Priority precincts likely to slow down as council roles increase

Priority precincts likely to slow down as council roles increase
Priority precincts likely to slow down as council roles increase

EXPERT OBSERVER

The announcement by the NSW Planning Minister, Rob Stokes, that a number of Priority Precincts will go back to councils is likely to slow down planning.

The most significant precinct to go back to a council is the Waterloo Estate (above and below), where the NSW Government owns the land and is responsible for the social housing tenants - yet the project has been given back to the City of Sydney council.

The NSW Government previously developed a preferred masterplan with 6,800 dwellings, including sufficient market homes, to subsidise the affordable and social housing tenants.

The City of Sydney Council proposed an alternative approach with only 5,300 dwellings including more affordable housing.

Clearly there will be a big funding short fall in the council approach, so it seems very strange that the Planning Minister has supported the council scheme which could require over a billion dollars of extra funding, presumably from the NSW Government.

While the NSW Government will lead planning in 12 of the 48 precincts, there will be 25 precincts where collaborative or strategic planning will be shared between councils and the state, and a further 11 where councils will take over planning. At the very least, the NSW government must set target dwelling supply numbers in the precincts where they have partially or totally handed planning back to councils.

We have seen before the confusion when the state starts planning and then hands it back to councils at Parramatta Road where planning outcomes are still very unclear. Another example is the precincts along the Sydenham to Bankstown line, where under pressure from local councils, planning was handed back to the local bodies but to the development industry it is very unclear what the planning rules are.

While the Planning Minister’s media release talked about ‘supercharging the delivery of Sydney’s priority precincts’, the Urban Taskforce believes the extent of full or partial delegation to councils is likely to slow down rather than speed up housing supply. New South Wales, and Sydney in particular, needs a real boost to its housing supply following the September 2019 low housing approval numbers announced by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Dwelling approvals have dropped by 46 percent since their high point of July 2016 and now sit at 2013 levels. The CommSec State of the States report recently put NSW below Victoria and Tasmania in economic performance based significantly on falling dwelling commencements. Furthermore, the NSW Government’s own Productivity Commission stated in a recent Discussion Paper that development approvals in NSW were taking twice as long as other states in Australia.

There is no doubt that housing supply needs to be supercharged in New South Wales, but having only 12 of the 48 priority precincts being state-led, with the rest partially or totally under council control, is likely to slow down rather than speed up planning. It is interesting to see that the Planning Minister does not seem to have much confidence in his Department of Planning, Industry and Environment when he states that the changes are needed because ‘of planning proposals stuck in the system’, so he proposes to empower councils to have a stronger role.

The Urban Taskforce would like to understand more about how this radical shift of responsibilities between state and council planning bodies is going to work at the very time the NSW Government, through its Productivity Commission, is calling for a more productive planning system that takes half the time of the current processes. There will need to be very strict controls on councils in relation to turn around times and clear outcomes in terms of size of development set for precincts.

CHRIS JOHNSON is the CEO of Urban Taskforce

 

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Waterloo Development Planning

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