What on earth happened to the Planning Bill in the NSW Upper House that has got the government and big business so hot under the collar?

If you believed the property developers and the miners then the sky fell in.  The big miners and their mates in the Property Council and the NSW Business Chamber issued a loud and ill-considered statement today attacking community opposition to the Planning Bill by saying:

“The failure of the Planning Bill to secure passage through the Parliament is a victory for short term political interests over the long term interests of the State. … Surrendering to the noisy voices on important reform is reckless and irresponsible.”

The fact is that the government got the great majority of its pro-developer reforms through the Upper House.  With the combined vote of Labor and Shooters the Coalition forced through a bill that:

(a)   Has a top-down strategic planning model that will see local councils with next to no independent power to set their own planning rules or determine the future shape of their local areas;

(b)   prioritises the economy over society and the environment and fails to include ecologically sustainable development as its underlying principle;

(c)    includes strategic compatibility certificates – which are the get out of jail free cards for developers to go to the NSW Planning Department and get approvals to build grossly out of scale developments that breach all local planning controls;

(d)   continues with Labor’s discredited state significant development process that will see the planning minister identifying and approving development that overrides heritage and environmental protections and breaches local planning controls; and

(e)   has no anti-corruption controls on private certifiers with developers continuing to choose and pay for their own certifiers.

The amendments the Upper House did make, while important, don’t seriously change the pro-developer and anti-environment bias of the Bill.  The most important changes were:

(a)   Provisions that amend the recently adopted State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) on mining: (NB – SEPPs are policy documents that lie underneath, and are subject to, the planning legislation)

These amendments, if they are adopted by the lower house, will remove from the SEPP two odious provisions that were put in a few months ago.  Those provisions say that the principle consideration for any planning authority when assessing a mining application is the size of the resource, with the environment and society only afterthoughts.

The Upper House amendments also say that no new planning policy can have these kind of provisions.

Because the new Planning Bill has transitional provisions that say all the existing SEPPs are to be treated as State Planning Policies under the new laws this amendment can work to change the mining SEPP.

With the government refusing to accept the amended Planning Bill the current SEPP continues to be the law and, for example, Rio Tinto can continue with its efforts to destroy the township of Bulga.

(b)   Provisions that reinstated some affordable housing protections:

These amendments don’t put a levy on all new housing to provide affordable housing. They are far more modest than that.  They simply say that is if a new development destroys existing affordable housing then the consent authority can, doesn’t have to, impose conditions that require the developer to set aside some part of the new development, or a sum of money, to provide alternative affordable housing.

(c)    Provisions that remove Code Assessable Development from the Planning Bill:

These amendments remove from the Bill this new style of development assessment that would have seen rows of up to 20 townhouses in your local street, or blocks of residential flats in the local shopping strip, approved within 25 days and without any community input.  These provisions were directly contrary to the government’s promise to return planning powers to local communities and to give people a say on development in their neighbourhood.

I hope this explanation helps.  If you what to know more, feel free to ask us by posting a comment or calling the office on 9230 3030.