By Julian Bajkowski
Property development industry group Urban Taskforce has taken the highly controversial step of throwing open its doors to allow local governments to formally become “associate members” of the lobbying outfit as it seeks to redefine its engagement with policymakers.
The move comes as the New South Wales government scopes-out a root-and-branch overhaul of the state’s planning processes including a review of the Local Government Act that and the potential for forced mergers between municipalities.
Urban Task Force chief executive Chris Johnson said that his group had been approached by a number of councils “about how to better understand the position of the development industry in contributing to growth across Sydney and the state.”
“We have therefore established an associate category that enables councils to be involved in our activities at an appropriate level,” Mr Johnson said.
The issue of councils becoming members of a property development industry group is contentious one because many Sydney communities remain opposed to proposed developments they fear will destroy the character of older suburbs and put more pressure on already congested roads.
However Mr Johnson said that move was about running workshops with councils to thrash out “the feasibility of development options and begin a dialogue that is about how to get quality solutions that communities will be proud of.”
“With the planning reforms focussed on involving communities it is the local government level that needs to understand the inevitability of growth and therefore more development across Sydney. The Urban Taskforce is keen to engage with councils that are managing growth by demonstrating good examples of development in appropriate locations,” Mr Johnson said.
The NSW Greens are not buying the move and immediately rejected the idea of councils joining Urban Taskforce on the basis it would erode the standing of local government in the eyeys of constituents.
“It’s a very dangerous precedent for consent authorities such as councils to become members of a developer lobby group such as the Urban Taskforce,” Greens NSW Local Government spokesperson, David Shoebridge, said.
Mr Shoebridge said councils needed to be “fiercely independent statutory bodies” that stood for the public interest “not paid up members of a profit-driven developer lobby group.”
“Any council which becomes an associate or other member of the Urban Taskforce risks being seen as a biased pro-development authority, which can only damage the public standing of local government.” Mr Shoebridge said.
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