It would appear as though the political impetus behind reforming NSW urban planning legislation has declined sharply since the NSW upper house voted down the proposed bill in late 2013.
The recent ICAC investigations into both the NSW Liberal and Labor parties have stalled any recommencement of planning reform. Quite notably, NSW lost a premier, forcing a major portfolio reshuffle, including Mr Brad Hazzard MP, one of the main protagonists for planning reform, shifting from the Minister for Planning to becoming the NSW Attorney General. As a result, it would seem that planning reform is in the political wilderness.
In addition, many divisions were created, or re-created in the NSW electorate as a result of the process leading to the formulation of the proposed NSW Planning Bills. Effectively, planning reform had become a hot political issue, or rather, an even hotter one than what it had been for the previous Labor government as a result of the ill received ‘Part 3A provisions’.
The chasm between community/environmental groups and the property development and mining sector has never been greater. On the face of it, each ‘side’ believes their objectives warrant more political recognition than ever before. Community and environmental groups believe community participation and environmental protection are more important than ever, while we are increasingly being reminded of the property development and mining sector’s importance to the NSW economy.
So, where to from here for NSW planning reform?
The answer ‘your guess is as good as mine’ is most appropriate in this case. Given the next NSW state government election is less than 12 months away, and the political sensitivities surrounding planning reform, it is likely the topic will remain low on the agenda- or completely fall off it.
Setting aside the need for our state politicians to ultimately achieve planning reform, perhaps ‘we’ can look at the events of the last 24 months in order to progress the issue. ‘We’ assumes a collaborative approach between community groups, environmental groups, the property development sector, the mining sector and their related professionals.
Perhaps this is a good time to look back at the last 24 months and identify where it all went wrong, why the divide between the different groups is so wide. This is by no means suggests we can have a fairy tale, warm and fuzzy ending between the various groups – ultimately their objectives are largely incompatible. But what is certain is that each stands to lose more if we continue down the current path. There will also be continuing animosity between the two groups and subsequently, throughout the general community.
If it hasn’t already been done so, it’s likely a, or perhaps several discussions between key representatives of the various groups would go a long way to resolving key differences of opinion.
Amongst all the criticism being directed to each group, it’s possible each group hadn’t realised that their respective principle demands could well be implemented into any new planning legislation. If, and yes this is a big if, a bipartisan agreement could be achieved between the various groups, surely our politicians wouldn’t inhibit its progress – particularly in light of this topic’s political sensitivity.
Perhaps what’s most important however, is that given the ongoing uncertainty in the global economic recovery, and the burgeoning demand that will result of unquestionable population growth in NSW, some form of planning reform is necessary.
If we adopt our Australian sense of collaboration, any planning reform could touch on a wider sector of the community in a positive manner, rather than the current situation which would serve to only benefit selected groups.
Carlo Di Giulio is a Senior Consultant – Planning & Urban Design in NSW