors to receive letters or from residents in addressing the Public Forum next Tuesday evening.

Speakers for the Public Forum need to be registered at the very latest with council by 5pm, Monday 11 September by calling 9424 0000, or by on line registration at

This Extraordinary General Meeting to determine the Rescission Motion to reinstate the General Manager will be held on the same night right after the Public Forum see

Please write to councillors at  calling to support the Rescission Motion to reinstate Mr McKee as General Manager.

OR write individually to:;;;;;;;

FOKE has written to all councillors questioning the removal of the General Manager John McKee, at a time when the Council is being targetted by the Labor Government for more urban densification. 

FOKE has also expressed the view that the sudden and unexplained sacking of John McKee will lead to the destabilisation of senior staff and experienced management as well as bring reputational damage to the whole of Council.    

FOKE fears this destabilisation could lead to the intervention of the State Government.

What may appear a straightforward decision has the potential to bring many unintended high-risk consequences into play – the loss of experienced staff, sacking of all Councillors, imposition of an Administrator, loss of planning powers and control of certain development sites.

The Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Post has published an article in support of the General Manager Mr McKee quoting the views of three former Mayors Jennifer Anderson, Elaine Malicki and Cheryl Szatow who collectively have 50 years of local government experience between them and are very concerned by the sudden termination of Mr McKee.

Saving Ku-ring-gai Trees

Is Ku-ring-gai’s urban forest on the brink of extinction?

FOKE remains concerned about the cumulative loss of Ku-ring-gai’s canopy trees and asks where the evidence is that Ku-ring-gai Council’s tree replanting program will:

  • compensate for the substantial loss of canopy trees, many up to 150-200 years old, across Ku-ring-gai?
  • assess the progress of where, when and which saplings have been planted over the last decades and whether they are on track to replacing Ku-ring-gai’s urban forest?
  • prioritise reaching net zero emissions by protecting Ku-ring-gai’s canopy trees for their critical role in carbon capture, temperature control and biodiversity protection?

    FOKE highlights one case study of significant tree losses in Gordon Recreational Reserve, between Werona Avenue and Rosedale Road, Gordon. In September 2023 yet another giant canopy tree in this park was targetted for removal. Where are the plans to replace the trees cut down? Where is the preventative program to restore tree health?

    Gordon residents were notified in a letter, dated 9 August 2023, that Ku-ring-gai Council intends to remove a magnificent Blackbutt Tree (Eucalyptus pilularis) located on the Rosedale Road nature strip adjacent to Gordon Recreation Reserve. This significant canopy tree is 30 metres high and with a canopy 18 metres wide.

    Ku-ring-gai Council says it wrote to residents 18 months earlier (around February 2022) informing them of the tree’s removal due to ongoing health decline. They then proceeded to contact Ausgrid to schedule the tree’s removal, as the tree is located within Ausgrid’s ‘zone of influence’.

    Ku-ring-gai Council’s RMTR22/00143 notification letter, dated 9 August 2023, again notified residents of the tree’s removal even though the letter header was ‘PROPOSED STREET TREE REMOVAL’. The letter outlined the reasons for the tree’s removal due to “concerns” regarding “the safety of the tree”. Ku-ring-gai Council’s Tree Management Officers along with an external consultant confirmed that the tree has significant structural defects to the upper trunk/canopy.

    Thanks to the Gordon Ward Councillors , residents were finally provided with a photo of the Blackbutt Tree to accurately identify which tree was to be removed (see photo above) as well as the arborist reports.

    Residents have requested a site meeting, but this has yet to be confirmed.

    FOKE believes that in future Ku-ring-gai Council should provide detailed site maps, in their tree removal correspondence to residents especially as this is a stringent requirement for Ku-ring-gai residents when they seek permission to remove or prune a tree. Many residents were confused about which tree Ku-ring-gai Council was going to remove when they received the tree removal letter.

    Yet FOKE asks what is the long-term management plan for the trees in this park? Will more significant trees be removed? How can residents be confident that Ku-ring-gai Council’s tree management is working for the long term?

    Already since July 2023 Ku-ring-gai Council has removed two significant Angophora trees from Gordon Recreation Reserve.

    At a site meeting with residents, on 21 June 2023, Ku-ring-gai Council staff agreed to undertake an independent report to assess the removal of a young, healthy Sydney Red Gum (Angophora costata) growing next to the heritage pagoda entrance gate facing Werona Avenue, Gordon. This independent report recommended removal and in early August 2023 this healthy young Angophora tree was cut down. Another huge Sydney Red Gum (Angophora costata) tree, located near the Tennis Pavilion, was also removed that was in poor health due to a fungal disease.

    During this site meeting, residents expressed concern over the cumulative loss of significant trees in the Gordon Recreation Reserve and its negative impact on Ku-ring-gai’s biodiversity. They also expressed concern that the ‘Masterplan’ for the park appears to be out of date especially following the November 2019 wild storm that, like a mini tornado with winds up to 90km/h, brought down many trees across the park as well as across Gordon and Pymble.

It is disappointing that at that June 2023 site meeting Ku-ring-gai Council staff did not disclose their intentions to remove the Blackbutt Tree near Rosedale Road and inform residents they were awaiting scheduling from Ausgrid. One now wonders which other trees are earmarked for removal?

One Gordon resident living near Gordon Recreation Reserve, since 1959, remembers noting that at least nine significant trees have been blown or cut down in the park. He estimates that about six saplings have been planted but few on the western side of the park near Werona Ave, between the split in the pathway. At least five significant trees have been lost near the Heritage Gateway.

Isn’t it time that this Masterplan be reviewed to take into account the ecological significance of the park?

FOKE remains deeply concerned about Ku-ring-gai’s Tree Management and whether it is fit for purpose as we face an escalating climate and biodiversity crisis.

This Angophora giant was removed from Gordon Recreation Reserve in July 2023
Will more trees be cut down and remove more habitat?

50th Anniversary of World Environment Day

The 50th Anniversary of World Environment Day was celebrated on 5 June, 2023.

Sadly, since that first World Environment Day, celebrated in 1973, the environment continues its decline due to the doubling of population and the failure of governments to protect the environment.

The 1973 World Environment Day first slogan “Only One Earth” was a potent reminder about the global collective responsibility for the environment.  However since 1973 global population has doubled – growing from four billion to eight billion.  Australia’s population has grown from 13.4 million to 26.4 million.

The world is facing not only a climate crisis but a biodiversity crisis referred to as the ‘Sixth Mass Extinction’.

The Ku-ring-gai Local Government Area is a place of high biodiversity because of the habitat provided by its large tracts of national parks, bushland reserves, remnant forests, canopy trees and gardens.

Ku-ring-gai Council’s State of Environment Report 2017-2021 states:

“Early European settlers recognised the significance of the natural bushland, its important place in communities and its health benefits for a growing Sydney. They advocated strongly for the retention of bushland reserves, set aside land for the reserves, parklands and recreation areas that Ku-ring-gai is renowned for today and planted trees to replace those removed from earlier timber logging industries.

Known as the ‘Green Heart’ of Sydney, Ku-ring-gai contains a diverse natural habitat regarded as the last remaining areas of biodiversity significance in the Sydney metropolitan area. This includes:

  • 119 bushland reserves covering 1,150 hectares.
  • Nationally significant ecological communities including remnant Blue Gum High Forest and Sydney Turpentine Ironbark Forest. Four of Ku-ring-gai’s ecological communities are endangered and two are critically endangered.
  • Over 800 recorded native plant species (including 18 threatened species) and over 690 species of native animals (including more than 10 threatened species).
  • Two bio-banking sites totalling over 100 hectares of parks and reserves.

The Ku-ring-gai Local Government Area (LGA) contains significant bushland and a unique combination of soils, topography, vegetation and fauna habitats which support high biodiversity. The unique vegetation provides critical habitat for many species with highly restricted distributions. Many threatened plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates have been recorded within the LGA and the adjoining national parks. A number of significant vegetation associations are also present in the area, including many that are commensurate with threat-listed ecological communities under the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 and Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Ku-ring-gai also contains a nationally significant camp of Grey-Headed Flying-Fox.”

Despite this recognition, Ku-ring-gai’s biodiversity continues to decline due to weak NSW and Federal environmental and planning legislation.  If Governments are serious about addressing the climate and biodiversity crises then they must address the impacts of population growth and urban density.

