Better Planning Network (BPN) is a state-wide Not for Profit, grassroots volunteer-based organisation founded in 2012. Our aim is for a robust and visionary planning system for NSW - one that fosters best practice environmental, heritage, social sustainability and design outcomes; and make sure best practice planning is achieved through a collaborative and authentic community partnership engagement approach.
In decisions made over 20 years ago and consistent with the subsequently realised need for a 30 minute city, 2019 was supposed to have seen the completion of the rail link between Parramatta and Chatswood via Epping and Macquarie Park (PECL).
The project was partially completed with the Epping to Chatswood metro predecessor opening in 2009, but as a result of a decision of the Planning Minister announced just days ago https://tinyurl.com/vscuy35, that expectation has now been dashed. Probably forever.
Parramatta Light Rail Stage 1 links the Westmead Health and Education Precinct, Parramatta station, the University of Western Sydney at Rydalmere, new developments planned for the Telopea Precinct, terminating at the recent Carlingford high rise residential development. As well as fulfilling the by then 50-year-old PECL vision, the Future Transport Strategy 2056 shows a rail connection between Parramatta and Chatswood via Epping. While slower than the originally planned PECL which had no stops between Parramatta and Epping, the Parramatta Light Rail will be able to serve many more, especially intermediate, passengers and provide more customers for the north-west metro wishing to travel in both directions in the peaks. To relieve pressure on the main western line, the light rail does not connect to it at Clyde as was the case with the recently closed Carlingford line. Its first connection to the heavy rail network will be at Parramatta making it less attractive for those headed for the CBD.
With Clyde excluded, those travelling to the CBD would now prefer to join the metro at Epping. If only the light rail went that far. This can be possible if the light rail was extended to follow the route of PECL terminating at Epping station. The government owns land at 242 Beecroft Road Epping opposite Epping Station and on the route of PECL. The topography would suit it as the ideal underground terminus for the light rail.
Except that, without considering the possibility of combining the light rail terminus in any development above it on the site, the Planning Minister has now approved this State Significant Site for the construction of 442 apartments. This is despite the current and projected bleak outlook for residential development land. Once sold, it will not be possible to repurchase the land from 442 strata title proprietors. Despite the land being considered to be of State Significance, the Minister has only considered implementing a residents-at-stations policy. This is without seeing the bigger and consistently worthy aim of attracting more people to travel on public transport especially with contraflow possibilities in the peaks.
Parramatta Council opposed the DA on purely local grounds. But the strategic value of the land for additional purposes is obvious once demonstrated.
Too often governments have their minds focused on short term issues, but it can come at the cost of long term gains.
Richard Ure, Epping NSW
The Environmental Impact Statement for the 242 Beecroft Road Epping development can be found here.
PLANNING PANELS REFORMS
The NSW Government has introduced reforms to how Planning Panels work. BPN is of the opinion that many of these reforms are not acceptable. Below is a summary of the changes together with some of BPN's concerns.
You are encouraged to write to your local member and to the NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes:
The full document can be read here.
Operational Procedures have been amended to:
· REQUIRE PANELS TO MAKE DETERMINATIONS WITHIN TWO WEEKS OF BEING
PROVIDED AN ASSESSMENT REPORT
BPN opinion - This provides no flexibility in scheduling where the Panel has a significant number of proposals for determination. There may therefore be insufficient time to consider the often numerous documents for consideration on each proposal reducing the Panel's ability to apply due diligence to each assessment or to obtain independent expert advice.
· REQUIRE PANELS TO HOLD A PUBLIC MEETING ONLY WHERE THE DA HAS ATTRACTED 10 OR MORE UNIQUE SUBMISSIONS BY WAY OF OBJECTION
BPN opinion - The reasons for referral to a Panel include perceived conflict of interest where for example, a councillor owns a property or where the application is for a liquor outlet. It should not be necessary for these types of applications to need 10 unique submissions to be referred to a Panel. The very reason for the Panels' introduction was to eliminate the possibility of corruption. Additionally there has been no transition period so some types of DAs currently in the system will not go before a public hearing as the community was not aware that 10 submissions would be needed.
Given many councils propensity for poor notification procedures it is anticipated there will be a dramatic decrease in public hearings. This will prevent the public from commenting on council reports which can be incomplete or even incorrect. Council staff are not the best placed to determine whether a submission is 'unique’. A submission that is not exactly the same as another submission should be deemed to be ‘unique’. Furthermore, a petition with 10,000 signatories should not count as only one ‘unique’ petition, the same as one one with only 10 signatories.
