CoFA backflip highlights flaws in state planning laws

The pro-developer bias of the NSW planning system has been shown yet again with the University of NSW appealing to the Department of Planning to overturn a decision made by City of Sydney Council on the management of traffic during the redevelopment of the College of Fine Arts (CoFA) site in Paddington. Just one month after CoFA and the community sat down and negotiated an agreement that seemed acceptable to both parties CoFA have decided to go over Council’s head and throw the agreement out the window.

Sadly, situations like this seem to happen more and more frequently these days. South Sydney Leagues Club has recently taken the City to the Land and Environment Court in order to try to change the outcome of the determination of a development application. The redevelopment of Harold Park Paceway has been placed in the hands of the Central Sydney Planning Committee, which has representatives from both Council and the Planning Department but with greater numbers of the latter, while determinations for the massive Barangaroo development have been placed entirely out of Council’s hands and into the authority of the Planning Minister.

It is entirely unacceptable for Councils – the level of government elected to make these determinations and who are the closest to the communities affected by them – to be cut out of this process, but sadly the state Labor government and the Liberal opposition don’t seem to agree. Both major parties voted as a block to get the part 3A planning laws through parliament despite opposition from the Greens and other crossbenchers. These laws allow the planning Minister to declare a development to be of “state significance” and thereby make all the determinations themselves, instead of allowing Council’s to do it.

Why is it such a big deal who determines a development application? Because Council’s are made up of members of the local community who are responsible for providing services for the local community and who have to live every day with the consequences of developments being allowed in their neighbourhoods. Councils make plans for where to place facilities like libraries, child care centres and parks based on where people live and where they plan people to live in the future. If the state government barges in and takes away the powers from Councils to make these decisions then the plan for a community falls apart.

The planning Minister is also far less accountable to the community than Councils are and thus is more likely to approve things the community doesn’t want. The plan for a hotel to be built on an area of land especially reclaimed from the harbour at Barangaroo is a perfect example of this. The majority of the community is dead against something like this that privatises the harbour and creates a massive eyesore for the gain of a private developer. If it was up to the City of Sydney Council it would never go ahead, but the Minister for planning is seriously thinking of approving it along with a mass of other oversized and out of place skyscrapers.

The Greens have always opposed laws that take power away from Council’s and communities and give it to the big end of town and will continue to fight against them. However with both the Labor and Liberals parties hands deep in the pockets of their developer mates we look like having a long fight ahead.

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