It’s time for the NSW and Federal governments to recognise Ku-ring-gai as a place of “environmental splendour” – and protect this national treasure.


Ku-ring-gai Council, State of Environment Report, 2017-2021

Federal Government, State of the Environment Report, 2021 (

Ku-ring-gai’s Urban Forest Strategy needs stronger action

The Ku-ring-gai Draft Urban Forest Strategy lacks support for improving Biodiversity. There is no discussion on how current forests will be protected from dieback, tree death and cumulative impacts, nothing about fines for destruction of rare forest trees, their hollows and food for bees, possums, or the powerful owl. These are all an essential and urgent part of a strategy for urban forest, especially in an environmentally sensitive area like Ku-ring-gai.

FOKE’s concerns raised in our submission were that there is inadequate recognition for the protection and replenishing of the threatened endangered ecological communities namely Blue Gum High Forest, Sydney Turpentine Ironbark Forest and Duffy’s Forest.

There is inadequate recognition in the strategy of the main policies driving the considerable loss of trees within Ku-ring-gai, specifically, State Government Urban Consolidation polices driving new housing development in Ku-ring-gai. The lack of adequate protection of Ku-ring-gai’s environment and Council’s own policies within Local Environmental Plans (LEPs) that allow unsustainable development within areas containing remnant threatened ecological communities.

Gardens and trees continue to be replaced with hard surfaces and concrete and this will continue unless Council challenges State government dwelling targets and mitigates the actions of the 10/50 Code in Ku-ring-gai. 

A stricter requirement for applicant’s landscape plans to make provision for locally endemic species within new developments and to ensure they are planted is required. The increased canopy target of 49% remains too low. 

Importantly, delays in forest management have critical consequences. FOKE has been calling for a recovery plan for the BGHF as an urgent issue for many years.

Crucially, there is no recommendation to support increased protection for environmentally sensitive areas and improving biodiversity as part of the Urban Forest Strategy. The plan lacks detailed steps to conserve biodiversity, such as implementing fauna management plans, state tree removal deterrents, crucial wildlife rehabilitation, hollow replenishment and a rewilding programme.

If adopted It will be the green flag for a lot of biodiversity loss and bushland alteration.

Ku-ring-gai GeoRegion Study a Major Step Forward

As highlighted previously, in 2018 FOKE initiated a project to add extra protections to, and increase awareness of, Ku-ring-gai’s natural heritage focusing originally on Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park.

This has since developed into a much broader area as we have advanced the proposal of a GeoRegion with Ku-ring-gai Chase as its centre, but extending from Berowra Valley, from the Hawkesbury River to northern Lane Cove National Park, east to the coast from Barrenjoey to Dee Why. 

This large area, of approximately 44,000 ha, across northern Sydney showcases exceptional characteristics, with over 50 national and internationally significant geological environments of the Triassic sandstone landscapes of the Sydney Basin, unique and rare flora and fauna, and a density of Aboriginal sites that reflects the length of habitation in this area, with 1,424 sites currently recorded. A short video can be seen here Ku-ring-gai GeoRegion video

The proposal has been endorsed in principle by the Geological Survey of NSW and is supported by three local Councils (Hornsby, Ku-ring-gai, and Northern Beaches) and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, and local MPs. ‘ Geotrails’ identifying a network of key sites are being developed with appropriate interpretation, with the first of these expected to open in early 2023.

The Ku-ring-gai GeoRegion is also referenced and recognised in the Australian Government’s THRIVE 2030 Visitor Economy Strategy as having the potential to be one of three GeoRegions to be nominated as an Aspiring UNESCO Global Geopark for Australia.

On 17th November, the GeoRegion Steering Committee presented at the Linnean Society Sydney Symposium, highlighting the outstanding Natural and Cultural History of the Ku-ring-gai GeoRegion.  A major co-authored technical study underpinned the presentations and is published in the current Linnean Society Proceedings journal.

The project Steering Committee believes that the contents of this study will form a solid basis for any proposed nomination submitted to UNESCO assessors. Here is the link to the GeoRegion Study.

It remains FOKE’s focus to ensure that our natural and cultural heritage is valued by the next generation as well as our growing number of residents. Only when areas are valued will communities fight for their conservation and protection.

North Turramurra Residents disillusioned

When council, in 2010, proposed redesigning the North Turramurra Golf Course to include soccer fields and changeroom facilities, council promised to incorporate a park with children’s playground and BBQ facilities in addition to walking tracks to adjacent bushland for the enjoyment of the wider community. The North Turramurra Recreation Area (NTRA) project was partly funded with a 3.15% surcharge on ratepayers for 6 years to deliver a multi-use facility. Although the site is the only open green space (other than a designated dog park) for the northern extremity of the peninsular, the non-sporting recreational uses have never been delivered.

In 2021, the Northern Suburbs Football Association (NSFA) lodged a Development Application to build themselves a Home of Football based at NTRA on Bobbin Head Road. The proposal consists of a 300-seat undercover grandstand, and includes an exclusive gym, physio room, player and referee change rooms, meeting room, corporate box, closed media box, café with office space and boardroom.

North Turramurra residents overwhelmingly objected to the proposal presenting written objections and petitions with over one thousand signatures. The main objections relate to the scale of the facility, intensification of use in numbers and time, its impacts on evacuation in an area designated High Bushfire Prone and the long-term occupation of a large part of the NTRA site by a single user.  Residents also raised existing issues with parking across driveways, noise and lights.

The NSFA acoustic, parking and traffic studies that concluded the new grandstand development would have no impact locally, were all based on the assumption of no change to existing player and spectator numbers. The NSFA denied intensification of use despite residents pointing out the inconsistency with a NSFA 2021-2022 application for a NSW Greater Cities & Regional Sport Facility Grant in which the NSFA stated, “proposed total visits with a grandstand and facilities would increase by 36,489 individuals to the site annually”.

Residents were ignored and the DA was approved by the Ku-ring-gai Planning Panel on recommendation of staff. The NSFA propose to fund the construction of the building, but it is unclear as to who will be responsible for its maintenance. The approval of the DA means the NSFA can now apply for a Sports Grant. Any Memorandum of Understanding between council and NSFA will be critical to financial implications on rate payers and use of the facility.

This process has broken the trust of North Turramurra Residents with council. The peninsula remains without a passive recreation area despite having contributed to its funding for years.

Ku-ring-gai Council plans to sell more community assets

One has to delve into the Ku-ring-gai Council’s Community Strategic Plan’s detailed attachments to unearth the basis of the Strategic Plan.

Unfortunately, the Draft Long Term Financial Plan (DLTFP) accompanying the Strategic Plan, highlights Council’s objective to sell $110 million of community assets over the next 10 years.

FOKE continues to stress that the sale of community assets remains detrimental to the long-term amenity, health and character of Ku-ring-gai. With the impost from NSW Planning to demand further population increases in Ku-ring-gai, the loss of the community assets that could be utilised as playgrounds, ovals, open space and community services buildings is negative to the vision espoused for Ku-ring-gai in the Strategic Plan of an interconnected community appreciating our natural and heritage character.

The DLTFP is heavily supported by the sale of supposedly ‘underutilised’ assets, without the mention of the largest asset of 828 Pacific Highway which has been very much underutilised to meet council or community needs.

Going back to the early 2000’s it was understood by the community that the Council Chambers and council’s car park would be proposed for a ‘Gordon Hub’ not 828 Pacific Highway which we understand is the current plan. We believe the house blocks adjoining council’s car park bought by council for a park on the west side of Gordon adjacent to the shopping precinct, are now a potential additional council asset being considered for sale and redevelopment.

Community assets are not an ever-ending source of funds for Council. Continuing in this manner to maintain a sustainable budget will eventually spell financial disaster, while undermining the key elements that make Ku-ring-gai such a wonderful area to live.

Though the early years of this financial plan highlight spending on park development, this quickly dissipates in the outward years. Very few new parks are planned while community assets such as bowling and recreation clubs, 3 libraries and public halls such as the Pymble Town Hall, car park and Presbytery, and Lindfield senior citizen community hall, affordable housing units and two tennis courts (on the Lindfield Library site) are planned to be sold and redeveloped, are just some of the assets to be disposed by Council.

