AFTER sixteen years of Labor rule, voters in New South Wales last month delivered a punishing verdict, with unprecedented swings away from Labor resulting in a crushing defeat and providing the incoming Coalition Government with a new record majority in the Legislative Assembly.
The change of government from Labor to the Liberal-National Coalition is set to alter the course of planning in NSW. Based on policies and statements made during the election campaign and since the new government has taken office, planning has emerged as a key area which the government intends to transform.
At the beginning of this month, Premier Barry O'Farrell announced his ministry, with Brad Hazzard named as Minister for Planning and Infrastructure and Minister Assisting the Premier on Infrastructure NSW.
Property development industry group, Urban Taskforce, welcomed the appointment of Mr Hazzard as Minister for Planning, with Chief Executive, Aaron Gadiel, saying that Mr Hazzard had spent four years talking to the industry and the wider community about planning issues.
"Mr Hazzard's appointment ensures the government is able to fully act on the extensive consultation he carried out on behalf of the Liberal and National parties." Mr Gadiel said, adding that the NSW planning system "is in disarray and in urgent need of a major overhaul."
Planning and infrastructure have been integrated to create the new Department of Planning and Infrastructure that will include agencies including the Office of Strategic Lands, Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority, Hunter and Central Coast Regional Development Corporations and Luna Park Reserve Trust.
In an effort to improve coordination and service delivery, the powerful Department of Premier and Cabinet will for the first time take in the Department of Planning and Infrastructure to deliver the Premier with ''direct oversight'' of the portfolio, according to a Sydney Morning Herald report.
In other departmental changes, the former Heritage Branch of the Department of Planning has moved to the Office of Environment and Heritage within the Department of Premier and Cabinet.
Soon after his election, the Premier O'Farrell unveiled his '100 Day Action Plan', with planning emerging as a key priority for the government as it announced it would repeal the Part 3A planning provisions and establish a Planning Review Panel to commence the process of drafting a new Planning Act.
While Mr O'Farrell said that repealing Part 3A would take some time as it requires legislative change, he announced that no new applications for private residential, commercial, retail or coastal development would be accepted under Part 3A.
Transitional arrangements will be put in place to deal with the more than 500 Part 3A applications already in the system. It is anticipated that about half of these applications will be referred to the Planning Assessment Commission for determination. A quarter will be referred to local government for determination, while others, which have been in the system for up to two years, will lapse.
In other commitments made in the 100 Day Action Plan, the Coalition said that it would introduce legislation for the creation of Infrastructure NSW and Restart NSW, the government's infrastructure fund; discuss funding of infrastructure with the Prime Minister; commence work on planning and budgeting for the North West Rail Link; and commence the establishment of an integrated transport authority.
While the Metropolitan Plan for Sydney 2036, released by the former Labor Government in December last year, has an objective to build at least 70 per cent of new dwellings in the existing urban area, Mr O'Farrell has shown little enthusiasm for the idea.
During the election campaign, Mr O'Farrell stated that "unlike Kristina Keneally and Labor, we don't believe that requiring 70% of all of Sydney's future dwellings to be high rise is sustainable or supportable."
Instead, the Coalition has advocated for accelerated land release and decentralisation. It will publish 'real-time' new dwelling targets for Sydney, the Hunter and Illawarra and promote growth in the regions by encouraging decentralisation.
As part of the decentralisation plan, a $7,000 Regional Relocation Grant will be provided to households that relocate from Sydney to regional areas, with the Coalition aiming to support the relocation of 40,000 households.
Further changes to housing policy will see the Coalition repeal the former Labor Government's 'homebuyers tax' and provide stamp duty concessions to 'empty nesters' who are over 55 years old and choose to move from a house to a smaller dwelling.
Calling the NSW planning system dysfunctional, the Coalition has committed to a review of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act by an independent expert panel and stated that it expects to enact the necessary legislation "around the middle of our first term."
The review aims to create a system that is modern, provides certainty and transparency and enjoys public support, elements which the Coalition has said are lacking under the current system.
On the transport front, the Coalition has committed to the establishment of an Integrated Transport Authority that will be responsible for the coordination of different transport modes and achieving a more efficient delivery of major transport infrastructure projects.
