As a former Mayor of the City of Ryde council and Metropolitan Vice President of Local Government NSW, I am only too aware of the tension that can exist between communities who don’t want change at any cost and development proposals reaching for the sky.
Councillors and council staff are often left struggling to find the right balance, and developers are locked in an indeterminate process.
UNNECESSARY AND COSTLY DELAYS
Increasingly however, I am seeing a failure of local councils to understand good planning and good development proposals, causing unnecessary and costly delays that serve no-one – including residents whose rates ultimately pay for court costs, lawyers and planning consultants.
After reading a Central Coast Express Advocate article about a Central Coast developer whose building proposal took 17 years to get through the former Wyong Council and who is now too old to undertake his project, it struck me just how bad the situation has become. This is a $100m development – that council apparently wanted at one stage – that would create 500 to 600 jobs and now it likely will never happen.
This council didn’t accept numerous planning proposals even with changes recommended by its own planning staff, gazetted the incorrect zoning and rezoning, and caused major delays though inaction. Finally, the matter was taken to the Land and Environment Court and council lost.
To any ordinary observer, this process seems very unfair, unnecessary, costly and even ridiculous. Of course, it is easy to point the finger of blame at council staff, but it is quite possible the political agenda by councillors may have had some influence.
While 17 years to get a planning approval is extreme, unfortunately there are some councils where similar circumstances and behaviour is causing major problems.
The development community is quick to reveal examples of the actions of ‘difficult’ councils particularly in metropolitan Sydney. High on the ‘difficult list’ is The Inner West Council, Ku-ring-gai Council and the Hills Shire Council. The story from developers is generally the same – the council is anti-development and deliberately delays the planning and approval process.
THERE IS SUCH A THING AS GOOD DEVELOPMENT
There are always arguments on both sides ranging from claims of overdevelopment and public opposition verses a need for urban renewal, transit-oriented development and addressing the housing crisis. All of these are relevant, but the bottom line is there is such a thing as good development based on strong planning principles that address the needs of housing-hungry Sydney.
Key among these principles are proximity to major public transport infrastructure (particularly rail), availability of local services and amenities, open space for recreation and relaxation, security and affordability. Unfortunately, even these planning principles can be completely lost on some local authorities.
The Hills Shire Times reported recently that the Hills Shire Council had rejected a massive $3 Billion master-planned planning proposal in the State Government-designated Showground Station Precinct opposite a new metro rail station. After three years of consultation with council planners, the proposal gave a commitment to 50 percent open space, major infrastructure upgrades of roads and amenities, new local parks, cycle ways and pedestrian paths with through-connection to the station, childcare centres, housing for key workers and everything that a council should want for their residents. It ticked all the boxes for the State Government and the NSW Department of Planning and Environment.
There are claims that the proposal it was rejected by councillors who hadn’t even read the proposal when it came to the vote. Interestingly, every proposal in the Showground Station Precinct has been rejected by Hills council, despite the NSW Government actively encouraging developers to build in the precinct to help address the housing crisis as part of its transit-oriented development agenda near the new metro rail.
RESIDENTS’ GROUP BACKS GOOD DEVELOPMENT
What is more unusual is that a large community action group called Residents Matter Action Group or ResMAG – with an estimated 1000 supporters – has formed to back good development including the Showground development proposal and others proposed by developers in the Hills. Action groups usually oppose development, so this local support should not be discounted.
ResMAG has its own website (www.hillsresidentsmatter.com) and in a further twist to this saga, the community has called out the Hills Shire Council. ResMAG uses examples of council selling off public land to developers, up-zoning this land and then approving higher density without any community benefit or infrastructure. This apparent contradictory behaviour has angered residents who believe political interference is the root cause.
The planning system in NSW is cumbersome and confusing. It needs both State and Local Government to play their part in ensuring good development proposals succeed, but there can be no doubt in the cases of both the former Wyong and Hills councils that a better and more accountable council process is needed, and urgently.
Of course, developers do have the right-of-appeal and in the case of the $3Billion showground proposal, it will go before an Independent Planning Panel on appeal. But, questions must be asked about the time and money wasted on what appears to be a great development supported by residents, and what the future will hold for the Showground Station Precinct and its new metro rail if this major proposal fails.
The bottom line for good development is good master-planning that provides liveability, open space community amenity, functionality and connectivity to public transport. As history shows, Councils that reject good development proposals usually end up with piece-meal development in future without master-planned outcomes. The biggest losers are residents who end up with a tangle of roads and buildings, and no community amenities or open space.
Hugo Halliday has experience helping property developers work with government and regulatory bodies to get developments approved. Contact us today for more information.