Outlined in the DLTFP was an alternative financial scenario without asset sales which was seen as similarly ‘financially sustainable in terms of maintaining a balanced budget, sufficient unrestricted cash and available working capital, sufficient cash reserves and a permissible debt service ratio over the medium term’.

The intergenerational equity of retaining existing assets close to residential areas for use by residents into the future should be council’s primary purpose. The office block at 828 Pacific Highway should be the first asset to be sold as it does not add to the amenity of residents in terms of community services, recreation or engagement.

Council’s own Open Space Program highlights numerous areas where parks and playgrounds need to be built or expanded, such as in West Roseville and Lindfield west of the Highway. The Lindfield Hub will allow for hundreds of new residents with no significant open space for play and recreation within close proximity. With this overdevelopment planning scenario played out for other planned council Hubs in Turramurra and Gordon.

The determination of ‘underutilised assets’ (assets which have for years been deliberately allowed to run down by council) for sale will continue to be an area of concern for residents both for the short and long term as these sites, once sold these assets will be lost forever for the amenity of our ever-growing population.

Assault on our Suburbs

Though at first glance the Draft Design & Place State Environment Planning Policy incorporates all the ‘well meaning’ principles of good planning in its introduction, the detail in the objectives will lead to the destruction of the integrity of many suburbs, including Ku-ring-gai.

The principles espoused in this Draft Policy include delivering beauty and amenity through improved overall design, delivering inviting public spaces, improved sustainability and greener spaces for well-being and improved resilience to climate change.

However, the objectives in the Urban Design Guide highlight that the true purpose of this Policy is increased density across NSW, especially targeting current R2 low density residential areas.

Objective 3 aims to build ‘Compact and diverse neighbourhoods’. Critically this is to be met by targeting density levels of 30 dwellings per hectare within a 5 minute walk to neighbourhood shops and centres. The minimum density of 15 dwellings per hectare is targeted everywhere else. In areas of greater intensity or where there are excellent active and public transport networks, development should aim for a minimum density of 30 dwellings per hectare across the entire walkable neighbourhood.

The reasoning that these minimum residential targets will guarantee a more vibrant urban area has absolutely no foundation.

Objective 3 effectively ignores current LEP’s, environmental and heritage considerations and will impose a blanket density over the entire municipality that will extinguish any individual characteristics.

This objective overrides the local Council zoning plans and will destroy the character of established suburbs and LGAs, such as Ku-ring-gai. High and medium density should not be allowed within R2 Low Density Residential areas. This is completely contradictory to Objective 16 which calls for the retention of existing built heritage, landscape and other unique features, including reinstatement of historical street patterns where possible.

Within Objective 15 is the damaging recommendation to override any current zoning and reduce detached dwellings to only 30% in areas where the number of dwellings per hectare is currently 15 dwellings or greater!

The use of the term ‘compact neighbourhoods’ as a preferred outcome litters the document as the preferred planning outcome.

We believe this is another assault by the current State Government on the current character of existing suburbs and puts increased density as the key aim of this Policy. It is apparent that this policy is not about better design and quality sense of place, it is about providing developers and the property industry with greater options for increasing density in our suburbs.

In terms of the Apartment Design Guide, there appear to be few mandated minimum standards, with developers able to freely depart from the recommended provisions with the use of offsets and alternative designs.

Another area lagging behind the rhetoric is the engagement with the community as a key stakeholder in any design plans during the full process, not just in the initial information gathering phase.

FOKE does not believe that this Policy will assist in building community trust in an already flawed planning system and has made a submission to this effect.

The submission period closed on 28th February. However, it would be worthwhile to contact or email your local MP to let them know you are concerned about the impact of this Policy unless significantly altered to address these concerns. You can find the documents at Design and Place SEPP.

“A sting” in Planning Department’s Approval of Ku-ring-gai Housing Strategy

Council submitted Ku-ring-gai’s Local Housing Strategy to the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) in December 2020 with the core objective of meeting Ku-ring-gai’s housing targets to 2036, through existing capacity and existing planning controls.

On 16th July 2021, Council received confirmation from the DPIE of the approval of the Local Housing Strategy (LHS). However, the Department’s confirmation letter included 12 additional immediate further planning impositions. The full letter is available here.

The following pro-development requirements are completely inconsistent with the Housing Strategy submitted and approved which relies on utilising available capacities. These requirements are:

  • To submit planning proposals for new dwellings in Gordon, Lindfield and/or Turramurra local centres by December 2022.
  • To submit planning proposals for new dwellings within St Ives local centre by December 2022.  In the LHS this was to be part of the longer-term plan from 2031 and dependent on improved transport links.
  • To identify neighbourhood centres such as Roseville, Roseville Chase, Killara, Pymble, Wahroonga, West Gordon and North St Ives for additional medium density housing for the period 2031 to 2036, with plans delivered by December 2023.
  • Setting senior housing and medium density targets which were not previously required.

Additionally, this letter states that a specific medium density complying development model for Ku-ring-gai that had been previously agreed by the Greater Sydney Commission (GSC) in the Ku-ring-gai Local Strategic Planning Statement is now refused. This is an extremely important element and an essential part of planning for Ku-ring-gai. With our built and cultural heritage elements, riparian lands, surrounding bushland, vulnerable fauna and flora and undulating typography any development must be tailored to its specific location.

Importantly, requirement number 9 is an updated implementation plan of these requirements by January 2022 This would be the first meeting of a new council, due to the postponed elections. This unnecessarily tight timing limits the ability to discuss with the DPIE the suitability of the requirements presented in this letter.

The threat from the Department is that they will accommodate developers and landowners in proponent-led proposals if council does not meet the requirements in its letter.  It is both dangerous and disappointing when developers already have too much sway in local planning outcomes!

Critically, the proposed housing targets have not been updated and are based on Pre-Covid population projections from 3 years ago. It is essential that the GSC issue updated population targets before foisting unnecessary increases in dwellings on existing infrastructure and communities.

The Government’s Centre for Population had updated its projections in December 2020.  See the Population statement 2021.

These projections show a 5% reduction in forecast population for Sydney vs pre-covid projected levels to 2026, and a 5.4% decline to 2031. This amounts to over 300,000 fewer people expected to reside in Sydney than projected in 2026 and 340,000 less by 2031.
Post Covid, Sydney population targets will be less than half the previous increases which will have a major impact on the housing requirements in our area.

The requirements in the DPIE letter of approval are inconsistent with the adopted and approved Ku-ring-gai Local Housing Strategy that provides new housing from existing capacity within Ku-ring-gai’s current planning controls until 2036. With a 5% reduction in Sydney’s projected population by 2036, all housing targets will be essentially halved.

At the 16th November Council meeting this issue was debated with the resolution to reject the DPIE conditions. Unfortunately Mayor Spencer and Councillors Ngai, Kelly and Kay agreed with the pro-development conditions of the letter.

As we embark with a new council, please contact your councillors and local Ministers, Alister Henskens and Jonathan O’Dea, to ensure that an outcome that better reflects the aim of the approved Housing Strategy is agreed with the DPIE.

Chaos in Ku-ring-gai Council Prior to Council Elections

Since the September 21st when new Mayor Cedric Spencer was installed as Mayor after a tied 5-5 vote was resolved by his name drawn from a box, no effective Council meetings have been held.

Within days of the new Mayor taking up his position, two of his supporting councillors, Christine Kay and Peter Kelly, called for an Extraordinary meeting with the sole agenda of reviewing the contract of the General Manager, Mr McKee. This is despite the fact that less than 2 months earlier his contract was renewed and his performance rated as ‘More than Satisfactory’ by ten councillors and supported by an independent consultant’s report.

This action was an unnecessary aggravation just weeks before Council was to go into caretaker mode and resulted in five councillors not attending the meeting ensuring no minimum meeting quorum, requiring 6 councillors, for a resolution was available. With the Mayor’s extra vote to break a tied vote, the General Manager’s position would have been terminated.

Mayor Spencer has been quoted acknowledging “that Saturday’s meeting is regarding McKee but has stated that council has not yet resolved to terminate McKee and is merely re-assessing his performance. Although he does acknowledge that termination may well be the outcome of this assessment.” (Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Post, 9 October 2021)

This Extraordinary meeting was then re-scheduled three times with the same result. No quorum, no resolution.
However this has now been raised to the attention of the media and the Minister for Local Government who stated in an SMH article on 27th October

“Local Government Minister Shelley Hancock said she had sought urgent advice from the Office of Local Government on how to intervene in the council, which has been stuck in limbo because it has lacked the required numbers at meetings for business to be discussed.

