There’s plenty of money around, but still NSW gov stalls on infrastructure for the future
Merrill Halkerston, Better Planning Network | 11 September 2017
Since coming to office in 2011, the Coalition government has sold more than 20,000 properties including 380 Department of Education buildings and around 4000 public housing dwellings, netting more than $9.1 billion. But it’s failing to match proposed strong development growth with important infrastructure alongside its Sydenham to Bankstown Urban Renewal Corridor Strategy and passing on responsibility to developers. Never a good idea.
“Creating new homes is one thing, destroying communities and creating ghettos to do so is entirely another.”
”How can eight-storey apartment blocks next to single-storey homes be considered respectful of the neighbourhood’s character?”
“The revised strategy fails to achieve its stated objectives for community connectivity, jobs, retaining character and affordable housing.”
These alarming assessments of the NSW government’s redevelopment plans for the 13.5 kilometre Sydenham to Bankstown rail corridor in metropolitan Sydney come from submissions to the NSW Department of Planning’s (DOP) Sydenham to Bankstown Urban Renewal Corridor Strategy.
Streets within an 800 metre radius of each of the corridor’s eleven railway stations will be rezoned to accommodate another 35,400 new homes over the next 20 years. The government also plans to replace the existing Sydenham to Bankstown heavy rail line with a southwest extension of the privately-owned Sydney Metro to improve capacity and connectivity of the metropolitan rail network.
A Plan for Growing Sydney
The increase in urban density for the Sydenham to Bankstown rail corridor is part of the State Government’s rapidly evolving master plan to grow and redevelop Sydney. The goal is to ensure that demand for housing, based on population growth projections for the next 20 years, will be accommodated by building approximately 725,000 new homes.
In 2015 the government appointed the Greater Sydney Commission (GSC) to coordinate and align planning that will shape the future of Greater Sydney and tasked it with developing District Plans that have yet to be finalised. In the meantime, the DOP seems to be moving ahead with announcements of new priority growth areas and precincts: 15 new precincts in July 2017 alone.
The “priority” designation is designed to fast track housing construction by accelerating the rezoning of areas close to public transport. Planning Minister Anthony Roberts hailed the announcement of the new priority precincts as the best way to address housing demand and affordability.
The GSC, however, seems to be more cognisant of community disquiet around zoning changes. In July 2017, it responded to community concerns about development racing ahead of community needs in many areas of Sydney. The GSC proposed Growth Infrastructure Compacts to help government agencies stage and implement necessary infrastructure before rezoning.
At packed community forums held in Marrickville and Campsie in the weeks leading up to the early September deadline for submissions, audience members certainly voiced alarm about how the proposed plans for the Sydenham to Bankstown rail corridor fail to address expected infrastructure needs.
With the exception of new cycleways on either side of the railway tracks, the plans provide no new parks, community centres, schools or hospital upgrades.
Infrastructure Provision and Funding – important object jettisoned
While the government is encouraging increasing urban density, it seems less keen on funding related infrastructure. Alarmingly, the proposed reworking of the Objects of the Environmental Planning & Assessment Act 1979 (EP&A Act), as outlined in the draft Environmental Planning and Assessment Bill 2017, jettisons important Objects, including “the protection, provision and co-ordination of communication and utility services, the provision of land for public purposes, and the provision and co-ordination of community services and facilities.”
Over to the developers – not a good idea
Councils will deliver infrastructure such as local roads and parks, financed by council rates and developer levies. More significant state infrastructure like “emergency services, schools, state and district roads, district open space and transport facilities,” will be funded by developers through a “Special Infrastructure Contribution.”
In other words, the state government is considering abrogating responsibility for planning, co-ordinating and providing much of Sydney’s vital infrastructure.
Trusting developers with infrastructure is risky and is devoid of much support
Placing the burden along the Sydenham to Bankstown corridor and other priority precincts on councils and private developers is risky. It could lead to higher house prices, council rates and rents, thereby undermining government policy to improve housing affordability.
Even Urban Taskforce chief executive Chris Johnson, a strong proponent of urban redevelopment, voiced concern about the potential for poor planning outcomes if Parramatta Council implements a “value-capture” scheme to fund new infrastructure, describing the proposal as “worrying” because it appeared to treat the planning system as an “income generator.”
Rivers of Gold
The state government is certainly one of the biggest beneficiaries of the current property boom. Treasury coffers are reaping a bonanza from the new “rivers of gold” – stamp duty receipts, property taxes and the continuing sale of government owned real estate for inflated prices.
Since coming to office in 2011, the Coalition government has sold more than 20,000 properties including 380 Department of Education buildings and around 4000 public housing dwellings, netting more than $9.1 billion. The 2017/18 State Budget forecasts a projected surplus of around $4.5 billion.
Recent legislative changes to the planning system suggest that the Government is keen to ensure the continuation and acceleration of the rivers of gold. Legislation was passed in August to require mandatory Independent Hearing and Assessment Panels (IHAPs) for all council development applications between $5 million and $30 million. Further curtailments of local council authority over development approvals were proposed in the draft Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment Bill 2017.
When announcing these amendments to the EP&A Act, the government cited the need to address delays and resolve conflicts, which increase uncertainty and costs for applicants and “in turn deter investment” as the main justification for the changes.
Little regard for heritage and access to open space
The GSC’s “metropolitan priority aims” include to protect, extend and enhance biodiversity, as well as scenic and cultural heritage together with productive landscapes, and to increase access to open space, conserve the natural environment and enable healthy lifestyles and local food.
If the Sydenham to Bankstown rail corridor redevelopment proposals are approved in their current form, at least 3800 single family dwellings, many of heritage significance, will be demolished. The character and social fabric of the 11 existing suburbs will be lost and many long-standing communities will be pushed out.
Consequent problems from poorly planned and implemented higher urban density targets include social displacement, increased crime levels and poor lifestyle and health outcomes. Addressing these issues will likely prove to be a far bigger drain on the public purse than the easy revenues made from fast-tracking development without first putting the appropriate infrastructure in place.
Collectively, Sydneysiders must come together and convince the government that an environmentally sustainable, heritage sensitive and community focused planning strategy will reap numerous benefits for both the state and the residents (current and future) of Sydney’s priority precincts.
Merrill Halkerston, is part of the Better Planning Network leadership group