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

Sydney Morning Herald - 2

Hi SOS Members

In our accompanying newsletter I mentioned the problem of SOS being ignored by the Sydney Morning Herald. While it published the occasional letter, the paper never mentions SOS in any of its reports and refuses to publish opinion pieces submitted by us. The following opinion piece was rejected in February:

Metrostrategy sabotages Sydney

Finally Sydney is getting a plan – the Metrostrategy. But it simply formalises the existing failed high density policies.

Hidden within the Metrostrategy ‘discussion paper’ is the seemingly innocuous statement that some 70% of additional required housing will be put into existing Sydney communities. A “centres” scheme will be the cornerstone of the strategy. The policy has been decided before the consultation process has begun. That policy is more high density.

After decades of prevarication, a credible planning methodology should have emerged, which concentrated on clearly stated goals – such as economic efficiency, mobility, socially friendly streets and sustainability. Performance values for congestion, air pollution or housing costs must be set. Then, an unblinkered investigation must examine all possible solutions to attain these goals. We should start off this search by thinking in the widest possible terms. We need to genuinely consult the community for their ideas.

Initial considerations might include how best we can cope with an increasing population. Perhaps we should question the whole basis of policies that inflict population growth pressures. We might ask for a Commonwealth population policy. Decentralisation and building new satellite cities adjacent to existing cities could be examined to obviate the need to destroy what has already been created. High density and low density options should be considered, as well as combinations of both.

Each possibility must be evaluated against the performance standards that have been set. Evidence of performance would preferably be an example of successful implementation elsewhere or, at the very least, undisputable results of comprehensive modeling.

Finally the very best option must be chosen – an option that will benefit most residents. Ideally the decision should be supported by a benefit-cost analysis as envisaged by the Subordinate Legislation Act. Above all, Sydney residents must feel that they have been genuinely involved in selecting the final planning option.

But the Metrostrategy ‘public consultation’ forums overwhelmingly restricted participants to novices or government sympathisers. Participants were randomly selected from the voters’ roll. There was no attempt to ensure the participation of people who understand the intricacies of planning who could meaningfully debate the options. Nor were participants selected who were familiar with the benefits of various forms of cities or zoning or who know of the power division between State bureaucrats and Councils.

Those attending were not asked whether they would like more high density. (A recent study of social trends found that 83% of Australians would rather live in a free standing home.) Instead, participants were led to questions with predictable answers. Would they like better public transport, less traffic, would they like to be able to walk to their shops and to their work? Obviously the answers to these questions would be yes, but how various planning options could realistically relate to these outcomes was not considered.

Further, the high-profile leaders of the Metrostrategy planning selection have made no secret of their long-standing preference for higher density. All this leads us to conclude that Sydney’s future has been decided upon before the consultation process had even begun. “Yes Minister” is alive and well!

Our pre-ordained path leads to high-density. But why? Space is a wonderful component of the Australian way of life. We can make the most of our idyllic climate. Why must we be packed like sardines in Carr’s Cannery? After 10 years of high-density policies the deleterious results are obvious: traffic gridlock, frequent power blackouts, disintegrating public transport, a city running out of water, overflowing sewers, more noise and greenhouse gas emissions, and the destruction of heritage, gardens and remnant bushland. Families are being driven out of inner ring locations. Furthermore, restrictions on land release has resulted in unaffordable housing for the young or less affluent.

How can yet more high-density improve matters?

The proponents of high-density policies are unable to provide credible answers; they cannot point to a high-density city anywhere in the world that does not suffer from these ills.

There is also a nagging concern that self-interested lobbying may influence policy making. Developers – who benefit from high density policies – provide campaign donations to both the major parties.

The decision-making procedure adopted for the Metropolitan Strategy formation should be beyond reproach. Planning must be evidence based. It must not be driven by powerful sectional interests or ideology. The impetus should be sustainable benefit for the whole community. If this cannot be clearly demonstrated, residents should not allow high density to transform their suburbs. They should vigorously defend their neighbourhood character. They should not meekly shuffle into Carr's Cannery. Sydney should be defended from Metrostrategy sabotage.

After some discussion with the Acting Opinion Page Editor, Brian Robins I sent the following email:

----- Original Message -----

From: Tony Recsei
Sent: Thursday, February 17, 2005 9:29 AM
Subject: Re: Opinion piece on Metrostrategy

Hi Brian

It was disappointing to learn that you will not be able to use this opinion piece even though I realise that goes it very much against the current wisdom. I have done considerable research on this planning subject which you can see from the attachment to the email I sent you on 9 February. It become evident that the claimed benefits for urban consolidation are either spurious or minimal and there is considerable downside. I therefore plead for an objective approach to the decision making.

People desperately want a solution to Sydney's planning difficulties and there are many who try to ride on this wave of feeling to their own advantage by offering naive answers to a complex challenge. These "solutions" have become entrenched in popular opinion despite there being no evidence anywhere of their success. I find the situation analogous to the description by Ian Plimer in today's opinion piece "Science kept out by the greens' dogma" where he says:

"The idol for worship is a dogmatic ideology enshrined in value judgements that allows no change despite scientific data to the contrary".

However I realise it can be rash to go against the flow of popular fads and am cognisant of the volume of material available for your opinion pieces. I wish to thank you for the consideration you afforded my request.

Yours sincerely

Tony Recsei

I have heard nothing further.

Tony Recsei
Save Our Suburbs (SOS)

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