What should change?

The planning issues confronting residents of Ku-ring-gai, and residents of the Sydney basin generally, are many.  However, they all flow from the New South Wales Government’s unjustified policy of “urban consolidation”.  Closely linked with that policy is the Government’s unhealthy relationship with the property development industry – particularly the extent to which it encourages and indeed relies upon political donations from this sector – leading to a range of decisions, policies and practices that lack justification, and offend both common sense and residents generally.

In a very real sense all these represent a failure of democracy.  Government’s decisions in these areas are based on assertion rather than evidence that the benefits claimed are flowing from the decisions, or have actually flowed from similar decisions made anywhere else in the world.  Evidence to the contrary is merely dismissed with scorn as being “wrong”, without any attempt at proper debate.

Many of the decisions have been made by changes to regulation, allowing no public or proper parliamentary debate.  In a number of important areas reliance has been placed on decisions made at the Minister’s discretion, without any means by which such decisions can be challenged, whether or not the decisions were made reasonably, after due enquiry, or after following due process, let alone whether relevant political donations appear to have been made at or around the same time.

Another questionable area is the Minister’s ability to “call in” particular developments, styling them “State significant” despite them having no realistic State-wide relevance, and in many cases often having what is clearly only local significance. 

These, and all of the areas listed below, need to be addressed.  We call upon the major political parties to make clear where they stand on each item in the list, and to commit themselves to reform, well ahead of the next State election, so that concerned residents can know where they stand when casting their votes.

  • Political donations
    • Should be limited to $1000.
    • Should be from natural persons only i.e. not corporations, trusts, unions and the like.
    • If not limited to $1000, any donations of greater amount should be publicly posted within a week of receipt on the recipient’s web site, reported to the Election Funding Authority within 30 days of receipt, which should in turn post that report on its web site for public inspection within one week.
    • If not posted or declared by the recipient as required, the amounts involved should be treated as bribes and be punished accordingly, noting that this would have the effect of causing any offending politician to risk losing office.  Then perhaps we could expect disclosure responsibilities to be taken seriously, rather than treated as something to be apologised for as an “oversight” after the event, if and when found out.
  • Place power back in the hands of the community and their elected Councils
    • The provision of land for public purposes was removed from the objects of the Planning and Environmental Act 1979 when it was recently amended. This must be re-instated so that planning does not focus purely on urban density without setting aside new land for much needed community facilities and sports grounds. 
    • A win for the preservation of passive green space in Sydney’s inner city suburbs, but also a reminder of how the Government has allowed increasing urban density without setting aside new land for much needed community facilities and sports grounds. In fact, the provision of land for public purposes was removed from the objects of the Planning and Environmental Act 1979 when it was recently amended. Wonder why?!

    • Revoke the appointment of mandatory use of Planning Panels, such as IHAPs or Regional Planning Panels. Councils should be allowed to use these panels at their discretion.
    • Allow local councils to come to their own conclusions about how to meet the extra dwellings required of each municipality by the Greater Sydney Commission targets, taking into account the local context (suburban character, heritage, terrain, bush fire risks, soil types, tree canopy, streetscape, etc) and the best interests of residents.   Thereby retaining suburbs that have individual character and fit their context, rather than a bland, grey city that will result from a ‘one size fits all’ approach imposed from Macquarie Street via ‘expert’ Planning Panels.
    • Require councils and NSW Planning to genuinely consult their residents in developing their strategies and plans. Ensure by exhibited reports how Councils have robustly consulted the community on proposed developments. Highlighting changes made as a result of such consultation, rather than the current approach of little or no change to plans, ignoring and disrespecting the numerous submissions made.
  • Revoke the expanded ‘exempt and complying development’ 
    • Neighbours are currently being given no notice of adjoining developments, let alone opportunity to comment or object to proposals that affect solar access, privacy, nor any chance to assess whether proposals actually comply with the rules.
    • Billed by the Government as a win for residents, the regime actually tramples the former rights of all other residents in the adjoining dwellings, who may now learn of a proposal only when the demolishers or builders arrive on site and start work! 
    • Remove the complying aspect of the Medium Density Code so that Councils can adequately plan for where additional homes are built with regard to water, sewerage, parking, schools as well as the impacts on character, heritage and amenity within its neighbourhood.
  • Revise the regime applying to ‘private certifiers’
    • The current regime is an invitation to rorting.  In particular, the opportunity for private certifiers to make a request to a council for ‘advice’ as to whether a particular development complies, and having that development – no matter how complex or large – gain ‘deemed approval’ through the council not responding within a mere 21 days! This must change.
    • The lack of any rigour in granting and keeping private certifier status is leading to sub-standard and overly intrusive construction. This lack of oversight is causing dangerous shortcuts to be made on certification approvals, as highlighted recently with certifiers relying on photos rather than actually visiting the site.
    • Certifiers should be appointed by Council as part of the Development Application process, based on their expertise, thoroughness and trustworthiness, rather than selected and paid for by the developer.