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Into the swamps of the current system, or a clear view of where to go?

By John Mant - posted Thursday, 22 December 2011


The NSW Minister for Planning has asked two lawyers and ex-State Government ministers - Tim Moore and Ron Dyer; one Liberal, the other Labor - to review the NSW Planning System.

Has this review of the planning system morphed into just another review of the detail of the planning legislation? There have been many reviews of the State's Environmental Planning & Assessment Act and each review has just ended up making the system worse. It cannot be fixed unless the fundamental flaws in the drafting of the Act are addressed.

What is needed from the current Review is a fundamental look into the way the State Government plans and the role of legislation in that process. And the Review should not just be about the planners' legislation but should consider the quite excessive number of other development control systems that operate in the State and contribute to making it the most complex and expensive place in Australia in which to do development.

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Where The Review Is Up To

The adoption of what has become an increasingly popular way of doing policy reform has not assisted the Review to adopt a fundamentalist approach. Instead of putting forward some core principles and then encouraging debate on those principles, the process was started by asking the people what they think needs fixing.

While this may sound democratic it can lead to merely fiddling at the margin of change. Especially when dealing with the Heath Robinson machine, which is the NSW planning legislation - legislation many planners consider is the planning system.

The Reviewers have run an arduous round of consultations and received many written submissions. An issues paper has now been produced, an astonishing effort given the time available. The paper summarizes the issues raised by the consultations and invites responses to an equally astonishing list of 238 questions.

Trouble is, the issues raised and questions asked are deeply imbedded in the intricacies of the current legislation. By directing us in such detail to its current intricacies, the reviewers have missed the opportunity to focus our attention on what is really going on here and direct the debate onto core principles. Such a process would have a greater chance of achieving some real reform in both the planning system and to any legislation that might be needed to support such a system.

The Minister's Performance Measure

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There are probably about a dozen key issues that need to be addressed in designing legislation to support a planning system by imposing a development control system, which is what the planning legislation essentially does.

An example of one of those key issues was contained in the clear lead provided by the Minister, Brad Hazzard, when announcing the Review. His sole performance measure clearly invited a fundamental rethink of the nature and operation of the planning system of NSW.

The Minister said:

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About the Author

John Mant is a retired urban planner and lawyer from Sydney.

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