By Paul Hemsley and Julian Bajkowski
Angry property developers have called on the New South Wales government to junk its highly controversial new planning system reforms bill, claiming concessions granted to get the laws past the Upper House now make it unworkable.
In a scathing attack on the range of concessions granted by the government, peak development lobby group Urban Taskforce Australia now says it wants the bill to be “scrapped” altogether rather than passed with its present amendments.
The developers’ attack on the O’Farrell government’s compromise approach to the new planning is a clear signal that the best made plans to free-up regulation surrounding new building starts have gone badly awry for the property industry and could even result in more onerous regulations than the ones that presently exist.
The O’Farrell government has been conspicuously cautious in terms of countering perceptions that the Coalition might be beholden to demands from developers after it so successfully savaged Labor on some of its less salubrious links when in Opposition.
The proposed Planning Bill 2013 recently passed the NSW Legislative Council, but intense debate over amendments made in the Upper House level could threaten its passage when it returns to the Legislative Assembly.
The range of amendments prompted a scathing attack from Urban Taskforce Australia chief executive officer Chris Johnson, who said that the final form of the Planning Bill retained little relation to a “well thought out” White Paper that the state government put out in April 2013.
Mr Johnson complained that the Bill has been “watered down and amended by opposition parties”.
Predictibly, the developer’s main target is the Greens, not least for what Urban Task Force claims is “rhetoric” that implied negative connotations about the Planning Bill’s “pro-developer” bias.
“It is most unfortunate that the Upper House has become a feeding frenzy of individuals each wanting to vandalize the government’s bill,” Mr Johnson said.
He said if the Bill was implemented, the people of NSW would have the “most confusing planning system in the country and this will drive investors away.”
The release of population growth projections by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has also provided Urban Taskforce Australia with more ammunition to argue that more housing will imminently be needed.
Mr Johnson pointed to the ABS’ prediction that Sydney will cease to be the largest city in Australia in 2053 because of the present housing shortfall of over 10,000 a year and a planning system that is “becoming anti-growth”.
The Urban Task Force chief said that if NSW wants to build houses at the numbers that are needed, it would be better to keep the existing planning system that “everyone understands” rather than go through years of “transitional pain” to implement the “watered down” reforms that “will slow down” planning approvals.
NSW councils were previously critical of the Planning Bill because they were afraid that of parts the new legislation would strip them of many existing rights to veto over development proposals.
Despite this division between councils and the O’Farrell government, they were able to agree in October 2013 when Minister for Planning and Infrastructure Brad Hazzard introduced amendments that councils considered a “win” for themselves.
These amendments included extending the period of time that councils are required to spend infrastructure contributions from developers.
Local Government NSW President Keith Rhoades was playing a straight bat on the issue. Mr Rhoades told Government News that it was still “too early to tell” what the Planning Bill meant at the present stage because it was still being debated in NSW Parliament.
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