Wednesday, April 08, 2009

NSW Land Planning and Sydney transport chaos

Kristina Keneally MPGreetings from the Holme Building at the University of Sydney, where Kristina Keneally, NSW Minister for Planning, was due to talk at 6pm on "Planning in New South Wales - Responding to the Global Economic Crisis". Ironically the Minister has been held up by transport difficulties in the Sydney CBD, due to a protest.

The minister was able to arrive at 6:20pm, only 20 minutes late. Craig Knowles, a former planning minister, did the introductions. The new minister started with a quip, saying she had been described as "Sartor in a frock". Her formal training was as a feminist theologian and has worked in the area of social justice. She argues that planning is about social justice, with parks and other facilities for people. Minister Keneally related how on a recent trip to New York the difference in ability for NSW to undertake projects such as the Redevelopment of Barangaroo.

The Minister pointed out that the Government does not do everything. Housing construction is at historically low levels and was low even before the global financial crisis.

The Minister's goal is to have the best planning system in Australia. Given the NSW government's poor planing in other areas, such as in announcing and then cancelling metros and is unable to ensure electricity supply in the Sydney CBD, that is a bold claim. However, in the area of housing planning, it would appear that streamlined planning processes imposed on local councils will speed up approvals significantly. The government has also reduced infrastructure levies on new development. As to if these are good for long term planing is debatable.

A "centres policy" will be released for comment tomorrow. The minister commented that blogs might be used for future consultations online. The minister might like to consider using fast track web enhanced planning.

The Minister listed a number of goals for shorter benchmarks and said the government had committed to publishing performance against the benchmarks. It is not clear if this is separate to the reports from the Auditor on Reporting of the State
s Performance.

The Minister commented that the federal government's stimulus package was a massive undertaking, with construction and upgrades for most schools and public housing in NSW. In some cases whole schools will have to be closed for building work and the students attend a nearby school. In regional areas the work on government and non-government schools will have to be coordinated so that all the schools in an area are not closed at the same time. Planning rules for non-government schools were streamlined last year so that routine upgrades can be approved quickly. This has now been extended to non-government schools.

Government departments which build public housing will be able to self approve plans for public housing. This will eliminate months spent waiting for approval from local government. Departments will still need to meet standards for public housing.

A quick rezoning process will also be put in place for development around major public transport nodes. This is to increase the density of development near public transport.

A user guide about the new process will be available soon. This will explain how planning goals will be met by the new process, including environmental goals.

The Minister compared the stimulus package with the World Youth Day, in that there are firm deadlines when the new procedures are required to be in place so the federal money can be received.

The Minister commented that since the Cumberland Plan of the 1950s, centres planning has bedevilled planing ministers. This is because that new innovative proposals would not fit in the plans. A net community centres benefit test will be proposed for out of centre development. The new policy document will be released tomorrow afternoon, on the web for comment for four weeks.

The last issue the Minister covered was Redevelopment of Barangaroo. The new Barangaroo Delivery Authority is overseeing the development, headed by a CEO with experience from the Melbourne Docklands. One challenge is to get many more people to travel to and from the new area by public transport. Another challenge is to set up an area for new offices of the future during a recession. Paul Keating chairs the public design review committee.

The Minister finished talking at 7:20pm.

The first question was about "zoning" and if it was a good idea. The comment was that a lot of the Minister's streamlining was about sidestepping the zoning, so why not eliminate it? The Minister acknowledged the difficulties with zoning and indicated support for councils which want flexibility.

The second question was about integrating planning with whole of government and budget. The Minister did well to clarify an unclear question and commented on the difficulty of planning in a democracy and when conditions change.

The next question was about the wisdom of moving the cruse ship terminal to Balmain. The Minister replied that the straightforward answer was that a 30m security exclusion zone was required around cruse ships. Also it would be difficult to provision ships at Barangaroo.

I asked the Minister if she had yet considered how to incorporate the federal government's NBN policy in planning. She said they had started to consider this and is likely to involve some public consultation shortly.

The Minister gave an impressive delivery with a lot of detail. It was unfortunate that the speech was not provided on the Minister's web site, with links to the many initiatives mentioned.

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