GREENS LAUNCH PLANNING REFORMS

Sunday, March 8, 2015 | David Shoebridge

NEW RESEARCH CONFIRMING THE STATE’S TOP PLANNING BODY A RUBBER STAMP FOR DEVELOPERS


Greens Senator Scott Ludlum joined Greens MP Jamie Parker, Member for Balmain, today to launch the party's 2015 planning policy. The Greens Planning reform package contains six essentials for positive planning in NSW. 

The need for planning reform in NSW is confirmed by new research from The Greens that shows the state’s top planning body, the Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) is nothing more than a rubber stamp for developers and mining companies. The research shows the PAC has approved 94% of applications referred to it for decision in the last four years. The record of the PAC is squarely in question with its recent approval of a coal mine extension that will destroy the Hunter Valley town of Bulga.

Of 322 planning determinations made by the PAC, 303 were approved and only 19 were refused.

The PAC considers the largest and most controversial developments in NSW, yet has no independent resources to assess projects, and agrees with recommendations from the Department of Planning and Environment a staggering 94% of the time.

The PAC was established in 2008 by the former Labor government as an allegedly “independent expert” for the determination of particular development applications, and sells itself as playing an important role in improving “transparency and independence” in the decision making process for NSW planning applications.

Greens MP for Balmain, Jamie Parker, said:

"This research involved a comprehensive survey of the 322 planning decisions made by the PAC in the period of the Liberal-National Government.

"This includes approvals for coal mines, industrial sites, residential tower blocks and large scale subdivisions.

"Of the hundreds of projects considered by the PAC only 19 were rejected.

"Not only does the PAC have an appallingly high approval rate for all projects, the PAC added very little of value to the process being effectively a rubber stamp for the bureaucrats in the Department of Planning.

“The PAC is a symbol of all that is wrong with the NSW Planning System. Its members are all Ministerial appointments, it has no independent budget or advice and is entirely reliant on briefings and materials supplied by the Department of Planning.

“The Greens are calling for the PAC to be abolished and replaced with a well resourced and stand-alone State Planning Authority that is entirely independent of the government of the day,” Mr Parker said.

ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND

THE GREENS’ SIX ESSENTIALS FOR PLANNING REFORM IN NSW

8 MARCH 2015

Everyone in NSW knows that the planning system is broken and an undemocratic mess.

A complex tangle of laws ties communities up in knots while delivering endless loopholes for developers. More and more decision-making is being removed from local councils and delivered to state government ministers and bureaucrats whose only interest is the dollar value of the development. The end result is unplanned, disconnected development with poor transport, high-energy demands and crippling prices against the wishes of the community. 

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Sydney, and in Sydney the iconic example is Barangaroo.

Barangaroo is a glaring beacon of all that is wrong with planning in NSW. Twenty-two hectares of prime public land has been handed to a single developer. Internationally-acclaimed plans for the site that were adopted by a citizens jury have been thrown aside to deliver a casino for James Packer and greater profits for developer Lend lease. While Barangaroo will see thousands of new apartments constructed, they will not include a single unit of public or social housing.

SYSTEMIC PROBLEMS REQUIRE DEEP REFORM

The problem goes far deeper than just one bad decision, or one bad project. It is systemic.

Whether it is developers selecting and buying their own private certifiers to approve their development, or paying for their own carefully selected experts to deliver the ‘right’ result, the system is riddled with conflicts of interest.

Sitting at the heart of the planning system – and symbolic of all that is wrong with the NSW planning system – is the Planning Assessment Commission (PAC). Its members are all Ministerial appointments; it has no independent budget or advice; and is entirely reliant on briefings and materials supplied by the Department of Planning.

When the decisions of the PAC are analysed this lack of independence is telling. Since the 2011 election of NSW Coalition government, the PAC has made 322 planning decisions, with 303 of them being approved. This is a staggering 94% approval rate.

These are the most controversial projects in the state, from coal mines to industrial sites, residential tower blocks and large scale subdivisions.

The PAC has no independent resources to seriously critique large and controversial projects. As result, it almost exclusively agrees with the recommendations from the Department of Planning. In short, it adds no value to the planning system. 

If the NSW planning system is going to have integrity then it must start with the abolition of the PAC and replace it with a well-resourced and stand-alone State Planning Authority that is entirely independent of the government of the day.

THE GREENS’ SIX ESSENTIAL STEPS FOR PLANNING REFORM IN NSW

1.     All planning decisions must be based on the principle of ecologically sustainable development. This means that the environment, the economy and society must all be given a fair go when planning rules are made and individual developments considered.

2.     Planning powers must be returned to communities, through democratically elected councils who would be obliged to conduct real and meaningful community engagement. This requires an end to the Planning Minister's ability to impose urban activation precincts that override local planning rules.

3.     Private certification, that sees developers choose and pay for their own development approvals, is a deep conflict of interest at the heart of the planning system. It cannot continue if we are to have a planning system with integrity.

4.     Restore community and third party appeal rights, that were removed over a decade ago and have been acknowledged by ICAC as an essential anti-corruption measure. The Greens support their immediate reinstatement together with a genuinely independent State Planning Authority.

5.     Objective evidenced-based assessment of all development projects, but especially mining and coal seam gas. For too long the planning system has relied on partisan experts reports paid for and selected by the mining and development industry. Objective independent expert advice is essential.

6.     Implement the Community Charter for Good Planning in NSW. A new planning system for NSW the Parliament must be guided by the community-driven Planning Charter (see http://thecommunitycharter.org/).

THE GREENS ARE COMMITTED TO RETURNING PLANNING POWER TO COMMUNITIES

We do this because we trust people to make the right decisions for their communities, including developing and implementing long term planning strategies that can’t be bypassed by cashed up developers.

For this planning system to work it must be built on the three pillars of ecologically sustainable development, giving full weight to each - the environment, society and the economy. Urban development can produce wonderful places to live, work and relax while not costing the earth.

Some of the most densely settled parts of our cities and townships are also the most liveable and sustainable. The terrace houses and semis built last century in Sydney, Newcastle and regional towns across the state deliver density on a human scale with low energy housing, pedestrian connections and enviable public and active transport. The Greens believe in applying the best planning lessons of the past while marrying them to the renewable energy solutions and digital connections of the present.

We can have green open space, active transport, affordable and sustainable housing and close connections to work.

Media Contact:

For further comment from Jamie Parker MP, Greens Member for Balmain, Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, or Greens NSW Planning Spokesperson David Shoebridge MP - call Lesa de Leau on 0413 581 603. Photos available on request.