Monday, February 27, 2012

NSW Planning System Review - BCCT submission

To: Planning Systems Review
GPO Box 39
Sydney 2001

NSW Planning System Review – Listening and Scoping Stage
Dear Sir,
The Beecroft Cheltenham Civic Trust has a membership of some 700 residents in the suburbs of Beecroft and Cheltenham.  Our constitution includes the objective – “To preserve the existing village character, heritage values, and the natural beauty of the Beecroft and Cheltenham district.”
The Trust supports the Liberal Party’s decision to conduct a review of the State Planning System.  Recent events in our suburb show how the wishes of the people are being ignored by rampant development, conducted by companies with the funding and resources needed to exploit every loophole in the planning regulations.
As one example, the Trust has come into possession of a five page closely written legal opinion provided to a developer by their team of legal advisers.  The paper presents arguments as to why their proposed application should be allowable.  The arguments are so complicated, and make so many references to other documents, that they cannot easily be explained to lay members of the public.  As such the paper, and hence the development application it supports, is effectively beyond challenge by the voting public.
Two major objectives of the NSW Planning System Review should be
  • to simply and clarify the planning rules so that ordinary citizens can understand them and so they can use the rules fully to support valid objections to development applications, and
  • to eliminate loopholes that can be exploited by developers using clever and highly paid lawyers.
Examples of issues that the Trust considers to be loopholes in the system include
·         A Development Application can be submitted with what appear to be promises, but which later turn out to have no legally enforceable stature.  Everything “promised” in an Application should be enforceable with significant penalties for later non-compliance.
·         A DA can be submitted where major issues of public interest are just not addressed.  An example is management of underground car parking intended to be used by residents, shop staff, and customers, and where commuters would park if the system does not bar them.  Any DA for mixed residential / commercial buildings needs to explain clearly how such parking will be controlled to allow short term access to the general public, in sufficient numbers to service all shoppers visiting the retail areas.
·         If a DA is promoted as being for charitable purposes (aged care, affordable housing under the ARH SEPP etc) the developer must be required to ensure that those puposes are fully met in both the short and long term. 
·         The ARH SEPP rule that 20% must be retained as affordable housing allows the developer to write off the Affordable Housing units as a minor impost against the profit on the other 80% of the units.  More importantly the 20% rule leaves the needy people of Sydney without the accommodation that the Affordable Housing SEPP was intended to provide.
·         A DA can be submitted containing demonstrably spurious arguments, like a traffic survey that was conducted during school holidays.  Developers should be required to resubmit applications when such devious tactics are uncovered.
·         A DA claiming a charitable base must be restricted to the appropriate charitable works, and not used as a façade masking a standard commercial development.
·         A DA submitted over a holiday period must automatically be given an extended period for response to permit those on holiday an equal opportunity to reply.
·         Any new zoning should clearly identify the maximum number of dwellings that will be allowed on the plots. 
·         Where such an area is zoned for a particular number of units, the developer must be held to that number or else the zoning should be reconsided against the new target.
The Trust believes that the above examples, all taken from recently submitted development applications, demonstrate how the present Planning System allows unscrupulous developers to hoodwink the public and push through developments that bear little resemblance to the documenation seen by the public and even by the approving authority.
When the public approaches the Trust for clarification of issues in a DA, the Trust has tried to explain, in an unbiased manner, the meaning of such terms, and is often met with horror by the public when they realise how the developers are trying to mask their real intentions by using vague or complex statements.
The Trust wishes to see a Planning System that is open and accountable.  The need for new and altered housing should be met by clearly explained and enforceable development applications subjected to full and informed scrutiny by all concerned members of the public.
Yours faithfully,

Peter Hewitt
Beecroft Cheltenham Civic Trust
0417 215 774 

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