White Paper Whitewash
In Spring 2013 the government plans to legislate for a new NSW planning system to replace the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979. Though sailing into government with a promise of a new system that would hand power back to communities and improve accountability and transparency, the government’s proposals, as set out in the Planning White Paper, should be of serious concern to all communities across NSW.
Planning law can be very convoluted and confusing. However, the detail reveals a systematic plan by the government to remove powers from local in the name of “the market.” Good planning protects what is precious, encourages what is good and works on a precautionary principle when it is unsure of the impact
If the proposals in the White paper become law they will deliver a planning system that has less community engagement or environmental protections than Labor’s broken and discredited scheme.
For example, against the recommendations of the government’s own Planning Review, Environmentally Sustainable Development (ESD) is being removed as one of the guiding principles of the Planning Act. Also, under the new system up to 80 per cent of residential buildings could be considered ‘complying’ or ‘code assessable’ development. Whilst some speeding up of the development assessment process would be appropriate, the first thing the community could find out about a new building or extension was when the builders arrived on site- too late if you have concerns as neighbouring properties will be notified for information only and not be able to make comments, nor would the application be placed on exhibition.
There are many other areas of concern also, including:
- No mention in the White Paper of the need to address the challenges of climate change, such as sea-level rise and extreme weather.
- Though the government promised to enshrine community consultation at the heart of planning, there are no legislative guarantees for community participation and no planning body (state or local) will be required to comply with their own Public Participation Charters.
- The first principle of strategic planning mentioned and thus, the most important real reform on the new planning laws, gives economic growth and development centrality, while placing the environment and society as little more than footnotes in the system that decision makers “have regard to”. This is a mistake.
- The principles of Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD) have been removed, which means approving developments takes precedence over social and environmental concerns.
- The community has constrained rights to appeal against a decision on coal and gas development, and no rights at all when there has been a public hearing by the Planning Assessment Commission and the Bill leaves local Councils with no power over mining developments as well. Also, NSW Health, the NSW Office of Water and the Environment Protection Authority also do not have a full concurrence role in approving coal and gas mining developments.