The creation of the Greater Sydney Commission is another step closer after legislation passed parliament today.
I spoke on the bill in the NSW Upper House on Wednesday the 12th of November 2015. The formation of the Commission, which aims to produce better coordination and metropolitan planning for Sydney, is now imminent, meaning it can start work on shaping Sydney’s future in partnership with the community to support the delivery of homes and jobs in the decades to come.
You can read and watch my speech here.
'I speak in support of the Greater Sydney Commission Bill 2015. In doing so I note that whilst I am speaking about a specific bill this is part of a broader historical movement, the Greater Sydney Movement, which began well before our time in this Parliament. Indeed, Sydney's history is chequered with the mixed success of previous governments' attempts to get this kind of reform right. But this Government is intent on delivering sustainable urban growth for the people of New South Wales. By "sustainable urban growth" I mean growth that is coordinated with strategic planning in infrastructure, health, education and services across the Greater Sydney region.
Major cities in Australia and around the world are all faced with the same problem: how to construct responses to population growth that satisfy the need for efficiency, affordability, sustainability and, most importantly, liveability. Only 10 per cent of global populations lived in cities in 1900. Today, 50 per cent live in cities, and by 2050 this figure will be 70 per cent. This is not a new issue. When the McKell Government set up the County of Cumberland Plan in 1948 the objectives were very similar: coordinated planning and governance to ensure a liveable Sydney.
Whilst we can thank the County of Cumberland Plan for the preservation of huge expanses of green space such as Western Sydney Parklands—the so-called green belt—its downfall could be put down to its failure to strike a balance between growth and the need to contain urban sprawl and its failure to plan for infrastructure for Sydney. Simply closing our eyes to the population growth that will occur in this city over the next 20 years will not make it go away, just as it did not stop the population boom of the post-war County of Cumberland era or its legacy of raw suburbs left for decades without the infrastructure or services needed to create healthy, thriving communities—a legacy picked up by local government in new areas.
Sydney has been lazy with its planning, relying too heavily, as the Minister in the other place put it, on its good looks, its physical beauty, rather than on intelligent and thoughtful design. We have all seen the mistakes and the end results of poor planning decisions or, as is more common, a lack of coherent and strategic planning. We are aware of the deeply entrenched distrust and concern for urban development of any kind that is symptomatic of this loss of trust in most communities across Sydney. There are countless examples of where a lack of strategic planning has resulted in poor decisions that have detracted from our quality of life through congestion, pollution and a loss of heritage, and a huge opportunity cost.
The Greater Sydney Commission will work with councils and State agencies to drive the implementation of Sydney's regional plan, A Plan for Growing Sydney, and to ensure that we finally address the long-running structural issue of metropolitan governance when it comes to planning our city, by looking at Sydney from, and placing power in, district or regional-based initiatives. This reform will move power from the planning department in Bridge Street to a more localised regional approach. A fundamental part of this reform is taking power from the bureaucrats in Bridge Street and moving it to the regions. As the Minister said in the other place, this is the Baird Liberal Government's commitment to improving planning in Sydney and making Sydney more sustainable, more liveable and more productive.
The bill sets out the architecture for the Greater Sydney Commission, providing for a 13-member commission with four Greater Sydney commissioners appointed by the Minister, six district commissioners to represent each of the six planning districts in A Plan for Growing Sydney, and three ex-officio members, being the secretaries of the Department of Planning and Environment, the Department of Transport and Treasury. The commission will have five objectives. The first objective is to lead metropolitan planning for Greater Sydney. Working towards that objective, the joint regional planning panels [JRPPs], currently in place under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 in the Sydney metropolitan area, will be replaced by the commission. It is important to note that the JRPPs have worked well in parts of Sydney and have fostered a more collegiate, regional approach to planning. The commission will seek to build on that approach.
The other vital amendment contained in the bill is the insertion of a new part 3B, Strategic Planning, which, for the first time, introduces preparation, public exhibition and the making of draft strategic plans into the planning legislation. Regional plans such as A Plan for Growing Sydney will continue to be made by Cabinet, and the bill requires the commission to assist the Minister with this process, including reviewing A Plan for Growing Sydney by 2017 and then every five years thereafter. This is a first. This will bring expert advice directly to the Minister and the Cabinet, allowing for their collaboration with decision-makers—taking the short-term politics that has plagued the planning system out of the equation whilst maintaining a transparent, informed approach.
