UNSW Built Environment: The Challenges of NSW’s Planning System

25 03 2011

Authored by: Eli Geschiet

The Faculty of the Built Environment in conjunction with the City Futures Research Centre recently hosted a planning forum with guest speaker David Broyd, Group Manager, Sustainable Planning, Port Stephens Council.

David has recently prepared a paper titled “Where to Planning?” which was formulated to generate discussion on pressing urban planning issues in New South Wales.

Download David’s paper here.

With the advent of the 26 March State Government elections, the organisers took the opportunity to shed light on the real issues to inform the audience and the wider community.

The forum took place at the Hugh Dixson Theatre at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) campus on Wednesday 16 March. The audience was comprised of primarily planners from all age groups and across a range of fields including government, consultants, and there was also a young planners contingent. The audience had the privilege to hear the views of planning experts in response to the issues presented from David Boyle’s paper.

The line up of panelists included;

Malcolm Ryan, Director of Planning and Development Services at Warringah Council

Tony MacNamara – Director of Planning at Canada Bay Council and NSW President of the Planning Institute of Australia

Ken Morrison- CEO at the Property Council of Australia

John McInerney– Architect, town planner and City of Sydney Councillor

Why is planning so hard?

As an introduction to the forum, David Boyle outlined the main issues he believed to be influencing the current planning system. These included;

  • No national planning policy
  • Need to prepare a National Settlement and Infrastructure
  • There is too much focus on development assessment, rather than on strategic planning
  • There is too much fragmentation of the state agencies which inhibits forging strong relationships to achieve sound planning outcomes

The focus of the discussion evolved primarily around the inabilities of the planning system to deliver a pragmatic approach to Sydney’s geographic and social constraints.

Ken Morrison from the Property Council of Australia emphasised there is an evident lack of funding available to implement effective changes for the planning system. Representing the peak body of the development industry, he also referred to the housing supply issue, where only half of the required homes are being build to meet the demand for a growing population.

More transparency in the planning system is a pressing issue according to PIA President Tony MacNamara. One of the fundamental flaws in the current legislation is that there are two systems operating concurrently. According to MacNamara, The Environmental Planning and Assessment Act is being underminded by other planning loopholes including Part 3A, which provides incentives for developers to use a ‘back door’ approach in obtaining approval for major projects.

John McInerney from City of Sydney also emphasised David Boyle’s view that the Commonwealth Government should have a more intimate role and influence in the planning processes on the state and local government levels. John suggested there be an overhaul in the Department of Planning, which should be implemented as soon as the new Minister for Planning coomences his term.

During the course of the forum, the audience had opportunities to express their viewpoints.

Chris Johnson, from the Department of Planning concurred with Broyd’s position that the Federal government needs to play a more central role in the development of our cities.

Also, Gary Shields, Director of GSA planning, highlighted a fundamental flaw in the assessment process when an application is determined by Councillors. The Councillors are politicians and not “overnight decision makers”.

Planning Insights

The forum was primarily focused on the negative aspects of the current planning system. However towards the conclusion of the evening, a member from the audience raised the question to the panelists; “Are there any positive aspects that the planning system has contributed?”

Other audience members chuckled, but the panelists found it hard to provide sound responses. Panelist members suggested that Part 3A assessment for major projects and the introduction of the Joint Regional Planning Panels were effective functions of the planning system.

The night ended with a message to young planners on how they can get involved in improving the planning process. “Don’t give up” were words expressed by a panel member. Indeed all planners need to be vigilant, while also attempting to fix the mistakes of the past.

About the Author

Eli Gescheit is a Bachelor of Planning (UNSW) Alumni from 2008. Eli currently works at Waverley Council and is the Director of The Planning Boardroom website, an online portal and resource for urban planners, architects and developers. For more info visit; http://www.theplanningboardroom.net

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