The Integrated Transport Authority will be responsible for transport policy including planning, infrastructure, fares, ticketing and customer information.
The government has committed to building both the South West Rail Link and the North West Rail Link and stated that work on the latter project will commence during its first term in office. It has also announced support for plans to expand improve Sydney's light rail system.
These plans include the construction of light rail in Sydney's CBD from Central to Circular Quay and extension of the Inner West light rail system from Lilyfield to Dulwich Hill. Further plans include conducting feasibility studies into the construction of a light rail network from Central to Sydney University and Central to the University of New South Wales.
Responding to infrastructure challenges facing NSW, the Coalition has announced that it will establish Infrastructure NSW, "to ensure infrastructure is delivered according to need, on time and on budget," as well as being free from political interference.
Infrastructure NSW, to be overseen by an independent chair and expert board, would be based on models such as Infrastructure Australia and Partnerships Victoria and be accountable to the Premier.
The body would be tasked with the preparation of a 20 year State Infrastructure Strategy, to be tabled and debated in Parliament, as well as detailed five year Infrastructure Plans funded in Budget forward estimates and sectoral State Infrastructure Strategy Statements for approval by the Premier and Cabinet Infrastructure Committee.
It would also be required to advise on project procurement, contractual arrangements, best practice, delivery and funding modes and have responsibility for maximising NSW's funding opportunities from Infrastructure Australia.
To help fund NSW's infrastructure requirements, Restart NSW, a capital fund governed by the board of Infrastructure NSW, will be established.
The fund is intended to help build essential infrastructure including public transport, roads, hospitals and health infrastructure. It will also allow for improvements to workplaces for frontline workers including law and justice officers, teachers and nurses.
It is anticipated that Restart NSW will be funded from above budget windfall tax revenues, additional borrowing and proceeds from the $1.2 billion long-term lease of the Sydney Desalination Plant. According to the Coalition's plans, any additional borrowing will be undertaken in strict compliance with a fiscal commitment to maintain the State's AAA Credit Rating.
To reinforce the Coalition's decentralisation plans, one third of Restart NSW funding will be set aside for projects outside of Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong.
Below is an edited and summarised version of some of the major statements made by the Coalition for planning, development and transport, obtained from the NSW Liberal's website at <http://www.nsw.liberal.org.au/>.
NSW Liberals & Nationals Policies and Statements
Accelerating land release for more affordable housing
The NSW Liberals & Nationals will accelerate land release and help reduce costs of home ownership by:
- Publishing annual 'real time' new dwelling targets for Sydney, the Hunter and Illawarra;
- Ensuring communities have the facts they are entitled to and are involved in local planning decision-making;
- Promoting growth in the regions and encouraging decentralisation; and
- Applying transparency to state infrastructure levies and introducing the option of contestability in the provision of infrastructure.
Addressing housing affordability in Sydney
In government, the NSW Liberals and Nationals will introduce a range of practical measures to make housing more affordable. Our $630 million Action Plan to Make
Sydney Livable Again includes:
- Repealing NSW Labor's $429 million 'Homebuyers Tax' on property purchases;
- Providing a Regional Relocation Grant of $7,000 to encourage 'whole of NSW' growth;
- Extending stamp duty concessions to Empty Nesters who are over 55 years old, who choose to move from a house to a smaller dwelling; and
- Accelerating land release and reducing infrastructure costs on new developments.
Our Action Plan to Make Sydney Liveable Again will stimulate construction, facilitate better utilisation of housing stock and encourage regional development.
Over the next 4 years our plan will support 40,000 households to relocate from Sydney to regional NSW.
These initiatives will reduce the population pressure on Sydney and provide real economic benefits to regional NSW.
Making housing more affordable by making housing infrastructure costs contestable
Our plan to help reduce the costs of housing and employment land will:
- Inject transparency and require disclosure of the way government levies are formulated - to force discipline on infrastructure costs;
- Commit to consider proposals that offer better ways of delivering infrastructure that maintains or exceeds appropriate standards, delivers results and represents value for money; and
- Convene a roundtable (including representatives of peak infrastructure and housing bodies, suppliers of utility infrastructure and services and local government) to assess where contestability can be most effectively applied.