· ALLOW, AT THE CHAIR'S DISCRETION, APPLICANTS TO ATTEND A BRIEFING, ALONG WITH COUNCIL STAFF, TO EXPLAIN COMPLEX MATTERS OR PRESENT CONFIDENTIAL OR COMMERCIALLY SENSITIVE MATERIAL
BPN opinion - This could remove the Panels' independence, especially with the chair being appointed by the government. There should be no closed door meetings between the applicant and the Panel where the public is excluded. While written records of the briefings will be published, that will only be published after the decision is made and then only of non-confidential matters.
· OBLIGE PANEL CHAIRS TO WORK WITH COUNCIL TO ENSURE KEY ISSUES ARE ADDRESSED DURING ASSESSMENT IN ORDER TO MINIMISE DEFERRALS BY THE PANELS AT DETERMINATION STAGE
BPN opinion - Again this could remove the Panels' independence. The Panels were set up to be independent of the internal workings of councils, not working with them.
· REQUIRE THE PANELS TO PROVIDE REASONS FOR DEFERRING A DECISION AND SET TIMEFRAMES IN WHICH ANY ADDITIONAL INFORMATION MUST BE PROVIDED IN ORDER TO FINALISE THE DETERMINATION
BPN opinion - Panels already provide reasons for deferring decisions. The setting of timeframes may impose undue pressure on councils that have to provide reports on the additional information if applicants leave providing the information until the last possible opportunity.
· GIVE PANEL CHAIRS THE ABILITY TO REQUIRE COUNCIL TO REPORT A DA TO THE PANEL WITHIN FOUR WEEKS FOR DETERMINATION IF THE APPLICATION HAS EXPERIENCED UNREASONABLE DELAYS IN EXCESS OF 180 CALENDAR DAYS FROM LODGMENT
BPN opinion - Applicants are frequently the very cause of delays when providing insufficient or incomplete documentation for assessment, dragging out the time that assessments take.
· MOST MODIFICATIONS NOW ABLE TO BE DETERMINED BY COUNCIL STAFF RATHER THAN A PLANNING PANEL
BPN opinion - Developers frequently lodge DAs that are then progressively modified. Removing the requirement for modifications to go back to the Panel will encourage ongoing modifications instead of the community getting what is exhibited in the first place. Council staff’s workload will increase even more with due diligence being put at risk.
· TARGETS AND PERFORMANCE CRITERIA HAVE BEEN PUT IN PLACE FOR PLANNING PANELS IN LINE WITH THE PRODUCTIVITY COMMISSION'S RECOMMENDED PERFORMANCE MEASURES WHEN IT REVIEWED THE IPC
BPN opinion - Planning Panels are funded directly by local councils. With additional performance measures there may be need for additional resources or funding that councils may not be in a position to fund. The inclusion of 'targets' will put an emphasis on pushing approvals through rather than due diligence in assessment. The standard that the community expects is good planning not speedy planning. Good planning can be inherently in conflict with the standard that many developers want.
· NOTE: THE SAME CHANGES HAVE BEEN MADE IN RELATION TO THE SYDNEY DISTRICT AND REGIONAL PLANNING PANELS THROUGH AMENDMENTS TO THE ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNING AND ASSESSMENT REGULATION 2000 AND THE PLANNING PANELS' OPERATIONAL PROCEDURES
Additionally, the Minister has:
· AMENDED THE STATE REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT SEPP TO REMOVE THE REQUIREMENT THAT DAs THAT ARE THE SUBJECT OF A REGIONALLY SIGNIFICANT CONCEPT PLAN BE CONSIDERED REGIONALLY SIGNIFICANT
BPN opinion - The definition of a DA being 'regionally significant in its own right' is not clear. This will impact on who determines the development.
· PROVIDED APPROVAL FOR ALL REGIONAL PLANNING PANELS TO DELEGATE DIRECTLY TO COUNCIL STAFF ANY PANEL FUNCTIONS
BPN opinion - This could allow abrogation of the RPP’s responsibility, shift their workload to councils and potentially put decision making for DAs with a $value greater than $30 million into the hands of council staff, with no independent oversight. The Panels were set up to deal with large scale developments to ensure there was no potential risk of corruption at local level.