NSW Planning System Review
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this first stage of the review. I have been a planning consultant offering the abovementioned services for 23 years, specialising in statutory planning. Please note that I have been actively involved in drafting the Submissions from the Premier’s Council for Active Living, the Heart Foundation and the UTS Centre for Local Government’s combined submission on ‘Development Contributions’.
My submission addresses the key areas identified by the Review Panel, under the following sub-headings:
• Principles and objectives
• Relationship to other Acts
• Plan making provisions
• Development assessment
• Local infrastructure funding.
Principles and objectives
Early in my career, as a tenured academic at the School of Town Planning at UNSW, I believed that there were four principles, underpinning Planning practice:
Over the last 23 years (as a consultant/ facilitator/ educator) I haven’t changed my mind. Public participation is a subset of these. Efficiency speaks of resource use/ allocation and matters of process. Even ‘sustainability’ falls back on these basic principles. These principles inform my practice.
I support, in broad terms, the three current Act objectives, but believe that reference to the following matters should be specifically included:
• Community health and well-being
• Quality urban design (a matter that I witnessed fall off the ‘planning’ agenda in the 1980s)
• Place making – not treating public and private domains separately (related to quality urban design).
• Land-use and transport integration.
Relationship to other Acts
The review provides an opportunity to continue the late 1990s initiative of integrating Planning with other legislation. For instance, at the plan making stage, with the following elements of the Local Government Act (LG Act):
• the Integrated Planning and Reporting Framework, as a whole-of council system: Community Strategic Plans (for community/ stakeholder objectives and strategies) and the Resourcing Strategy (which addresses funding local infrastructure).
• Plans of Management for open spaces: as integral elements of localities, and emphasising catchments and connections.
At the development assessment stage, approvals under the Roads Act should be integrated with the assessment of development applications on private land.
In addition, the current integrated development provisions should be maintained and extended, with the ambition of Councils becoming a ‘one stop shop’ for development and building approvals. Finally, the bushfire and threatened species provisions should be incorporated into the DA process, rather than the separate treatment in the current legislation.
Plan making provisions
The inclusion of specific objectives in the Act would provide the foundation for subsequent government action: in traditional Planning terms, the preparation of instruments (State and local) and guidelines, and the assessment of specific development projects.
I acknowledge the need for delegated legislation, in the form of Planning 'instruments' at both the State and local government levels, and for an enabling provision to define the scope of matters that can be addressed. Such a provision should elaborate on the objectives raised above, enabling State and local instruments to address such matters, in more detail. Regional and sub-regional strategies should be formalised and brought back into the fold, as valid replacements for REPs, and without the need for authorisation by section 117-style Direction.
At the local government level, a ‘strategic component’ (including local structure plans) should underpin local plan provisions. They should nestle within regional structure plans/ frameworks and respond to Councils’ Community Strategic Plans.
Whether local statutory plans are via a Standard Instrument or separate, council-area specific local instruments, objectives of the plan and zones (if they remain) should reiterate the specific objectives listed above. In my view, this would translate into enhanced land-use and transport integration, informed land release and redevelopment location decisions. A special provision(s) in local instruments should require site specific/ fine-grained consideration of such matters at the DA stage.
Within this legal framework, a third (and perhaps a fourth) level of guidance should be provided in the form of precinct-level structure plans and place-based masterplans/ DCPs. Such guidelines would address both the private and public domains, identifying fine-grained pedestrian and transport connections, quality urban design and connections to open space networks.
In my view, and that of many urban designers, architects and landscape architects that I work with, it is poor practice to treat private and pubic domains as separate matters, and renewed emphasis should be given to Planning's role in place-making. Most physical activity takes place in the public domain – in parks and reserves, along streets, cycle-ways and footpaths. Planning practice has long suffered from a split in responsibilities for public and private space (in turn, reflected in the “guild mentality” associated with Government operations). For instance:
• between land use planning and transport planning (at all levels of Government). This is the spirit of PCAL’s active transport initiative
• between public domain planning and regulation of private land use: with a lack of coordination between two separate Acts of Parliament – LG Act and EP&A Act, respectively.
Planning should be concerned with place-making and clear connections between private and public spaces if we are to attract people out of doors.
The State Government should promote a change of attitude and approach to public domain planning and works by:
• encouraging councils, in renewal and new release planning, to continue the Metro-strategy approach of including civic improvement/ public domain plans in the suite of Planning control documents
• providing advice on the coordination of place-based DCPs and public domain plans (e.g. in centres)
• promoting integration of public land planning (under the LG Act and the Roads Act) with DCPs/public domain plans (under the EP&A Act)
• providing advice on the role of the DA process in implementing public domain plans
• including active living principles as matters for consideration in assessment of appropriate infrastructure proposals, and activities under a new Act.
The detail should be at this level, authorised by objectives in the Act and in State and local 'parent' instruments.
An emphasis on place-making would help to overcome the blurred responsibilities (and the 'silo mentality') that is a constraint on comprehensive development and, in particular, on redevelopment, which should feature, as sprawl is curtailed and densification promoted. Planning should clearly address streets (existing and required) and the public domain generally.
Such local plans should also have a temporal dimension, or phasing plan, to sequence development and redevelopment, so as to promote transport connections and other public works.
The introduction of an improved Planning framework at the State, regional and LGA level, based on the principles and objectives recommended, would take some load off the DA process for major projects: with strategic land-use decisions established by the State Government, in advance of specific project proposals.
This would not remove the need for more detailed assessment of projects DA by DA, addressing specifics such as:
• Local area character
• the public-private domain interface; active streets
• pedestrian access
• on-site end-of-trip facilities
• safety and crime prevention (eg. Crime Prevention through Environmental Design).
I believe that the new Act should continue to list statutory matters for consideration and that the list should continue to include social impacts in the locality. This should be accompanied by guidance on scope, clearly elaborating on community health and well-being.
In addition, specific matters for consideration should include:
• integration of land use and transport (as per the provisions in the previous draft SEPP 66).
• contribution of private development to the public domain.
Careful consideration should be given to the relationship between the negotiation of voluntary planning agreements (VPA) and development assessment, and to how VPAs are referenced as matters for consideration.
Attention should also be paid to lodgement requirements for DAs, tailored to the location, nature and scale of particular project proposals. The significance of the ‘front end’ has featured in the State Government’s proposed changes to the DA process, and is a long-standing key element of the dozen or so DA process reviews that I have undertaken. For all DAs, the required content of any 'Statement of Environmental Effects' should include the matters listed above - with the onus on the applicant to address such guidelines. Pre DA meetings should be encouraged.
Having been closely involved with the 1998 amendments (as author of ‘Guiding Development: better outcomes’), I continue to support the notion of ‘appropriate assessment’ – with exempt, complying, DA, integrated and designated development streams. Complying Development has proven a major drama, and a well-crafted state-level instrument should apply.
I also support the primacy of the development consent in regulating subsequent steps in the DA process (from construction certificate through to occupation certificate), and the competitive environment of private certification. The linchpin is conditions of consent, which continue to be poorly handled and, though this is not the stage of the Review for such detail, reference should be made to this practical issue in the discussion paper.
Local infrastructure funding
While not specifically listed as a matter to be addressed at this stage of the Review, I would emphasise the significance of infrastructure funding and point the Review Panel to the UTS Centre for Local Government Submission, to which I am a signatory. Surely such matters need to be addressed in the proposed discussion paper.
Dr. Danny Wiggins BTP, FPIA