A few weeks ago there was an outbreak of hope amongst those of us who’ve been following the development of the state’s new planning laws. Cabinet had rejected them and Minister Brad Hazzard was saying that important sections of the Bill that would make them into law would be rewritten.
Sadly, the new Bill has now appeared and been rushed through the lower house of parliament with the rewrites few and far between. Many of the promises that the Minister has made in the media, such as restricting consultation-free ‘code assessed’ development approvals to high growth areas, are nowhere to be seen and other changes don’t go anywhere near far enough.
While some minor provisions improving transparency have been added and some of the more draconian zoning rules have been removed developers will still be able to apply to have planning rules overturned in their favour, the Minister will be able to declare almost anything ‘state significant’ and exempt it from the rules and communities will still be in the dark about when bulldozers may roll in and entirely reshape their neighbourhood.
The new Bill does make protection of the environment a standalone objective, unlike the previous draft which ignored it entirely. However instead of using the internationally recognised concept of ‘ecologically sustainable development’, which is enshrined in dozens of existing NSW laws, the new Bill creates a similar sounding but actually entirely different concept of ‘sustainable development’ with very little legal force behind it.
The Bill also worryingly permits developers to destroy natural environments if they make a contribution towards ‘biodiversity offsets’, allowing those who can afford to to buy their way out of their obligations to preserve our natural environments on the premise that by doing so their money will preserve natural environments elsewhere. However given that biodiversity offsets can be spent on temporary things like education programs and weed removal these contributions will be a very poor substitute for the landscapes that they allow to be permanently destroyed.
Ultimately the new Bill entirely lets down the people of NSW and represents a massive backflip on the Liberal party’s election promise of returning planning powers to the community. The Greens have fought against these proposed laws from the beginning and with strong enough community action may be able to defeat the Bill when it comes before the upper house of Parliament in coming weeks. The Better Planning Network, who have done an outstanding job of mobilising the community thus far, have set up an online system allowing people to quickly and easily email upper house MPs to let them know their concerns and I would urge anyone worried about the future of planning in NSW to use it.
A few weeks ago community action forced the government to make some small positive changes. With strong enough action now it may be possible to bring about the big changes that we really need for a fair planning system.