“In the interim, I am calling on the council to refrain from making any decision in relation to the general manager’s employment or other decisions with ramifications for the incoming council,” Mrs Hancock said on Wednesday.’ See the full link here.

However this issue of the General Manager’s position has persisted and extended into the Ordinary Council Meetings, effectively ensuring that no meetings have been held since September and no Council business conducted.

Additionally there have been more unpleasant manoeuvrings within council chambers that have resulted in Mayor Spencer being banned from speaking to staff.

Mr McKee wrote ‘“It is not appropriate for staff to be subjected to explicit or implicit threats of dismissal by a mayor. It is not appropriate for a mayor to threaten disciplinary or other retributory action towards staff, explicitly or implicitly.” For the full article click here.

We hope that this saga which has brought our Council into disrepute will soon come to an end as the council enters caretaker mode.

Heritage Act Reforms

In May 2021, the NSW Government announced a major review of the Heritage Act, 1977 which would contribute to its legislative reform.

The NSW Heritage Act is the single most important instrument in our state that identifies, protects and conserves our heritage and we believe should only be strengthened.

FOKE participated in a National Trust Forum on the Government’s Discussion Paper on the 9th May with 277 experts, heritage organisations and other participants.

We believe the current Heritage Act is very robust and working well and needs only minor updating.

The stated intention of the review is to make heritage ownership easier, more affordable and maximising a heritage item’s economic value.  

Our main concern is that the discussion paper intends to water down the current Heritage Act’s conservation and protection measures. Under the rationale for the review, the prescriptive controls which have helped conserve and protect heritage items are cited as outdated, with no real comment as to best practice improvements or any strengthening of the Act.

Rather the paper recommends a ‘nuanced’ approach to heritage controls, which will only lead to individual interpretations resulting in legal battles among residents, developers and local and state planning controls. Prescriptive controls have proven to be successful in other countries such as the UK.

The key areas supported in our submission relate to the need to address Aboriginal Heritage, the ability to issue penalty infringement notices for non-compliance or wilful deterioration of a heritage item, and financial incentives for funding conservation.

The issues raised that are not supported are streamlining the delisting process, and extending the levels of heritage protection into four categories.

However, the Act would benefit by excluding heritage from State Significant Developments, which currently can override the provisions of the Heritage Act. As we have just seen with the removal of Willow Grove to make way for the Parramatta Powerhouse museum.

Similarly, Heritage items should have a significant conserved perimeter where no development is allowed. Most heritage is an item in a setting that adds to its value and historic validity, hence the area surrounding it needs to be similarly protected.

Why are only 4% of the 40,000 State Heritage Inventory Items actually listed on the Heritage Register?

The Heritage Council is adding fewer and fewer items each year. Without protection these items will be lost. The National Trust (NSW) have listed over 100 buildings and places that in their view warrant State Heritage listing which the Heritage Office has not registered.

Heritage assessment and relevance to local, state or national significance should be maintained. Any proposed amendments should result in better heritage outcomes rather than a weakening of heritage protections.

Council’s Quiet Divestment of Community Land

In a controversial decision in June, council resolved behind closed doors the future of ‘surplus’ parcels of ‘operational’ land for divestment.

Ratepayers deserve to know which council owned land is described as ‘surplus land’ and why it is being proposed to be divested!  

FOKE has been strongly opposed to public land being sold off particularly when that land will never be returned to community use or replaced. Now over 27 council owned properties that were ‘community classified’ and maintained under Plans of Management are now classified as ‘operational’.  Operational classification allows council to sell and allow the redevelopment of this land without ensuring a replacement. 

Processes around the disposal of public land are supposed to be fully accountable and transparent!  Whilst there are some issues around confidentiality with respect to land valuations, the community deserve openness and transparency as to which land is being divested and whether it will be replaced.

We believe that if community owned land is ‘surplus’ to Ku-ring-gai’s needs then ratepayers should be consulted prior to the land or property being considered for divestment by council!   

As an example, Council’s Havilah Lane public car park in Lindfield which provided public car spaces for 25 cars was considered by Council as surplus council land and was sold to a developer for approximately $4.6 million for 8 storey unit development several years ago!   The 25 carspaces that the Lindfield centre lost from that commercial sale and disposal have not been replaced in the provision of new parking space in the Lindfield Village Green despite the Commissioner’s Reclassification Report recommendation that the money from the sale be spent back in Lindfield.

‘Community’ classification is council owned land which should be kept for use by the general public with the use and management of community land regulated by a plan of management.

Operational land is council owned land held as a temporary asset or as an investment, land which facilitates the carrying out of Council functions or land which may not be open to the general public, such as a works depot! 

The problem that we have in Ku-ring-gai now is that the majority of council owned land is now reclassified ‘operational’.  This includes community facilities and local parks such as Bates Park in Roseville Chase.

Operational classification of land takes the control out of the community and into the control of bureaucrats and councillors in deciding future outcomes which may or may not be in the long term public interest!

This is especially important at a time of increasing population where greater avenues for open space are essential to our residents’ health and amenity.

The challenge of protecting and enhancing Ku-ring-gai’s character

Following on from December’s article on Ku-ring-gai’s Local Character Study, we now have the next iteration of these Broad Local Character statements for review as a result of comments received from residents.


In January, FOKE also made a submission to NSW Planning regarding its Local Character Overlay policy. This has provided us with further clarification of this policy approach.


Although FOKE welcomes any planning initiative to protect Ku-ring-gai’s Local Character, FOKE remains concerned that the Local Character Statements and Local Character Overlays obscure contrary objectives of increasing medium density development via the new ‘Low Rise Housing Diversity Code’ (LRHDC). This would continue to decimate Ku-ring-gai’s character, heritage and environment, if allowed.


It is apparent that the underlying objective is not preserving local character, but increases in population density. This is assumed as the starting point and cornerstone of this Local Character approach to planning, rather than adopting a more balanced and respectful approach.


The approach for these Broad Local Character Areas (BLCA) is to firstly define Ku-ring-gai’s physical characteristics. This first stage will not examine the social and cultural characteristics of our areas, which include many of the key elements of Ku-ring-gai’s core character, our cultural heritage and development.


Whilst we agree the need for Local Character Statements and Local Character Overlays in protecting areas of special Local Character, however, there are a number of red flags which arise from examining the public exhibition documents. 


In drilling down on the objectives of this planning direction, there is regular reference to promoting more medium density development via the ‘Low Rise Housing Diversity Code’ (LRHDC).  This code has been roundly criticised by councils as being able to potentially destroy vast areas of established Local Character.


These documents clearly state that with respect to seeking exemptions from the LRHDC in a Local Character Area, a Council would “need to demonstrate that without complying development, the housing needs can still be effectively met.” 


And this is at a time when we are seeing a massive drop in population growth in Sydney that will impact housing requirements for years to come.


As the Ku-ring-gai Housing Strategy approved by Council in 2020 has not yet been approved by NSW Planning, areas for ‘change’ or ‘desired future character’, essentially meaning rezoning, are not being actively sought in this process. However, the Housing Strategy is defined for a period to 2036 and thereafter additional housing will again be on the agenda.


So what to do:

Participate in the Ku-ring-gai Local Character Study which is now on public exhibition until Monday 26th April.  The link to all the information is –  Ku-ring-gai-Local-Character-Background-Study 


The video clearly outlines the detail of the approach and then you will be able to respond via the online survey or make a detailed submission. You will note the updated character statements focus on the physical characteristics of the areas.


FOKE’s view is that by segmenting the approach to these statements into physical character first, and then later the social and cultural character, will undermine the value of our heritage conservation areas (HCAs) and heritage values across our suburbs.


An essential feature of HCAs and character areas is their relationship with historic subdivision patterns and history. Severing that relationship diminishes and degrades the significance of Ku-ring-gai’s history and heritage, and so endangers the protection of its built and natural environment, and essentially degrades the local character.

Ku-ring-gai’s Housing Strategy – Further changes!

Ku-ring-gai Council is preparing yet another Residential Housing Strategy, a planning process driven by the NSW Dept of Planning to periodically rezone more and more of our established garden suburbs for ever denser and taller apartment blocks.

