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Save Our Sydney Suburbs (NSW) Inc.
News Release April 2005

Costa Gets Hot Under Collar

Hi SOS Members

There are some amazing statements by Minister Michael Costa in an article by Ann Davies (below, as is a letter I had published in response). This matter is really important. We hope that SOS members will find ways to support his views and assist. What is incredible is that the criticism on high density should be coming from a government minister and not the Coalition opposition.

Tony Recsei
President Save Our Suburbs

Article in SMH 5th April 2005

Costa gets hot under collar on planning
By Anne Davies, State Political Editor
April 5, 2005

The controversial NSW Minister for Roads, Michael Costa, has broken ranks again, this time over planning policy, telling a group of Newcastle planners that no one wanted to live in urban villages and that strategic planning was a waste of time.

Mr. Costa, who is also the Minister for the Hunter, addressed a regular meeting of Planners at the Pub at the Beach Hotel, Merewether, on March 18. About 120 planners, architects and bureaucrats were present.

Mr. Costa's frank speech surprised some of those present, as did his somewhat aggressive style during the question and answer session. According to those attending, he said that he considered the development of planning strategies a waste of time because subsequent governments simply ignored them.

Instead, he said he favoured an approach whereby the Government put in the infrastructure and left it to market forces to determine where development should go.

The Government is in the throes of developing a 30-year plan for the Sydney basin, the Hunter and the Illawarra.

The Planning Minister, Craig Knowles, has said that the metropolitan plan will not be a "developers' digest", and will identify broad strategies for metropolitan areas, including employment, lands, town centres and future infrastructure.

A key part of the strategy has been its embracing of the concept of urban villages, where more concentrated development is encouraged around town centres.

Mr. Costa said he thought planners were "obsessed with urban villages", and that this was not what people wanted. They wanted quarter-acre blocks, he said. The minister also berated planners for being too fixated on public transport, rather than acknowledging that people liked to drive their cars.

He told the most senior officer at the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources, Steve Brown, that with his pro-planning attitude, he wouldn't last long in his job. Mr. Brown declined to comment.

Stuart Murray, a planner who helped to organise the event, said Mr. Costa made it clear these were his personal views about planning, and specifically about planning in the Hunter.

"We had a lot of people saying it was really interesting because we got to hear someone say what they think, and not just tout the line," Mr. Murray said. "We really appreciate that Mr. Costa....didn't tell people what they wanted to hear. If people don't like it, they should just get over it."

Mr. Costa declined to comment, saying that he understood his speech was made under Chatham House rules.

The latest revelations of Mr. Costa's outspoken views come as he faces a motion in caucus today, moved by a left-winger, Milton Orkopolis, calling on Mr. Costa to abide by party policy and to consult backbenchers. He originally proposed a motion calling on Mr. Costa to be stripped of his portfolio responsibilities.

I had the following letter published in the Sydney Morning Herald this morning (6 April), written in response to the article by Ann Davies.

Good on Michael Costa – the only MP with the guts to take on the urban planning dogmatists who can provide no example anywhere in the world to show that their high-density policies will work.

Urban consolidation makes land scarce and scarcity makes prices rise. Housing in Sydney has now become less affordable than in expensive cities such as New York and San Francisco.

High-density may well be the sword on which the Carr government falls. When serious densification begins and neighborhoods start to be ruined, people are likely to overlook other issues and vote to throw out the urban planning fundamentalists.

Tony Recsei Warrawee

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