Hope for planning reforms to get NSW back on track

Hope for planning reforms to get NSW back on track
Hope for planning reforms to get NSW back on track

OPINION:

They say that in times of great distress, humans have two distinct responses to a perceived harmful event: fight or flight. Right now, we are seeing collectives, organised groups and societies across the world-over, exhibit their response to arguably the greatest disjuncture most of us have witnessed in a single lifetime, and will likely ever endure, in their lifetime – the COVID-19 pandemic.

There’s nothing like a crisis to focus the mind on a good outcome and reality is that we should always be striving to be more effective and more productive in the interest of the welfare of our people – that’s a truism. It is like seeing a 4m tiger shark in the water whilst you are surfing at Bondi. There is no more effective and powerful action than the one you’ll take next in that circumstance.

We’ve recently seen evidence of this in the urban planning and built environment sector, with Premier Berejiklian offering up her finest “fight” response, announcing her intentions to reform the antiquated and woefully anachronistic planning system, in order to cut onerous red-tape and 'turbo-charge our economic recovery'.

As anyone in the industry will attest, the current planning system is long overdue for major reform. Every day, I hear stories of how it takes three years to get a carport approved - it’s simply a system that isn’t built for a current, modern-day purpose.

The NSW planning system in its current form is starting from an incredibly low and ineffective base - it is the slowest in every single category of assessment according to the most recent report of the NSW Productivity Commissioner. The system has also largely ignored the legitimate role of rezoning proposals to enable flexibility and accommodate changes in economic circumstances for too long. The Premier has even admitted that it takes a ludicrous 579 days and thousands of pages of expert consultant reports, to progress any rezoning of land.

Everyone agrees that meaningful reform of the system is long-overdue, and we have all heard a lot of talk around fast-tracking before. Most of it, though well-meaning, however, has actually only ever achieved added complexity. And for that reason alone, it should not have taken a pandemic for the Government to act. But in any case, it’s good to see our legislators and policy-makers putting up a fight, at precisely the right moment.

There is no greater challenge than a world-wide pandemic to test the psyche of governments and billions of intelligent people world-wide. In the end, it is always about the human: we are the problem and we are also the solution. While we are yet to see just how effective these latest reforms will be, at least we are now having renewed vigour and purpose. Perhaps even with a planning system that stimulates the economy and properly serves the people.

Dr. Shane Geha

Dr. Shane Geha

Dr Shane Geha (BE (Civil), FIEAust, PhD) is one of Australia’s premier rezoning and urban development specialists and Managing Director of EG Urban Planning & Property Advisory. Shane completed his PhD in Planning on “Quantifying the Rezoning Effect” at the University of NSW in 2013.

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