‘Semi-cooked’: Property sector asks new minister to rethink predecessor’s reforms
The property industry has called on new NSW Planning Minister Anthony Roberts to immediately review his predecessor’s legacy urban-reform policy amid an outcry from developers that it will worsen housing affordability.
Rob Stokes, who has been handed the portfolio of Cities, Infrastructure and Active Transport, released his long-awaited Design and Place state planning policy this month, 11 days before the cabinet reshuffle that saw Mr Roberts resume his previous role in planning.
The aspirational, principle-based document aims to transform the city’s urban and housing designs with a focus on lessons from the pandemic and climate change, however industry lobby groups have criticised it as containing unworkable thresholds that will be rigidly applied by councils.
Property Council of Australia NSW executive director Luke Achterstraat said the wide-ranging policy, which covers access to open green space, the liveability of apartments, and sustainable design, was “well-intentioned” but would impact affordability and investment in the sector.
“We anticipate the incoming minister would re-examine the status of that policy,” Mr Achterstraat told the Herald, saying it was open to Mr Roberts to withdraw the draft policy from public exhibition for it to be reworked.
“Given we feel it was put out semi-cooked, the minister should look into whether he feels it was an appropriate decision … that might involve setting it aside.”
The government had been workshopping the policy with industry and other stakeholders since it was first aired in February, and Mr Stokes last week warned councils the state would intervene if they lagged in assessing major residential projects.
Developers previously complained of the floor-space limits for apartment blocks, as well as minimum requirements for tree-planting for new developments, while the measures were praised by urban heat experts. Influential think-tank the Committee for Sydney has backed reform of the city’s urban planning rules to increase accessibility and open space.
Mr Roberts, who left the Corrections and Counter-Terrorism portfolio for his former role after being sworn in on Monday, said he was now looking to focus on “productivity, performance and probity”.
“The NSW government is increasing housing supply and focusing on end-to-end housing [from homelessness to homeownership] for the next generation,” he said.
Mr Roberts exited the planning ministry following the 2019 state election, during which overdevelopment became a contentious issue, with Ryde MP Victor Dominello securing a rezoning freeze in his area after speaking out against the scale of construction.
Speaking at a forum in September 2018, Mr Roberts said, “overdevelopment does not exist, infrastructure failure exists”, and Sydney’s “bumbling planning history” meant infrastructure and services needed to meet or exceed housing growth.
Mr Stokes argued increasing housing supply wasn’t the panacea for the affordability crisis, focusing instead on boosting the diversity of accommodation offerings, but industry groups say they want reforms that will boost supply.
The Urban Development Institute of Australia’s NSW branch chief executive, Steve Mann, said it would be an “urgent” task of the new minister to increase the number of apartments around new transport hubs.
The reunification of the housing and planning portfolios under Mr Roberts has been widely welcomed by the industry and experts, with University of NSW City Futures Research Centre director Bill Randolph calling it a “sensible tidying up”. Mr Roberts is also now the Minister for Homes, instead of “housing”.
“We know there’s going to have to be a focus on policy that address housing affordability, so I imagine what that signals are further efforts to increase supply,” Professor Randolph said.
But University of Sydney urban planning expert Nicole Gurran said it would be a mistake to think marrying the two portfolios would lead to an increase in supply unless investment in social and affordable housing was boosted.
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