As we have expressed in earlier articles, Council is expected by the State Government to plan new housing for a population increase in Ku-ring-gai of 25,000 people from 2016 to 2036.

This Draft Ku-ring-gai Housing Strategy (KHS) is now on Exhibition until May 8. We urge you to review the Strategy at Draft_Ku-ring-gai_Housing_Strategy_to_2036. 

The KHS is proposing 10,660 new medium and high-density dwellings to 2036.  This is additional to the 13,000 new dwellings Ku-ring-gai has already approved in the last 15 years, and equates to a staggering 41% population increase since 2006.

The KHS is the last step prior to new zoning and Local Environment Plans being introduced later this year or 2021 and Council needs to hear your views on this Strategy.

This strategy will add large tracts of medium and high density dwellings within 800 metres of rail  or main transport nodes, initially focused on four Primary local centres Lindfield, Gordon, Turramurra and St Ives. On average, from 2021 to 2036, a high 1,660 new dwellings per Primary Local Centre.

Lindfield, Gordon, Killara and St Ives are acknowledged by Council as having borne the weight of the previous 20% population increase in Ku-ring-gai to 2018. Yet Lindfield, Gordon and St Ives are being targeted again, with Turramurra, to take 100% of the new growth! This is unsustainable.

Increased heights of apartment towers to 10-15 storeys are proposed for the Primary Local Centres with up to 20 storeys for Gordon town centre. Outside of these Primary Centres, other areas including neighbourhood centres, are being investigated for medium density up to a 400 metre radius.

It is important that your voice is heard on this important Strategy. For details of our concerns from an assessment of the full range of accompanying documents, please see FOKE Letter to Ku-ring-gai residents.

To assist you with points or ideas for a submission please see Guideline for Draft Housing Strategy submission April 2020

FOKE and other community groups participated in the community workshops in December 2019 and February 2020 and responses from these workshops have raised a number of concerns:

  • That Council decisions are being overridden, by the State Government, Sydney North Planning Panel and Land and Environment Court.
  • There needs to be better protection for the local character, heritage, and our ‘green’ environment.
  • That development of the strategy should include accompanying studies on water, sewerage, parking and infrastructure;
  • The need for affordable housing, not just luxury units, combined with the impact of overseas investment where our local character is not valued.
  • Council is not addressing areas that require more urgent focus: new facilities, new parks, footpaths, run off, impacts of an increasing population, school capacity, congestion and development of an urban forest strategy.
  • Detached houses should remain the predominant dwelling type as this is the preference of residents, as supported by numerous surveys.
  • There was a strong preference for medium density (townhouses/villas) rather than high density (apartments) for new dwellings that must be supported in zoning and targets.

Where are the updated Baseline studies that were essential in the development of the last Residential Development Strategy in 2002?   The four baseline studies were Heritage and Neighbourhood Character, Infrastructure, Environment and Traffic and Transport Studies. The studies assisted council in planning this strategy and in protecting the heritage and the environment of Ku-ring-gai.  The cumulative impact of the layering of development must be considered before planning for more development and whether it is ecologically sustainable.

Again and again our growth targets are being updated over short timeframes and approved growth not included in the revised targets.

Council has acknowledged that the 4000 new dwellings required for Ku-ring-gai as part of the North District Plan during the 5 year period from 2016 to 2021 will be met through existing approvals and zonings.

The net new dwelling target for Ku-ring-gai is 10,660 to 2036. Excluding the 4,000 already agreed as deliverable, that leaves 6,660 net new dwellings remaining over the remaining 15 years. With 3,000 in Stage 2 to 2026, and 1,800 new dwellings in each of Stage 3 to 2031, and Stage 4 to 2036.

FOKE contends that more than half of these requirements can be dealt with under existing zoning, especially around town centres. As such minimal, if any, rezonings should be required to reach the 2036 target. This is, however, not what is shown in the Draft Housing Strategy.

We expect Council to adhere to the statement on their website, that they ‘can deliver the additional dwellings while protecting and enhancing our much-loved local character’.

NSW’s Catastrophic Summer Needs Action

New laws are urgently needed to protect Ku-ring-gai’s bushland, forested landscapes and biodiversity.

Australia’s unprecedented 2019-2020 bushfires have changed everything.  Never before has Australia witnessed an 11,000km fire edge that has burnt so much of Australia.  Never before have temperatures been so high or prolonged, such severe drought, and hazardous smoke haze blanketing our cities.

The scale of the recent bushfires is hard to comprehend, with over 5.4 million hectares of NSW impacted by bushfires since July 2019.  More than a third of NSW’s national parks and reserves have been burnt out, including Sydney’s World Heritage listed Greater Blue Mountains National Park.  Nationwide, 34 people have tragically died, 3500 homes burnt and an estimated billion wildlife obliterated.  We now face the very real threat of extinction for many of our wildlife including our iconic koala.

FOKE has argued for many years that Ku-ring-gai, as an environmentally sensitive area, needs sensitive and controlled development.  Already too much of Ku-ring-gai’s natural environment has been destroyed by successive NSW Governments who have sponsored overdevelopment, without regard for long term impacts.  Ku-ring-gai needs ‘no go’ zones, where development is prohibited, especially in its bushfire prone areas.  East and West Killara and North and South Turramurra are renowned as extreme bushfire danger hotspots, yet they continue to be targeted for more development in the form of secondary dwellings.

Ku-ring-gai urgently needs new legislation to protect its many threatened and endangered species.  Ku-ring-gai is a landscape prone to bushfire threat. It is time to place sustainable limits on future housing numbers. It is time to review and reverse the NSW Government’s plans for increased high-medium housing throughout Ku-ring-gai, particularly on its ridge, which now retains less than 1% of our remnant Blue Gum High Forest, and where Sydney Turpentine Ironbark forests remain.  It is time to put in place new planning laws that preserve and protect our unique environment – more important than ever when so much of NSW’s environment is facing ecological collapse.

Despite decades of scientific warnings, successive governments have failed to take the decisive action on climate change. Climate change was predicted in the 2008 Garnaut report that warned, “Fire Seasons will start earlier, and later and be more intense.  The effect increases over time but should be directly observable by 2020.”  Thankfully Matt Kean, NSW Environment Minister, has strongly promoted the need for action on climate change, at a time, when NSW was not only devastated by catastrophic bushfire but also wild storms.  Lindfield, Killara and Gordon were badly hit in late 2019, with what residents describe as a ‘mini-cyclone’, causing tall gum tree trunks to snap in half, so ferocious were wind speeds.

We need our state Members of Parliament to take leadership and address the causes and consequences of climate change that will continue to profoundly affect the health and resilience of Ku-ring-gai’s environment but also its residents’ health and wellbeing.

Ku-ring-gai is one of the most biodiverse regions of Sydney.  Its bushland and remnant forests are vital refuges for wildlife. With urban temperatures rising, Ku-ring-gai’s role as the ‘Green Heart of Sydney’ is even more significant when Sydney had 81 days of hazardous bushfire smoke.

New laws are needed to protect and enhance Ku-ring-gai’s environment, biodiversity and protect residents from future climate disasters.  Scientists have been warning government for years, that the rate of growth is unsustainable and that we are hitting our limits, creating ‘superwicked’ problems!

NSW Planning agenda for megacity Sydney!

Ku-ring-gai Council has prepared a draft 20 year Local Strategic Planning Statement (LSPS) for Ku-ring-gai that meets the objectives and population targets established by NSW Planning, and its implementation arm, the Greater Sydney Commission. All Councils are required to do likewise.

Commencing in the latter part of this year there are a number of policies being put forward for community comment to further inform these planning objectives. In November we were asked to complete a Housing Survey to inform Council as to our expectations of appropriate housing for the future in Ku-ring-gai.

Council’s statement that the projected increase in Ku-ring-gai’s population over 20 years of an additional 31,000 people, ‘represents a relatively modest growth compared to many parts of Greater Sydney’ fails to mention the fact that since 2006 the population of Ku-ring-gai has increased by 20% to 2018 (as stated in the LSPS). Council fails to take into account the cumulative impact of the earlier period since 2004 when Ku-ring-gai was targeted for high growth.