The NSW Environmental Planning and Assessment Act came into force more than 30 years ago
Since then it has become dysfunctional. The system does not provide the certainty that communities deserve and our economy needs. Most other Australian states have modernised their planning laws while ours have stagnated.
In recent years more and more approvals have been taken out of community view and decided by politicians – a recipe for collapse of public confidence in the system, and a blow to our reputation as a good place to invest.
The NSW Liberal & National Parties are committed to returning local planning powers to local communities (through their councils). We believe that local residents – through councils – are best placed to make local planning decisions affecting their suburbs. After all, it is local residents – not Macquarie Street planners – who have to live with the results of these planning decisions.
We will scrap 'Part 3A' – one of the wide-ranging powers NSW Labor has given its Planning Minister to override local communities and a factor that ICAC noted had contributed to corruption risks in the planning process.
The NSW Liberals & Nationals will commence an overhaul of the planning system soon after March 2011.
We will remove the politics from planning decisions. Our review will:
- Ensure our planning system centres on merit and the public interest and re-empowers local communities on local planning issues;
- Create a system that enjoys public support – with a state government that respects people;
- Create a system that is modern, takes into account sustainability, gives certainty to investors and makes NSW competitive again, including a reserve power for genuinely state significant developments; and
- Deliver certainty about planning rules and decision making processes that are made transparently and in a timely way.
The review will be conducted by an independent expert panel, with the aim of enacting legislation around the middle of our first term.
Decade of Decentralisation
The NSW Liberals & Nationals will work with councils, shires and communities around NSW to ensure that regional NSW plays an even bigger part than ever before in the future of NSW and managing predicted population growth.
The NSW Liberals & Nationals will:
- Actively pursue strategies and policies to encourage decentralisation - steady and strategic growth in our regions;
- Identify more public sector job opportunities to locate in regional areas;
- Ensure the services people need to make regional living attractive and viable are available and of high quality;
- Give back to local communities at all levels as much local decision-making and participation as possible, along with appropriate accountability and responsibility;
- Invite local communities to help identify more ways to devolve decision making to regions, cities, towns, neighbourhoods, schools and local health services;
- Manage NSW's predicted population growth with a careful balance between green-fields, urban infill and regional housing growth;
- Deploy Infrastructure NSW to assist in planning for the provision of major regional infrastructure; and
- Work with local councils and shires to deliver the right priorities and the best value for local areas from the NSW roads budget.
Integrated Transport Authority
The NSW Liberals & Nationals have committed to an Integrated Transport Authority. It will improve the delivery of public transport services by better co-ordinating different transport modes, and enabling more efficient delivery of major transport infrastructure projects.
The Integrated Transport Authority will be responsible for transport policy including planning, infrastructure, fares, ticketing and customer information. It will ensure that different transport modes work together, and that the interests of the travelling public are put first.
Under this structure, the operational transport agencies, such as RailCorp, State Transit Authority and Sydney Ferries, will be focused on front line service delivery.
Each frontline agency will play a lead role in their specific transport mode. These agencies will be required to focus on their core role – delivering clean, reliable, safe and efficient transport services, while the Integrated Transport Authority is responsible for planning and policy.
An Independent Board comprising a panel of experts will oversee the new Authority. The Board will be at 'arms length' from the day-to-day running of transport services but will play a critical role in keeping the State Government accountable on transport policy and providing expert advice.
Specifically, the new Authority will:
- Provide a central point of management for the provision of public transport services across Sydney and NSW;
- Be responsible for transport planning including the development of workable transport interchanges;
- Deliver better co-ordination between transport modes;
- Provide a central point of accountability for the planning and delivery of major transport infrastructure projects; and
- Put commuters first by providing more accessible real time information about services and ticketing.
For the first time since the 2000 Olympics, Sydney will have an intelligent, strategic and responsive public transport system to give its customers the service they expect and deserve.
South West and North West Rail Links
The NSW Liberals & Nationals will:
- Build the South West Rail Link; and
- Build the North West Rail Link, starting work in our first term.
The NSW Liberals & Nationals believe the priority for new public transport links should be areas currently without such options.
