Planning Minister Brad Hazzard’s first 100 days in office have been an eventful time for the planning and development sector.
The State Department has seen a merger of plannning and infrastructure functions and a renaming along those lines. Major legislative instruments have been overturned or dramatically amended. Arguably the most high profile (and controversial) of which is the former Part 3A of the Environmental Planning & Assessment Act 1979 (EP&A Act), which governed developments deemed to be of state significance, effectively shifting them out of local councils hands.
Second only to Part 3A has been the overhaul of the state planning policy governing the development of affordable rental housing. This too has affected a shift in the balance of power in decision-making back to local councils.
Next on the cards, we are told, is a revised Part 3A, a new affordable housing policy, and a whole new legislative instrument governing planning across the state, with the rewrite of the EP&A Act.
The Minister wasted no time in introducing these procedural changes, on the back of firm election promises. Playing out in the background are headlines associated with the former government’s apparent misuse of power and procedural loopholes. There are the corruption allegations levelled against the former planning minister and senior bureaucrats in relation to procedures for the purchase of prime riverside land – the now infamous Currawong former Union retreat at Pittwater.
Major developments such as the proposed $1.5bn, 7,500-home Huntlee scheme near Branxton are also being hamstrung by the legislative changes, leaving the development consortium with no option but to go back to the drawing board. Such forced retreats to the drawing board by developers are happening across the sector.
But the minister’s strong message to Urban Development Institute of Australia (UDIA), when he addressed the NSW Chapter recently, is that “NSW is open for business.” That his government is intent on overturning the bureaucratic obstacles to development that have branded the state a difficult place to do business. (It’s hard to see how returning more power to local councils will achieve that… but that’s for another time).
But amidst these procedural reshuffles and kerfuffles, the Minister’s policy stance on critical issues of the day, such as urban renewal, affordable housing, densification, greenfield land release, and social and environmental sustainability, remains shrouded in mystery.
It’s great to see moves towards better integration of planning and infrastructure functions. But where does this government stand on the urban densificiation versus managed urban sprawl debate? What are the Minister’s views on Sydney’s growing housing affordability crisis, and the market failure which is resulting in first time buyers increasingly being pipped at the post by investors?
Of course, planning and development professionals will warmly welcome the replacement of the three decades-old legislation under which we are currently operating. But without proper understanding of the policy platforms upon which a new instrument will be based, the path ahead remains cloudy and uncertain.
Let’s hear more about policy and less about procedure, Mister Hazzard. Where’s your inspirational vision for our state’s future development?