This new target projects another increase of 25% up to 2036. This is a dramatic 50% population increase over 30 years. This is not a modest growth…this is a rapid and destructive growth target.
So, we will have a draft Housing Survey on exhibition in early 2020. We are also requested before Christmas to complete the survey on a Draft Urban Forest Strategy and Draft Recreation in Natural Areas Strategy, as well as a Draft Community Participation Plan. Please participate and go to And these and more surveys and policies will be rolling out over the next 12 months.

The draft LSPS was approved by Council on 19th November with minor amendments, though much more were sought from the community. It is a sign of the speed of this process that no baseline studies have been undertaken in the preparation of the Draft Local Strategic Planning Statement to inform the document. An improved process was undertaken in 2000 in preparation for the Ku-ring-gai Residential Development Strategy, where 4 baseline studies (Environment, Heritage and Local Character, Traffic and Transport and Infrastructure) were undertaken as a basis for planning before the Plan was drawn up.

Key studies critical to the LSPS remain unfunded such as the Local Character Study, Urban Forest, Green Grid, Open Space Sport and Recreation, and Creative Arts Strategies. Funds must be allocated to ensure these studies are completed in the short term. We would also think it is imperative that an environmental study is undertaken to assess the cumulative impacts of the past two decades of development on the critically endangered ecological communities.

FOKE recommends that it be a requirement for council staff to prepare a Ku-ring-gai Map overlaying all development which has occurred in the past 15 years since the Residential Development Strategy and subsequent LEPS were put in place since 2004, covering the projected 800 meters from each local centre, and 400 metres from neighbourhood centres, as required for high or medium density in the LSPS. This will need to be overlaid with Ku-ring-gai fire zones, riparian and sensitive bushland areas, heritage conservation areas, heritage homes, areas of high slope and slip, developed SEPP 5 and Seniors Living development sites, dual occupancy and boarding house development which has been approved and built etc to assess the constraints and the cumulative impact and layering of development which has occurred within Ku-ring-gai since 2004. Only then will we be able to assess a realistic target for growth.

FOKE will continue to pursue informed and proper process and the feasibility of this additional population with Ku-ring-gai Council, our councillors and our local representatives. It is clear that Ku-ring-gai’s heritage and environment has been impacted and degraded from the last two decade’s urban consolidation programme

Ku-ring-gai’s Plans for our Future: Massive increase in High Density!

Following many months of deliberation, the Greater Sydney Commission (GSC) North District Commissioner, Dr Debra Dearing, and council staff have released for public comment, the Draft Ku-ring-gai Local Strategic Planning Statement (LSPS).

Ultimately, the LSPS will help guide future changes to Ku-ring-gai’s planning controls – the Local Environmental Plan (LEP) and Development Control Plan (DCP).

We urge all residents to read the Draft LSPS and to make a submission before the August 12 deadline.  FOKE has provided some submission points for you to consider, attached here.

Overall, the LSPS espouses all the correct statements about protecting the environment, Ku-ring-gai’s biodiversity, character and heritage. However this is overshadowed by the high numbers of new dwellings to be required in our area. The plan acknowledges we have already met our North District plan targets for 2021. Many areas already planned for development have also not been included to meet our future dwelling targets. FOKE had consistently lobbied for no changes to the current LEP zoning until those areas already planned or designated for medium and high density in our town centres are taken up.

Specifically concerning are the ‘Principles for Housing’ which now plans to locate high density housing within an 800 metre radius from our town centres. In our current LEPs high density is essentially restricted to town centres. In NSW high density has meant High Rise!

This change will have a dramatic impact on our heritage areas, usually with close proximity to town centres. The LSPS then adds a section of medium density, plus 400 metres around neighbourhood centres. This will continue to dramatically alter the heritage character and tall tree environment of Ku-ring-gai! The plan put forward in the draft is ecologically damaging and unsustainable.

The essence of the document is a foundation for the Housing, Open Space, Heritage, Sport, Recreation, Social, Cultural, Employment and Sustainability plans that will be produced by Council and Exhibited for comment.

This draft planning statement is important as it will establish the planning principles in Ku-ring-gai for the next 20 years! 

ACT NOW: For more information and to make a submission

The Once Lucky Country

‘The Once Lucky Country’ article makes some poignant warnings about where Australia’s cities, especially Sydney and Melbourne, are headed under current planning policies in terms of housing cost, liveability and jobs.

The article appeared in the City Journal and is written by Joel Kotkin. He is the presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University, USA, and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism.

Click here for the full article. The Once Lucky Country

Berejiklian’s Destructive Record on the Environment

With the Berejiklian Government now re-elected, we cannot ignore that this Government has demonstrated such contempt for protecting the environment.

It was positive to hear that the Don Harwin, NSW Energy Minister acknowledge “The Federal Government is out of touch on energy and climate policy …” Yet its own performance on climate change has been woeful, with many new coal mines approved in NSW over the past 4 years.

The NSW Government passed its Orwellian ‘Biodiversity’ laws that allows the destruction of habitat by greenlighting broadscale land clearing of native bushland.  Nor can its flawed “offset money” for biodiversity management ever compensate for the loss of endangered habitat.

Regional Forest Agreements were renewed in 2018, signalling more intensive and destructive logging regimes of our State Forests which are pushing koalas and other arboreal mammals to extinction.

The Berejiklian Government has passed legislation (Water NSW Act) to raise the Warragamba Dam wall and flood 4,700 hectares of World Heritage national parks.

Major funding cuts to the National Parks and Wildlife Service have also occurred during the Coalition’s time in office.  This Government also revoked Marine Sanctuaries and then backflipped on its plans for a Sydney Marine Park.

The Nature Conservation Council has prepared a report recommending 5 key points for 2019 election candidates in order to protect our nature and make climate our number-one priority. See

  1. Set up a $2-billion regional renewable energy fund to accelerate the transition to clean energy;
  2. Set up a $1.5-billion land and biodiversity fund to restore bushland and forest to protect all high-conservation-value habitat from clearing;
  3. Establish a Sydney Marine Park to give the marine life the world-class protections it deserves;
  4. Create the Great Koala National Park to save our iconic species for future generations; and
  5. End logging of public native forests to protect these remaining ecosystems, which are among the most diverse in the world.

NSW needs leaders who recognise a healthy, functioning environment is essential for the health and wellbeing of its people.

Higher Density: The Facts Don’t Stack Up!

By Tony Recsei, President of Save our Suburbs. 

Save Our Suburbs, a community group with members across Sydney, is alarmed at planning policies being introduced to force high-density into suburbs originally designed for low density living. The NSW Planning and Environment Department proceeds to implement these policies irrespective of the political party currently in government. The Department makes claims of benefits for its policies that do not stand up to analysis.

It maintains that high density is more sustainable. An Australian Conservation Foundation study has calculated annual greenhouse gas emissions per average person living in each post code. This shows the annual national average for high-density areas is 27.9 tonnes per person, compared to 17.5 tonnes for low density areas. High density is significantly less sustainable.

The Department claims that high-density makes housing more affordable. But we have seen more affordable older or smaller apartment buildings and homes replaced by high-density luxury units, essentially removing the lower value stepping stones into the housing market that worked so well for decades.

To force an increasing population into high-density the rate of land release on Sydney’s periphery was severely curtailed. This resulted in a scarcity that pushed up housing prices, where the land cost component has now more than doubled. The beneficiaries of these excess costs are developers and the government, which receives higher stamp duties and other fees.

High-density results in the degradation of the city’s environment. Gardens and remnant bushland are replaced by hard surfaces. City greenery which absorbs carbon dioxide and other pollutants and cool the city is vanishing. Rainwater, no longer absorbed by open ground, carries pollution into our rivers and ocean.

We were told that high-density would result in less car travel and its associated congestion and pollutants as everyone would use public transport. A 2004 Melbourne study which measured the percentage of car travel by people, before and after densification, found there was no resulting change. People still use their cars and comparisons of world cities show that the more density the more congestion.

The Greater Sydney Commission (GSC) claims that with its vision of a Metropolis of Three Cities no one will be more than a 30 minutes away from their jobs and public services. It assumes that currently most Sydney jobs are in the CBD and asserts this is what its Metropolis of Three Cities will change. But this assumption is incorrect. A 2018 study by the Grattan Institute finds that only 14.5% of jobs are currently in the CBD and the rest are spread throughout the city. Therefore, one cannot see the Commission’s 3 cities plan significantly changing the current overall jobs/dwelling relationship. The real situation is much more complicated than the Commission assumptions.

