The NSW Opposition has accused Premier Mike Baird and Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian of being ‘free marketeers’ who don’t care about affordable housing after proposals to overhaul the state’s planning laws were announced yesterday (Sunday).
NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes put a raft of proposals out to public consultation, which he said would help speed up development applications (DAs) and tackle the state’s serious housing shortage.
But NSW Labor says the changes represent only minor tinkering with the planning system and ignore the major policy levers that need to be pulled to address housing affordability.
The changes put forward for public consultation involve amending the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979.
• New powers for the Planning Minister to impose independent planning panels on councils that stall on big DAs
• Widening the definition of ‘complying development’ to include greenfield development and terrace housing, not just one or two-storey dwellings
• New powers for the Planning Department to intervene if a government agency is dithering over residential approvals
• Standardising the format of councils’ development control plans so they’re easier to read and navigate
• Giving developers incentives to address objections from communities before lodging DAs
• Simplifying building provisions for developers
• Making planning agreements between developers and councils more consistent and transparent
• Council planning staff or local planning panels to decide more DAs, councillors to concentrate more on strategic planning
• Making community participation plans compulsory for planning authorities
Shadow Planning Minister Michael Daley disparaged the proposed planning amendments today as “modest measures” dressed up as help for first home buyers and called them inoffensive but bland.
“There’s nothing in these provisions that will ease the housing affordability crisis,” Mr Daley said. “There’s no provision in any of these amendments that will give joy or hope to first home buyers in NSW. What they aim to do is to ease some of the red tape.”
He said the amendments would not help developers convert development approvals into completions and the Baird government should concentrate instead on agitating for negative gearing to be wound back federally while introducing rezoning and affordable housing targets at state level to prevent first home buyers from being consistently outgunned by cashed-up investors.
“Malcolm Turnbull is wrong when he says that it’s red tape at the council level that’s holding housing affordability up,” Mr Daley said.
He also accused Premier Mike Baird and Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian of being “free marketeers” and not genuinely caring about affordable housing.
“We’re calling on Mike Baird to get on the phone today and to scream at Malcolm Turnbull and demand some reform to negative gearing,” Mr Daley said. “It’s the big lever at the federal level and at the state level inclusion rezoning [targets] and affordable rental housing targets. They’re the things we’re screaming about.”
He said that last year 75,000 DAs were approved but just over 30,000 were built and quoted Mr Stokes as saying that 40,000 new homes needed to be built every year, just to keep up with domestic demand.
The NSW government’s planning law shake-up has also drawn fire from the peak body for the state’s local councils, Local Government NSW (LGNSW), which said that widening the definition of complying development could clear the way for medium density development without community input, leaving it in the hands of private certifiers.
LGNSW President Keith Rhoades said the state was “crying out for major planning reform” but feared some of the government’s reforms would give developers carte blanche to replace single houses with multiple townhouses.
“Local government is concerned about the proposal to expand complying development to riskier, larger-scale development which could completely change the character of a local area,” Mr Rhoades said.
“We welcome the government’s plans to address some existing issues with complying development, like requiring developers to pay a compliance levy and strengthening enforcement powers to manage illegal work, but we don’t support expanding this model to larger-scale development.”
Mr Rhoades said there would be too much power concentrated in the hands of private certifiers.
“We’re concerned because certification doesn’t allow neighbours to have any real say. They find out the hard way: they get two letters before the bulldozers turn up next door,” he said.
The NSW government was originally intending to mandate local planning panels, a move vociferously opposed by NSW councils.
Although, the government has backed away from this, it wants to retain the power to impose local panels on councils where necessary, something LGNSW is concerned about because it views the criteria for intervention as unclear.
Mr Rhoades said councils supported having more community consultation at the front end of strategic planning but cautioned that this should not come at the cost of community input on a practical level, where local developments affected neighbours.
“We would like to see an independent process that respects the importance of local plans in giving life to the community and government’s big picture, with less interference on local details that are so important to communities, such as the protection of local amenity and character,” he said.
“The Planning Minister has been very good on the consultation front with councils so far, and we welcome his commitment to work with us on the details.”
Meanwhile Mr Stokes said the proposed amendments would increase local participation in planning and make it easier to build new homes.
He said NSW Treasury had estimated that there was pent up demand for up to 100,000 new homes. The NSW government has forecast that 725,000 new homes will be needed by 2036 to house an extra 1.7 million residents.
“The NSW government is determined to do everything it can, including making the planning system more efficient to ensure housing supply gets to homebuyers fast,” Mr Stokes said.
The proposals are on public exhibition until March 10.
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