Greater Sydney Commission finally takes shape
Cameron Jewell | 8 September 2015
After announcing the Greater Sydney Commission more than a year ago, the NSW government has today (Tuesday) released the structure and role of the Commission, which it says will modernise the way Sydney’s major infrastructure and urban planning priorities are delivered.
The news has been welcomed by the development community, however there is concern a panel of “unelected bureaucrats” will remove accountability for planning decisions.
Planning minister Rob Stokes said the Commission was necessary because Sydney’s urban planning had operated in silos of councils and government departments, without effective coordination.
The structure of the GSC will include a chair; independent environment, economic and social commissioners; six district commissioners nominated by councils; and three government heads from planning, transport and treasury.
“The Greater Sydney Commission will be responsible for delivery plans for each of Sydney’s six districts,” Mr Stokes said.
“The six districts will all be represented by a member chosen by their elected local government officials, which will give councils the opportunity to play a major role in the planning decisions that shape their broader districts.
“The appointment of independent commissioners to represent the economy, environment and community will ensure that we receive expert advice on how to keep Sydney sustainable as it changes over the next decade.”
The Commission will also be charged with conducting regular reviews of council Local Environmental Plans and will act as the decision maker on rezoning proposals currently undertaken by the planning minister.
Welcome from development industry
The Committee for Sydney said the GSC was a “game-changer”.
“The Greater Sydney Commission is crucial to planning a successful, productive and equitable city,” Committee for Sydney chief executive Tim Williams said. “Managing the growth of our city to eight million residents by the middle of this century requires strong metropolitan level governance – which the GSC will deliver.”
Dr Williams said research showed metropolitan governance halved the negative productivity impact from fragmented local government.
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“This is a breakthrough for Sydney and the government is to be commended for recognising that business as usual will not deliver a liveable and successful Greater Sydney,” he said.
The Property Council’s NSW executive director Glenn Byres said an independent commission with authority to bring state agencies and councils into line with a common vision was essential.
“Given a proper mandate and a meaningful capacity to deliver results, the Commission can act as a game-changer that overcomes dysfunctional city planning,” Mr Byres said.
“Sydney has two big strategic challenges – a jobs deficit of 200,000 in our west, and a housing supply shortfall forecast to grow to 190,000 by 2024 without action.
“The status quo won’t cut it and we need to move to a model that can better align delivery of transport and social infrastructure with jobs and housing growth.
“Smart, sustainable growth means investing now in the leadership and big strategic choices that can help accelerate Sydney’s standing as a global city.”
The Urban Taskforce said the announcement of the GSC’s structure and role was a positive move towards more holistic planning of Sydney.
Chief executive Chris Johnson said success, however, would be determined by the people appointed to the commission
“The CEO and the chair of the Greater Sydney Commission must be quality people who can take on strong advocacy roles to determine and communicate the trade-offs that Sydney’s growth will need to make in order to deliver strong economic growth, adequate housing supply and long-term prosperity for the Sydney region,” Mr Johnson said.
He said the Commission needed to present a realistic picture of Sydney’s future, which he said was moving towards “apartment living in bustling urban precincts”.
Concerns raised over accountability
The Greens and the Better Planning Network slammed the structure of the Commission as taking away power from communities, however.
Greens planning spokesman David Shoebridge said the GSC would not satisfy “Sydney’s desperate need for accountable and sustainable regional planning”.
“The Greater Sydney Commission will not be democratically accountable to anyone, and that’s exactly the result the Baird government wants,” Mr Shoebridge said.
“It is good to see the planning minister seriously tackling the lack of strategic planning in the city. It’s deeply unfortunate that his solution is to remove any democracy from some of the biggest planning decisions facing Sydney.”
Mr Shoebridge said that while the current system was flawed, the planning minister was ultimately accountable for decisions affecting Sydney and the State, and could be thrown out.
“Everyone agrees that Sydney needs more co-ordinated regional planning, but putting a bunch of unelected technocrats in charge is neither democratic nor sustainable,” he said.
“The Greens support a democratic model where regional planning is undertaken by joint organisations of councils backed up with fresh legislative powers, not just another state-dominated planning body.
“The GSC is an extremely long way from the Coalition’s promise of returning planning powers to the community.”
The Better Planning Network said the move “fundamentally shifts” planning from the community to a government-appointed panel.
“This paradigm shift abandons any hope that planning will return to local communities,” BPN’s Jeanette Brokman said.
She said while the inclusion of independent commissioners was to be applauded, the objectives and proposed structure limited the ability for the commissioners to make amendments to a pre-determined strategy.