The Markelius plan for Stockholm is an example of a failed attempt to reduce travel by building high-rise dwellings and employment opportunities in centres. Only 15% to 24% of workers living in such centres worked there, the rest commuted out. In a democracy, one cannot dictate to people where they should live and work. Choices are made based on many individual factors. Yet the GSC uses its 3-city scenario as a justification to force high-density into communities.

There are examples of other planning possibilities. In the US, the fastest growing cities have lower densities, with resultant lower house prices and less congestion. For example Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth are larger than Sydney but experience house prices one third of Sydney’s as well as lower journey times to work and lower measures of congestion.

New South Wales needs to adopt a more open-minded and objective approach to planning and learn from others. And importantly, we need to use regulation sparingly and not to enforce the implementation of unproved ideology.

Celebrating 25 years

This year marks 25 years of FOKE working to protect the Ku-ring-gai’s heritage and environment.
Over this time, we have made hundreds of submissions to Council, various NSW Government departments and the Greater Sydney Commission on issues pertinent to Ku-ring-gai. We regularly and often present at Council meetings and have raised many, many petitions canvassing community opinions.

We have had successes at both the local and government level, particularly when banding together with like-minded community groups. However, there remains much to do as we fight to protect Ku-ring-gai from overdevelopment, the degradation of our bushland and forests and the loss of our character and heritage.

We thank all our members for their support. We could not continue without you!

Council Amalgamations

NSW Government’s Council Amalgamation Push always lacked validity.

In July 2017, the NSW Government stated it would abandon forced council amalgamations, ending an 18-month war with the state’s local municipalities. Local Government Minister Gabrielle Upton said Sydney’s communities needed certainty prior to council elections. But added that “The Government remains committed to reducing duplication, mismanagement and waste by councils so communities benefit from every dollar spent.”

The NSW Government has backed away from the amalgamation threat to Ku-ring-gai and a small number of other city Councils. However, we remain concerned that this may still be a longer term policy of the Local Government Minister.

The proposal to amalgamate council areas makes many assumptions which are not backed by evidence. Mayor Abelson from Mosman is an economist and has co-authored an interesting and thought-provoking paper called Smoke and Mirrors on the forced amalgamation issue. To read the summary presentation, click here Smoke & Mirrors Presentation 2015. To download the full report, click here Smoke & Mirrors Report.


The Save Our Councils Coalition (SOCC) has released a comprehensive analysis of the financial performance of councils forcibly amalgamated in 2016. The publication ‘Council Amalgamations: A Sea of Red Ink’ was released in Sydney outside Parliament House on Thursday 7 March 2019, and in Orange on Friday 8 March. Read the report here.

The SOCC analysis shows that the combined study of metro council operating results will deliver $114 million less than the government’s proposal targets of $103 million surplus. The regional and country study of 13 mega councils shows a combined deficit of $48 million – expenditure exceeding income.

The Forced Council Amalgamations in NSW was Bad Policy pursued by a flawed process. It has failed to deliver the claimed financial benefits. It has resulted in a loss of identity and loss of effective representation for communities forcibly merged. The Government must take responsibility and allow communities wrongly merged a referendum to demerge if that is their wish. It is obvious from the report that ‘bigger is not better’ for local government!


Finally, the Berejiklian Government is having a moment of pause in their developer driven destruction of our suburbs.

In May 2018 Planning Minister Roberts responded to the pressure caused by the rapid growth of apartments by stating he will put a suspension on new residential developments in the areas of Ryde and Canterbury Bankstown Council.

Has our State Government and their mouthpiece, the Greater Sydney Commission, finally listened to the uproar among residents regarding the rapid spread of high-rise developments and the new laws allowing increased medium density in our R1 and R2 residential areas? The Government may have finally realised that it is the residents, not the developers, who will determine whether they are re-elected next March.

This Government has to listen to their constituents and suspend or dramatically reduce new residential development across Sydney until infrastructure and services can absorb it. It also needs to rescind its flawed Medium Density laws which essentially crowd more people into smaller spaces in existing suburbs. As complying development, this destructive and irresponsible medium density law does not require Council, transport or services to assess whether an area can even support it.

This Missing Middle code is so flawed that already four councils have been granted a 12 month delay from its July 2018 introduction, with another five councils seeking deferrals and more to come. Minister Roberts states there was extensive consultation, with FOKE among hundreds of submissions. However, the Planning Minister never altered the proposed code in the face of nearly universal opposition, from both communities and councils, for the medium density code to be complying development!

What is the Medium Density Housing Code? The Medium Density Housing Code, extends medium density development throughout current low density single dwelling (R2 zone) residential areas as complying development. As complying development, developers will not need to get development application approval, with neighbours only required to be informed of these developments without the right to object. As long as these developments meet a predetermined set of guidelines they can be fast-tracked through Council. Currently the R3 zone has been specifically designed to deliver medium density. The proposed plan is to allow complying medium density development on residential R1, R2 land where multi-dwellings are allowed, with a street frontage of 12m or more and a minimum lot size of 400sqm, with 5 townhouses on a lot of 1000 square metres.

These medium density complying developments include townhouses, terraces, manor homes (2up, 2 down) and dual occupancies. This proposal applies an extended rezoning for medium density (with minor exceptions) to low-density residential land. It does not take into account the cumulative effects of intensifying development on local infrastructure, services, traffic, street car parking, social services and amenities. It overrides local environment plans and planning controls to the detriment of residents. Also please read FOKE’s Media Release Low Density Residential Zones to Disappear.

Lindfield Hub and sale of Library site a big negative for Ku-ring-gai!

The Lindfield Hub site which is to house the new Lindfield Library, Seniors and Community Centre as well as shops, cafes, supermarkets and carparking is still far from finalised. However, this has not stopped Ku-ring-gai Council lodging a Development Application for the existing Library, tennis courts and community services buildings to be replaced by a 134 units across 8 storey buildings on the site.

The Lindfield Hub, previously agreed by the community to be no higher than 7 storey residential is now being pushed by Council to be up to 14 storeys, with less open space and public amenity. In the community workshops for the new higher density proposals, the reaction by residents has been understandably negative.  A scale back of the Lindfield Hub was supported to fit the site, not to go higher. With sizeable libraries in both Chatswood and Gordon, with 2 existing supermarkets and a mega Harris Farm, the plans for the Lindfield Hub are now believed to be overdeveloped. The community is increasingly annoyed that the funds from the sale of another Lindfield community asset, the Lindfield Library site, are not going to be used to support the Hub and new community facilities, hence forcing the increased densification (14 storeys) of the Hub site to support its development.

Moving to higher residential buildings for the Lindfield Hub will set a precedent for higher density and highrise across Ku-ring-gai.

FOKE president Kathy Cowley spoke to the North Shore Times in January 2019 and confirmed FOKE  did not agree with selling the public land. “We believe it should be held in public interest because we need more community facilities, not less,” she said.

She said an application to demolish the library was premature when there was no replacement Library available. Assurances from Council that this would not occur appear to have been overlooked.

Within one kilometre of the current Library site there are 5 primary schools which makes this move to sell the existing site without a satisfactory and well-placed replacement, a retrograde step for the community.

We have until February 14th to comment on this Lindfield Library site DA. Please make your concerns heard by responding to Council with reference to DA0570/18.

A Population Policy or a Pre-Election Mirage?

Since our 2017 AGM when Dick Smith spoke of the need for a Population Policy and limits to what our cities can absorb each year, the concerns have only increased and are peaking in the pre-election promises of both our State and Federal leaders.

In October, Premier Berejiklian has called for a halving of NSW’s migrant intake, with the debate on population policy now resting on congestion, liveability, housing affordability and infrastructure.

Premier Berejiklian has now appointed an expert panel to develop a population policy for NSW. “It is becoming increasingly clear that the current high rates of population growth are putting even more pressure on our infrastructure. It is now time for us to take stock and get ahead.” The Premier renewed her call for net overseas migration levels to return to more sustainable Howard-era rates when NSW net overseas migration was steady at around 45,000 a year, rather than the current 100,000.

With both Victoria and NSW lobbying for a review of immigration levels, Premier Morrison is expected to cut the number of migrants coming to Australia by up to 30,000.

