James Ryan, Cessnock City Greens Councillor
Brad Hazzard has produced a planning Green Paper which at first glance promises a brand new day, in which we, the people, are thoroughly consulted, we sit together at the table and everyone is happy.
We should not be fooled.
The Minister's new planning system consists of three levels of strategic planning: Regional Growth Plans, outlining general directions and targets; Subregional Delivery Plans, the main tool of deciding how land is zoned; and Local Land Use Plans, which will have with succinct local development controls.
The critical platform on which Hazzard’s Green Paper stands is that somehow meaningful community consultation, according to a ‘Public Participation Charter’, will lead to community acceptance of these plans.
From then on most development will be approved automatically if it meets the 'Code' or normal footprint for that type of development. This way, Hazzard claims we will have the best of both worlds: community consultation as well as swift development.
But the reality is that the planning blueprint released on Saturday 14th July will gut community participation, and has squibbed the hard questions of how we properly protect the environment and provide public open spaces and social infrastructure.
In short the Green Paper has basically delivered what developers asked for. As Urban Taskforce Australia said in their submission to the NSW Planning Review: “Once communities have participated in the strategic planning phase of plan making and have agreed on the key drivers of the character of a precinct, including the setting of development standards such as height, setbacks and floor space controls, there is no reason why more development could not be considered as code assessable and removed from the merit assessment stream.”
When we look at the Green Paper to see how Hazzard’s Public Participation Charter will engage a significant number of residents in strategic planning (something no-one else to date has managed to achieve) we find that the Charter is yet to be written. We also find a reference to the community engagement in recent Council Community Strategic plans, which the Paper says were an example of successful community engagement.
However, speaking as a Councillor I am very aware that my own Council’s consultation reached a relatively small number of people. Those it did reach were disproportionately dominated by business and deveopment interests.
As a Councillor my community consultation occurs 7 days a week. It occurs in the supermarket and at the soccer ground. As a conservationist and community campaigner I have spent countless hours letter boxing, door knocking, standing outside supermarkets on Saturday mornings and addressing public meetings.
I know through first hand experience of the massive amounts of effort it takes to engage a community on strategic issues even to a limited extent. There is no doubt that most people are motivated only when a concrete development proposal is put before them.
Witness the current level of community engagement, and outrage, occurring over the intrusion of coal seam gas (CSG) exploration into our communities and water supply.
Under Brad Hazzard's theory all of those concerned farmers and residents should have had the foresight to voice their concerns years earlier when the legislation and zonings were being written.
Like the current CSG issue, Brad Hazzards proposals will take us back to the days of Green Bans. Residents will be forced to blockade and take supposedly unlawful action when development is just too awful or inappropriate, because they will be shut out of the system.
In terms of the environment, the perennially hard question in planning is how much of the environment does the community want to protect and how much do we need to protect to maintain a healthy ecosystem? Further who pays for it?
When we ask how Brad Hazzard's proposed Regional Growth Plans and Sub Regional Delivery Plans will protect the environment there are few answers.
The non statutory State Policy on biodiversity conservation which will guide the strategic planning is yet to be written. There is no committment to ecological sustainable development. It is not mentioned once in the entire Green paper. Is the Minister saying we should no longer at least aspire to leave our environment is as good if not better condition for our children's children?
There are pages on providing infrastructure to promote growth, and making community infrastructure levies subordinate to affordable housing. In the whole document there is just one line which mentions levies for biodiversity offsets.
Mr Hazzard's new planning system is a Trojan Horse which offers the appearance of community engaement but in reality presents a mighty gift to the developers waiting with drawn swords for the gates to be opened.