District plans will be prepared and made directly by the commission. There is significant scope within the bill for public consultation on any strategic plans at a district level. The bill provides that the commission is to ensure that draft district plans are prepared and placed on public exhibition within 12 months. This will build on the work that the department has already done in developing subregional plans, with the commission taking carriage of the draft un-exhibited documents.
The second objective of the commission is to promote orderly development, integrating social, economic and environmental considerations with regard to the principles of ecologically sustainable development contained in section 6 (2) of the Protection of the Environment Administration Act 1991. This is precisely why the new section of the Act, proposed section 6 (3), provides for one of the three commissioners to have responsibility solely for environmental matters. The Greens would acknowledge that. Similarly, one commissioner will have principal responsibility for social matters and one commissioner will have responsibility for economic matters. Ensuring that the commissioners have specific responsibilities will allow them to assist the Government in decision-making that takes into account, with equal weighting, all the elements of development that are at play when it comes to the growth of Sydney.
The third objective of the commission addresses the need to integrate government infrastructure decision-making with land-use planning—what some call the Holy Grail of planning in this State. For the first time, infrastructure and land-use decisions will be coordinated through the work of the Infrastructure Delivery Committee. The Greater Sydney Commission will develop infrastructure delivery plans to identify infrastructure priorities that will drive improved development. Crucially, the presence of the departmental secretaries of Planning, Environment and Transport will ensure the horizontal integration of government agencies into the commission to ensure that decisions are made with all the necessary information and due consideration of each agency's needs and views. This should be seen as the end of the dreaded silo approach to government departments where planning decisions are concerned. It is a fundamental reform.
The fourth objective of the commission relates to the historic undersupply of homes in New South Wales. This is a highly contested topic. It is indeed an issue that has deep ramifications for our city's future. To address this issue the Government has a target of approving 50,000 new homes each year across the State. To support this, the commission will lead strategic planning in Sydney for new homes and new communities across a diversity of forms. Housing choice and quality are just as important as housing supply.
The fifth objective of the commission is to encourage development that is resilient and that takes into account natural hazards. As we move into another summer of extreme El Niño weather, the economic, social and environmental imperatives for resilience planning become increasingly clear. With this legislation the commission can take a lead role in floodplain management—largely the area of councils—and building on flood-prone areas.
As a member of Parliament and as a former councillor, I am proud to say that State and local governments have played and will continue to play a critical role in ensuring Sydney is ready to address the risk posed by the ongoing changes to our climate. Essentially, this bill is about one thing: ensuring that in planning our city we are not just talking about one small part of Sydney or dealing with one privileged fiefdom at the expense of another. Rather, this is about encouraging a holistic approach to planning Sydney, both geographically and in respect of administration.
We need to make sure environmental, social and economic concerns are at the heart of every planning decision that is taken, just as we need to see how a decision with regard to one street may affect the next street. The Greater Sydney Commission will, for the first time, provide strategic planning for Sydney that is based on a regional approach, decentralised from the locus of power in Bridge Street. It will professionalise strategic planning, stopping its politicisation for short-term gain. I conclude with a quote that the Minister used in the other place. The quote is from the former Lord Mayor of Sydney, Lucy Turnbull, AO, who wrote in her 1999 book Sydney: Biography of a City:
- Perhaps at a time when the Sydney region has been enjoying such a surge in economic activity, it's time to revive the idea promoted early in the twentieth century of a "Greater Sydney Movement". The planning and future of Sydney, at both a tangible and intangible level, should not be left to a sometime apparent ill-coordinated cluster of State Government departments and an almost dizzying plethora of forty-one councils, to name just a few. There should be a way of looking at this great city in its entirety rather than as a maze of fiefdoms, each with its own agenda and set of priorities.
I commend the Greater Sydney Commission Bill 2015 to the House.'