However, this debate cannot ignore more than 1 million temporary working visas and 350,000 international student visa holders currently requiring a home while in Australia. A population policy without a reduction in the number of future visa holders will not assist in addressing the congestion, liveability and housing needs of residents.

It is time for a constructive debate over immigration policy in the lead-up to the State and Federal elections. What is required is not just promises, but a coherent set of proposals and timetable of how this will occur. Promises, without concrete plans, will be futile. We have been there before on this issue.

Sydney’s Empty Buildings In 2017 the Sydney Morning Herald reported that “a quarter of Chinese buying property overseas leave their apartments vacant and the majority pay for their purchase with cash, a survey of mainland Chinese customers by investment bank UBS shows.Another 25 per cent of overseas property owners use their homes on a temporary basis, suggesting about half of the overseas properties owned by mainland Chinese were not fully utilised.” Our suburbs are being bulldozed and radically altered so that non-residents can invest their capital while it does nothing to ease rental pressure, accommodate existing residents, or reduce prices for people looking to purchase their first home.

The need for a more sustainable population policy is required to improve the prospects for the next generations. Higher population does not equate to a higher standard of living. In fact, In the year to December 2017, real GDP grew by 2.36% in seasonally adjusted terms, however per capita GDP increased by only 0.8%. The Government is relying on population, rather than improved productivity, to maintain GDP. This implies that we, as individuals, are not benefitting from our current high levels of population growth. Click on the link for a more detailed perspective on Population and Housing.

High Impact Recreation in Bushland – a Trojan Horse?

Ku-ring-gai Council is currently promoting more ‘recreational use’ of our bushland reserves.  FOKE has real concerns that these high impact sports will seriously threaten Ku-ring-gai’s natural environment by clearing, fragmenting and degrading sensitive bushland that will seriously threaten Ku-ring-gai’s birds and wildlife whose habitat is being coveted by recreational users.

Ku-ring-gai Council signalled its support for high impact sports by first inviting sports users to workshops promoting these sports followed by invitations to those with environmental concerns. Some of the high impact sports include trail running, rock climbing, abseiling and mountain biking.

The National Parks Association has raised an alarm happening in Orange, where the Orange City Council has supported the construction of 60 kilometres of mountain bike trails in the Mount Canobolas State Conservation Areas – supposedly a protected site.  The mountain bike industry is also pushing for 82 kilometres of constructed bike tracks in the Illawarra Escarpment Conservation Areas that will clear up to 16 hectares of rare and sensitive rainforest.

High impact sports are no more appropriate in bushland reserves than clearing them for netball courts or new ovals.  Illegal bike tracks do exist in bushland reserves and there is concerns that some of these tracks may be used as an excuse for bike track industries to justify further and more intrusive bike track construction in bushland areas.

It is important that this recreational policy is not allowed to appropriate and destroy Ku-ring-gai’s precious bushland, a vital habitat for many threatened birds and wildlife.

Council needs to hear from residents. Please email or call to let them know your concerns.

Protecting Ku-ring-gai’s Local Character requires more diligence.

Council is seeking input into the development of Ku-ring-gai’s Local Character in order to manage development ‘in a way that conserves and enhances Ku-ring-gai’s unique visual and landscape character’. This is an absolutely essential and important exercise and we fear that Council is just rushing this through its Local Strategic Planning Statement priorities, without the rigour that is required to effectively understand and allow the protections our area deserves.

In 2000, when the last Character Study was undertaken as one of the baseline studies to form the basis of the Residential Strategy for Ku-ring-gai, Council commissioned Heritage consultants (Gordon, Mackay, Logan) and Urban Planners (Keys, Young) to prepare a Heritage and Neighbourhood Character study. This comprised a rigorous assessment of the character of each suburb with a set of noteworthy, and still relevant, recommendations as to the retention of the area’s character and visual appeal as development occurred. A 1999 street by street analysis conducted by MA Schell consultants supported this Study.

The current Local Character Study will continue into 2021 and include workshops as well as the online survey and interactive mapping to gauge the community views as to what constitutes the character of Ku-ring-gai and our suburbs, but no substantial study has been included, nor are heritage consultants being used. This is a massive error when Ku-ring-gai has already seen a 25% increase in population since 2006 and the character of all our suburbs have been altered as a result.

The current study has divided Ku-ring-gai into 8 local character areas, Green Fingers (the suburbs bordering National Parks), Ku-ring-gai Ridge and Centres (Along the Pacific Highway ridgeline and St Ives centre), Northern Plateau (Wahroonga to Pymble and St Ives), Western Slopes (South Turramurra to south Wahroonga), West Pymble, Lower West (West Lindfield), Heritage Core (Roseville to Gordon) and North Turramurra Table.

In the online survey, each area has a character statement for comment and to add special places. We urge you to take the opportunity to participate, just follow this link The deadline was 18th December, however the survey remains open for comment.

By defining and dissecting suburbs into Character Areas, the manner in which each suburb has developed independently, with the advent of the rail line or the move away from agriculture, is lost. The rationale of how each suburb has grown over the past 150 years is essential to its character.

As a community we believe that Ku-ring-gai deserves better than what is little more than a superficial approach to a critical Character Study. The future impact of further degradation of our area’s heritage, streetscape and character is at stake if there is not a more professional approach to identifying and conserving Ku-ring-gai’s special local character.

New Zoning Increases Bushfire Risk For Ku-Ring-Gai Residents

In Ku-ring-gai the memories of the fatal wildfires in 1994 and 2001/2 are still vivid for many residents. Our municipality is both blessed and cursed with close proximity to natural bush, forests on steep dry slopes rising out of National Parks and the bushfire hazard obvious to all. Since 21 November 2002 the hazard on our doorstep is mapped, certified by the RFS Commissioner and Gazetted by NSW Government. The Bushfire Evacuation Risk in Ku-ring-gai was also identified, mapped, certified and gazetted from 2002 pursuant to the SEPP Seniors Living for People with Disabilities, Rural Fire Act and the EP&A Act.

Alarmingly, it came as a shock to many in Ku-ring-gai when this NSW Government, appears to ignore their Duty of Care to the residents of the 13 areas of combined Bushfire Hazard with Bushfire Evacuation Risk, and went ahead with their apparent priority of increasing both density and population.

Minister Anthony Roberts has added these previously protected areas in Ku-ring-gai to the KLEP, rezoning them for the main part to Environmental Living 4. This new zoning, gazetted at the end of January 2018 permits the addition of secondary dwellings on existing developed blocks in areas of evacuation risk thereby potentially increasing density across these areas. These 13 areas all have in common, mostly a single road [viable in bushfire] servicing both emergency vehicles into the area with the same single road providing egress to evacuating residents. Add to this potentially disastrous mix of two opposing flows of traffic, the predictable compromised to nil visibility in bushfire, combined with the expected speed of wildfire due to slope and close proximity of the hazard and the prospect of fatalities becomes distinctly foreseeable.

Lead times for wildfire may not always be achievable, they may be short which can add to the prospect of fatalities, historically many fatalities occur from late evacuation on compromised evacuation routes.

All these facts make the Government’s planning decision to allow for increased density resulting in overpopulation and increased vehicles to evacuate on roads, in areas of gazetted compromised evacuation risk even more surprising. It surely must raise the following simple questions in this electorate. If the authorities cannot guarantee safe evacuation of the existing population in wildfire conditions, why would they potentially increase the density, population and number of vehicles to be evacuated? The second dwelling will not be unoccupied.

Why would a distinct lack of support in writing, for increased density from both the Police and the Fire Authorities, RFS, to both the local Council and the Department of Planning NSW be ruthlessly disregarded?

Is the Government, the Liberal Party and the Greater Sydney Commission so committed to endless population growth using the pretext of Affordable Housing, that increased density is their only objective? Has this objective itself been allowed to override existing government gazettes and all other considerations and warnings?

These are legitimate questions for individuals to raise in the common Public Interest. Those with legal backgrounds may feel a necessity to think about relevant negligence and other liability issues that may affect future survivors of bushfire in Ku-ring-gai.

It is essential for the preservation of life in the next bushfire event, as there surely will be one, that we keep the pressure on our MPs and Minister Roberts to have this rezoning overturned! Please write, email and confront your MPs about what can only be seen as an act of the highest irresponsibility!