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Planning for the Future of
Sydney’s Employment Lands

Putting the needs of the new economy at the heart of future Employment Lands Planning.

Its no secret that our economy, like many others in the developing world is undergoing a transition from a manufacturing-base to a knowledge base and that the nature of jobs is changing with it.  There are many different views on how we should be planning for this transition, with re-training, upskilling and capacity building three of the most commonly suggested strategies. But it appears that little thought has been given to how this shift will impact upon the way in which we strategically plan for land to accommodate jobs growth over the next two decades, in particular the way in which we plan for ‘employment’ or industrial lands.

Planning for industrial land has historically been as simple as designating large areas of flat land around trade nodes, in locations separated from other, more sensitive land uses. However, this approach assumes that the only drivers of demand for these lands is the minimisation of transport and construction costs and the potential negative impacts of heavy industry on other land uses. This may have been the case in the past, but modern industry no longer the noisy, dirty operation it once was and with improved motorway connections, advancements in construction techniques and the development of automated technologies the core drivers of demand for industrial land are shifting.

The type of jobs we typically see in industrial areas is also evolving to include a greater proportion of front-end design and professional roles. As this shift continues, considerations such as amenity and accessibility are becoming more important in business location decisions within the industrial sector. These changing needs must be understood and translated into planning policy if we are to deliver on the broader jobs agenda. This means taking a fresh look at the way in which we plan strategically for employment lands, and the way in which we regulate development within our industrial zones.


Building height restrictions for industrial zones within higher value inner city areas must respond to the emerging trend towards multi-storey industrial development. The co-location of industry and higher order commercial uses is a trend which we must recognise and which is likely to continue to grow. And perhaps it is time to let go of the idea that industrial operations cannot successfully exist within a mixed use environment, which might result in better overall development outcome and attract greater investment in amenity improvements in industrial precincts.

As the picture of ‘new economy’ jobs becomes clearer and more real in the minds of politicians and the community, it is critical that the planning profession keep pace. Planning at a strategic and statutory level must be nimble enough to accommodate the changing needs of the market in terms of land and development typologies. With the advent of a new planning system for NSW it is important that we start thinking now about the planning approaches, strategies and mechanisms which might better accommodate the radical changes set to occur in the structure of our employment base over the coming decade, particularly in the industrial sector.

By: Erin Saunders (David Lock Associates)

planning, sydney, visioning

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