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Overall Planning Policy

The planning problems facing Australia are mainly a consequence of an increasing population. Population growth in Australia is double the world average and the New South Wales Department of Planning has projected that the population of the Sydney region will increase from 4.3 million in 2006 to 6.0 million by 2036 an annual increase of 57,000 people. How will these extra people be housed?

Geometry dictates there are only two ways. Either there will have to be more people in a given area or the area of settlement will have to be increased. Each possibility has its advantages and disadvantages. Realistic decisions need to be made regarding which of these alternatives or what mix of these alternatives should be adopted.

Many people believe the population of Australia should be stabilised. Globally they are concerned about world-wide problems such as impacts on the natural environment, greenhouse gas emissions and depleting supplies of fresh water and food resources such as fish stocks. Locally they are concerned about limited water and food supplies. They are concerned about what are seen as mounting social tensions and incompatibilities that threaten the political and behavioural norms that they have laboriously developed over the past two centuries.

Population growth is mainly a Commonwealth responsibility and it is vital that the Commonwealth Government objectively considers the number of people that Australia can sustain.

Save Our Suburbs historical focus has been on planning. Planning is predominantly a state responsibility. Save Our Suburbs believes that if there has to be some population increase, whatever development has to occur should be aimed at developing towns across the whole State. This should include:

(a) Whole of State Development and re-population of declining regions

(b) A viable decentralisation policy. A mix of incentives and infrastructure provision can be used to deal with the time and distance issues raised by decentralisation. These include high-speed rail, top class telecommunications and personal and company tax incentives. Save Our State applauds the Evocity initiative to encourage Sydney residents to move to an inland centre. Described as centers of energy, vision and opportunity, the cities of Albury, Armidale, Bathurst, Dubbo, Orange, Tamworth and Wagga Wagga have united in a campaign for people to live, work and invest in their cities. Due consideration must be given to the maintenance of biodiversity and ecosystems and the preservation of prime agricultural land. This imaginative move should encourage more evenly spread development across our state. There are very few countries or states in the world that rely on the development of only one city.

(c) The creation of satellite cities. Each to be as autonomous as practical and linked by high-speed transport and communications. The planning for each satellite city would emphasise:

  • the creation of green belts
  • optimal location from an environment perspective
  • good transport networks - easy walk/bike/public transport to centre and a road network designed to facilitate public transport routes
  • optimal environmental design – water reuse in city and downstream, thermal properties, power cables underground, sustainable plantings

(d) Judicious expansion of Sydney. This will be better environmentally than increasing densities. The infrastructure for these new (or nearby) areas should be funded by the State and/or Commonwealth

(e) Higher densities, where feasible, for those communities where the majority, through their local council, express this wish and which will evolve over time. As land values in the community increase more and more in that community will be inclined to want to develop or sell to a developer. A community should have the right to veto a development proposal if this development can be shown to be undisputedly against the larger public interest.

Full advantage should be taken of the availability of Federal infrastructure funds.

Low density development can be most successful

See these examples from the United States

Development of New Areas

Instead of specifying land where development can take place, the Department of Planning should specify where development in the State cannot take place. It can be left to the private sector to initiate and develop new areas with Government taking a more passive supervisory role. The Department of Planning should ensure that properly designed user fees, markets and incentives are in place to optimise market-driven development for the long-term benefit of the wider community.

The planning and creation of new area developments outside council areas should be shared between the Department of Planning and local communities. The role of the Department of Planning should include:

  • Specifying where development cannot take place
  • Establishing general principles
  • Planning for and establishing major infrastructure
  • Dealing with matters of genuine state significance
  • Coordinating those matters that cross borders of local communities that cannot be dealt with efficiently at local level.

Developers would prospectively purchase land in suitable unrestricted areas that comply with the principles of the Department of Planning relating to development. These could include such factors as:

  • sustainable energy and water use
  • avoiding significant agricultural areas
  • avoiding environmentally sensitive areas, including national parks
  • limitations of development within a certain distance of the coast
  • protection of Koala and other native species habitats
  • providing corridors for fauna and flora migration

The developer would apply to the Department or some other suitable authority for development of the area. A public hearing before an independent determining authority such as the Land and Environment Court would be held to determine the application. The application would include an environmental impact statement. Hearing submissions should be sought from the Department of Planning, the local Shire and interested members of the public. Applicant criteria that would have to be satisfied would include financial capacity, expertise and historical performance. The determining authority would have to be satisfied that the local community is in favour of the development.

The developer would subdivide the land. Requirements to be fulfilled would include such matters as:

  • Complying with a state standard statutory minimum local environment plan and standard development control plan
  • Complying with a minimum requirement for internal and external infrastructure
  • Complying with standards relating to sales promotion
  • Establishing financial guarantees that could be used to compensate the subdivided lot purchasers if the development eventually does not go ahead
  • Provide sales contracts for purchasers that at least include adequate standard consumer protection clauses and information.

In addition to statutory minimums for land development, developments would most likely need to feature desirable facilities such public open space, otherwise the plots ultimately will not sell.

Fixed interest bonds with some State and Commonwealth participation would finance infrastructure. In the event of competing applications vying for such funds there should be a tender process with awards being determined by, for example, the minimum requirement for public funds per residential lot produced.

There could be a provision in suitable circumstances for developments outside council areas for the development to develop its own local rules. In such an event the developer would write protective covenants for property owners that:

  • Comply with general principles set out by the Department of Planning
  • Specify the particular building and living conditions that will apply to the particular development

In conjunction with the Department of Planning the developer would create an owners' association or a board of directors to subsequently enforce and modify the initial covenants. In consultation with the Department, the owners' association would determine and enforce all necessary charges such as rates to repay its portion of the infrastructure bonds and to provide local facilities and services.


  • Planning decisions will be seen as transparent
  • Opportunities of corruption will be reduced
  • Instead of having development forced onto communities, communities will be in a position of having to compete for development, which will result in a complete change of attitude to development in many communities
  • Housing will become more affordable
  • There will be more housing choice
  • Housing will be more family friendly
  • Traffic congestion will be reduced as ultimately will journey to work travel times
  • The environment will be healthier for people
  • Urban areas will be environmentally more sustainable
  • Democracy will be improved with communities being able to make decisions for themselves in the suggested new areas
  • The costs and benefits resulting from decisions will fall onto those who make them
  • The State Government will seen more as a rule maker instead of a case by case decision maker and will not be directly in line for criticism of every planning decision
  • Neighbourhoods should be in a much better position to evolve to meet changing conditions and changing tastes or requirements of owners than areas that are governed by remote planners

SOS Suggested Alternative NSW Planning Mechanism

SOS Suggested Alternative NSW Planning Mechanism

Submissions to Government

An overview of the rationale behind Save Our Suburbs policies and recommendations for policy reform can be seen on the Save Our Suburbs submission to the Department of Planning.

Click for our comments on the report released by the State Government titled The benefits and costs of alternative growth paths for Sydney: Economic, social and environmental impacts by the Centre for International Economics.