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The Power of Delivery – new
planning bodies in NSW and Vic

The Premier of NSW, Mike Baird, has announced plans for a new planning body in Sydney to streamline the delivery of major government infrastructure and planning projects.  The Greater Sydney Commission (GSC) will be charged with delivery on government priorities such as implementing the Sydney Metro Strategy, developing sub-regional plans and acting as a chief government advisor.

Sound familiar?  Well, it is.

Only weeks ago Plan Melbourne was released, which is to be driven by the Metropolitan Planning Authority (MPA) established late last year.  The MPA will play a critical role in managing and delivering the ‘largest urban renewal pipeline in Victoria’s history’.

These approaches see the establishment of a new layer of state governance and decision making power that acts as a separate entity to the local councils, the planning department and the Planning Minister.  This move sees a more integrated approach to planning across these cities and helps to eliminate the disaggregation and political agendas of the individual councils.  Not only that, the city-wide projects that span numerous councils will benefit from a simplified and co-ordinated process through the one approval framework.

With the GSC yet to be established, the structure and its place within the legislative framework will be the key to its success.  NSW already has 40-plus metropolitan councils, as well as the Planning and Environment Agency, the Planning Assessment Commission, the Joint Regional Planning Panels, Urban Growth NSW and Infrastructure NSW.  The operation and function of this new body will need to be clearly defined for it to deliver on its full potential.

In theory, agencies such as the GSC and MPA seem to have found the right scale to focus on key state planning issues without the bureaucracy – or at least without local bureaucracy.  There is an opportunity to focus on state and regionally significant projects, to develop a strategy for where growth is located and how infrastructure is aligned with this.  Currently, at a local level, the road to development is through a politically charged planning process, affected by local council elections and planning rules that vary between municipalities.

Melbourne is projecting population growth of 3.4 million by 2051 requiring some 1.6 million more dwellings and Sydney 1.3 million more residents by 2031 needing 545,000 more homes – the people have to live somewhere.

This new approach to managing and delivering a city’s growth is not all that new.  Take the Greater London Authority.  This body, led by the Mayor, manages and aligns the 33 boroughs through the London Plan with the power to decide on planning applications of potential strategic importance.  There is already talk of Sydney looking to London as an example.

But are we just shifting the politics of planning to another body?  This is where the decision making powers need to be clearly defined.  Is the role of an advisor just that, or should this body have more powers for decision making when it’s for the greater good of the state?  There is definitely merit in state-wide direction given the significant growth of both cities, which is not likely to come from council level. Only the adventurous or struggling councils seem to be willing to take on the projected population growth.

Both the MPA in Melbourne and the initial comments on the role of the Commission in Sydney talk about working closely with local councils, ‘bridging the gap’ between local and State Government and relieving tension between the two governances.  In reality this is where the challenge lies.  It is this disconnect that has brought about the need for a more integrated and streamlined approach.

Another drawcard of a state agency such as the MPA is the notion of speeding things up, getting things done.  But how does this actually happen?  Are we just creating another layer of bureaucracy?

In order to make this work public opinion is critical.  For both agencies to gain support and traction, the first year at least needs to see some significant progress and independent thinking to show that there are some teeth to these beasts.

sydney, melbourne, planning, state planning

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