Two weeks ago submissions closed on the NSW Government’s ‘Planning White Paper’, a document setting out dramatic changes to the way new developments are planned and approved in the state*. While the subject matter may sound dry it has the potential to dramatically reshape the neighbourhoods we love by letting everything from apartment blocks to small bars pop up unannounced, without Council approval and with no community consultation in suburbs and towns throughout NSW. It also has the potential to wipe out genuine consideration of the environment from our planning laws. I’m thus very grateful to the community groups that have put so much work into educating the public about how these new plans will effect them and making sure the government know how we feel about it.
These community groups have had something of a David and Goliath battle on their hands as the new planning rules come with the blessing of rich and powerful lobby groups like the Urban Taskforce, a group that advocates for developers and boasts about having cabinet level access to the government. This group believes that almost all economic problems in NSW are the fault of regulatory restrictions on developments and deride measures designed to protect the environment, heritage or suburban amenity.
It is also people like this group who describe anyone opposed to a particular development as a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard). While it is true that some people oppose things based on self interest it is also true that without local people with local knowledge speaking out when they see a problem with a nearby proposal often no one will speak out at all until it’s too late. Local people know what the infrastructure of an area can handle, and about any unique values or problems a neighbourhood may have, knowledge that professional planners can often be lacking.
It is for this reason that I’m very grateful to the community groups who took the time to write submissions and hold workshop throughout the state, and why I successfully moved to have Council support these groups through access to venues and small grants for printing and the like. Chippendale Residents Interest Group, REDWatch, Alexandria Residents Action Group, the Glebe Society, Pyrmont Action and the Better Planning Network all held community forums and spurred many detailed submissions to the government (of which over 4500 have been sent in so far), making sure it wasn’t just the well-funded developer lobby that had a voice in these matters.
The time for submissions is now over and while many are worried about the provisions that the final version of the new planning system may contain I’m certain that the actions of community groups throughout the state will have helped make it better in many ways.
*A handy one page summary of the problems with the White Paper can be found on Greens Planning Spokesperson David Shoebridge’s website. For anyone keen on a bit more detail, you can read my submission on the paper here.