Planning go-slow stopping new housing in Sydney: Chris Johnson

Planning go-slow stopping new housing in Sydney: Chris Johnson
Planning go-slow stopping new housing in Sydney: Chris Johnson


A growing number of proposed new housing projects across Sydney are running into go-slow planning approaches from councils and state government.

Over recent weeks we have seen a number of worthwhile housing projects across metropolitan Sydney held up or cancelled.

The biggest project to be in danger of collapsing is the St Leonards South site for 2,400 new apartments as proposed by Lane Cove Council. The NSW Government’s Independent Planning Commission (IPC) has written a report to the Planning Minister, Rob Stokes, that effectively stops the project on spurious grounds.

After 5 years of community involvement, approvals by Lane Cove Council and the state government through the Gateway approach the IPC report says there is not enough open space yet the proposed 3,800 square metre park is above the NSW government’s Open Space for Recreation Guide minimum size for a local park of 3,000 square metres. The IPC report seems very biased in its criticism of council’s plan.

At Hornsby, last week, the RSL withdrew plans for a project which included 110 apartments, 237 unit retirement home and a 108 room hotel, citing frustrations with the planning system.

In Double Bay the recent closure of the iconic Cosmopolitan Cafe hit the news with concerns that up to 400 new apartments were caught up in the planning system leaving the much needed critical mass of people desperately needed to make the retail viable in the village centre. It seems that the local council is going slow on processing the plans for a number of worthwhile projects.

Across the harbour at Chatswood a major mixed-use project with 130 apartments providing 1,664 new jobs has been battling the planning system for 5 years with a confusing and inconsistent set of messages from Willoughby Council.

At Macquarie Park a major developer looks like cancelling a 1,000 apartment project that would have contributed $150 million back to council in contributions to spend on local community facilities. After 5 years of on off decision making with Ryde Council and the state government the developers have got nowhere.

These projects are typical of dozens that members of the Urban Taskforce are battling to get through the Sydney planning system.

The general impression from these developers is that the planning system is getting worse in NSW and that the culture of planners in state government and councils is to be more concerned about maintaining local character than supporting new projects that could boost the economy.

Another example is the recent report from the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment that recommended against the Ritz Carlton hotel tower in Pyrmont partly on the basis that it did not fit into the existing local character.

The result of these projects not getting approvals or being caught up in a planning limbo land is that housing approvals are dropping fast. In the City of Sydney Council housing approvals are down by 59 percent over the last 2 years and at Ryde Council approvals are down by 74 percent over the last 3 years.

The culture of planning in New South Wales comes from the top through the ‘Premiers Priorities’ for the planning portfolio.

In the last term of government the Premier required the delivery of 61,000 housing completions a year with 90 percent of housing approvals determined within 90 days. But in her new term as Premier the priorities about housing supply have been replaced with the need to increase Green Public Spaces by 10 ercent and to increase the tree canopy across Greater Sydney.

The focus has clearly moved away from having an efficient planning system towards green landscape agendas.

CHRIS JOHNSON is the Urban Taskforce CEO

Sydney Housing Projects

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