Published 25 July 2009
A commentary on the On Line Opinion website on Friday about a planning panel being imposed on the northern Sydney district of Ku-ring-gai illustrated the need for checks & balances in government.
Australian state governments have a tendency toward authoritarian behaviour, but it’s not far-fetched to say the governance style could happen here because the central issue in Ku-ring-gai is intensification. One of the recommendations of the commission report on Auckland’s governance was for the northern council area to lose the power to control planning on its southern border, essentially because it couldn’t be trusted to do the right thing by regional policy – in that case wanting to intensify, the opposite of the Ku-ring-gai situation, but likely to want to intensify for the economic wellbeing of its residents.
In a piece which appeared in New Geography on 18 July, Forcing density in Australia’s suburbs, Tony Recsei wrote: “Australia is a continent-sized country with total urbanised area of only 0.3%… The country is blessed with a sunny climate and enough space to enable its inhabitants to enjoy a relaxed, free lifestyle.
“Given this, one would expect there would be little support for the higher-density housing ideology of the Smart Growth advocates. Yet since the early 1990s the Australian Federal Department of Housing has been pushing exactly this approach…..
“High-density regulations from the planning minister come about by ministerial fiat without discussion in the state parliament. These regulations require municipal councils to submit planning strategies to the planning minister that increase density, to his/her satisfaction, under threat of removal of a council’s planning powers. In a blatant conflict of interest, half of the members of the minister’s assessment panel are developers who stand to gain from the implementation strategies being assessed and the other half are bureaucrats. There is no community representation…..
“One leafy, mainly single-residential council area in the northern part of Sydney (Ku-ring-gai) insisted that the submission of their residential strategy be delayed until studies could be conducted of the effects of the resulting higher density on infrastructure, traffic, the environment & heritage. This cheekiness was dealt with savagely. Its traditional planning powers have been taken away and given to a planning panel appointed by the planning minister….”
On Line Opinion says of Dr Recsei, that he has a background in chemistry and is an environmental consultant: “Since retiring he has taken an interest in community affairs and is president of the Save our Suburbs community group which opposes over-development forced onto communities by the New South Wales State Government.”
The Ku-ring-gai confrontation is made clear by this release which the council posted on its website on 27 May, Town centres LEP: more over-development and the panel stays, which I’ve run in full below:
The Ku-ring-gai Planning Panel’s town centres local environment plan will foist even more over-development on Ku-ring-gai than first expected and paves the way for the panel to stay in place, according to Mayor Elaine Malicki.
"While there’s been a token reduction in building heights in Gordon from 15 to 9 storeys, Turramurra & St Ives will remain at a maximum 9 storeys and some areas face having higher buildings than what was proposed in the draft plans last year," Cllr Malicki said.
"This is a disgraceful outcome considering the unprecedented level of concern in our community about these plans, with more than 1800 submissions received.
"The panel has quite clearly ignored these submissions and pushed ahead with rezonings that will lead to totally inappropriate development in & around our 6 major town centres.
"This misguided plan will result in around 3600 new apartments being built in our town centres – on top of 3800 new units already approved under stage one of our residential strategy."
Cllr Malicki said she was concerned the panel was trying to perpetuate itself by deferring a number of issues.
"It is deferring several areas – like an area in Turramurra with environmentally sensitive blue gum high forest – so it can raise the heights that were publicly exhibited last year, in the case of Turramurra to 7 storeys.
"Several years ago, former Planning Minister Dianne Beamer included areas for 5 storeys which the panel decided to reduce in height as they had special qualities, usually environmental.
"Now these areas are deferred for an amendment to the LEP to increase the heights again.
"Put in a nutshell, the panel stays, and we get further over-development."
Cllr Malicki said the deferrals were the height of hypocrisy considering that one of the red herrings used to justify a panel being imposed on Ku-ring-gai was the time the council was taking to prepare its residential strategy.
"We completed our town centres plan on time by the Government’s very tight deadline of the end of 2006, whereas the panel’s plan is at least 2 months late," she said.
"I’m also concerned that the panel is wrongly using state government planning policy – SEPP 65 – as an excuse for raising building heights by claiming the policy supports taller buildings to encourage solar access & cross-ventilation.
"This is an absolute furphy to try to justify totally inappropriate building heights in Ku-ring-gai."
Cllr Malicki said the final plan will lead to Ku-ring-gai accepting several thousand more new homes than the 10,000 target required under the State Government’s metropolitan strategy. "The plan’s yields do not include council-owned sites that have been rezoned for medium-density housing – a significant number considering the council is the biggest land owner in our town centres.
"The plan also does not include over 1,000 new dwellings proposed for the UTS Lindfield and SAN Hospital sites.
"When you add all this up, it’s patently obvious that we’re being forced to accept a massive amount of over-development that will change the face of Ku-ring-gai forever.
"Our only hope now is that Planning Minister Kristina Keneally will see just what an injustice this plan is for our community and make last-minute changes before it becomes law.
"Hopefully Ms Keneally will not just continue the pro-developer policies of her predecessor Frank Sartor and simply rubber-stamp this plan."
Websites: Ku-ring-gai Council
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Attribution: New Geography, On Line Opinion, Ku-ring-gai Council, Governance commission report, story written by Bob Dey for the Bob Dey Property Report.