Light Rail Integration and Expansion
A NSW Liberals & Nationals Government could expand Sydney's Light Rail to the University of NSW and the University of Sydney, NSW Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell and Shadow Minister for Transport Gladys Berejiklian announced today.
A NSW Liberals & Nationals Government will:
- Immediately incorporate existing light rail services from Central to Lilyfield into the MyZone ticketing system to encourage more commuters to consider multi-modal transport options;
- Ensure that light rail is part of the proposed Electronic Ticketing System;
- Build light rail in the CBD. Central to Circular Quay will form the spine of this network subject to feasibility with an intention to incorporate the network to Haymarket, Barangaroo and other major CBD locations. Integration with other modes of transport will be critical to the final route and station destinations;
- Extend the existing light rail service in the Inner West from Lilyfield to Dulwich Hill. Labor has failed to deliver this obvious extension for many years. There has been long-held strong community support for this project, backed by advice from transport experts;
- Conduct a feasibility study to extend the light rail network from Central to the University of NSW. The precinct between Central Railway Station and UNSW incorporates one of our state's most significant, sporting, entertainment, health and education precincts yet lacks an integrated mass transit option; and
- Conduct a feasibility study to extend the light rail network from Central Railway Station to Sydney University. Thousands of workers and students make the daily commute from the Sydney CBD to Broadway.
Restart NSW: An Infrastructure Fund to Fix NSW
In government the NSW Liberals & Nationals will establish Restart NSW, a capital fund to build essential infrastructure including public transport, roads and infrastructure to support people working in frontline services.
The fund will have a specific mandate to grow economic productivity in NSW and a clear goal of lifting NSW economic growth to above the national average.
Restart NSW will fund projects such as:
- Public transport infrastructure;
- Roads infrastructure to address urban congestion, black spots and missing links;
- Economic infrastructure to address the economic competitiveness of NSW, including freight, inter-modal facilities and water;
- Hospitals and health infrastructure; and
- Improvements to workplaces for frontline workers including law and justice officers, teachers and nurses.
Restart NSW will be funded from:
- Above budget windfall tax revenues;
- Additional borrowing including new Waratah Bonds; and
- Proceeds from the $1.2 billion long-term lease of the Sydney Desalination Plant.
The board of Infrastructure NSW will govern Restart NSW, giving it the teeth to make a difference. Infrastructure NSW will not only have the mandate to make recommendations to government but the initial capital to underpin their decisions.
Any additional borrowing will be undertaken in strict compliance with our fiscal commitment to maintaining the AAA Credit Rating
The NSW Liberals & Nationals are committed to whole of state development. For this reason, one third of Restart NSW funding will be quarantined for projects outside Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong, consistent with our policy to pursue decentralisation.
NSW Liberals & Nationals will establish Infrastructure NSW to ensure infrastructure is delivered according to need, on time and on budget, and remove political interests from infrastructure decisions.
Infrastructure NSW is built on the successful Infrastructure Australia, Partnerships UK and Partnerships Victoria models and will:
- Be overseen by an expert board, and independent Chair; with a highly qualified professional CEO (who is also the NSW Co-ordinator General), and executive staff drawn from the very best of the public and private sectors; and
- Ensure infrastructure is delivered on the basis of need, expert advice and world best practice – not the political demands of marginal seats or a looming election.
Infrastructure NSW will:
- Be accountable to the Premier;
- Prepare a 20 year State Infrastructure Strategy (SIS), detailed 5 year Infrastructure Plans funded in Budget forward estimates and sectoral State Infrastructure Strategy Statements for approval by the Premier and Cabinet Infrastructure Committee. The SIS will be tabled in Parliament and debated;
- Advise on project procurement, contractual arrangements, best practice, delivery and funding modes and create a project pipeline; and
- Maximise NSW's funding opportunities from Infrastructure Australia.
The lack of a long-term strategic plan for infrastructure is the greatest infrastructure problem facing NSW. Without a clear, long-term strategy to address emerging bottlenecks, the impact of population growth and changes in land use and employment patterns, poor decisions will inevitably be made.
We will encourage the best ideas and solutions from the private sector and a greater level of private sector investment and participation in projects, with rigorous planning and costing to deliver the highest standards of public value – and confidence to investors and the community.