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Time to rewrite the NSW Planning Legislation

By John Mant - posted Wednesday, 16 March 2011

The incoming government of NSW has promised to review the State's planning legislation, the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979.

This proposed review will bring out the usual fantasies about what planning legislation can achieve. No doubt these will include, health, sustainability and beauty, together with easier development supported by happy communities. And affordable housing, of course.

What is actually possible?


Planning legislation imposes controls over development

We often hear of 'positive' planning legislation that is more than just 'control over development'.

Fact is, the central thing planning legislation does is to impose restrictions on what you can do and build on your land. 'Positive planning' is nothing more than lifting some of the controls that used to apply to your land, thereby allowing you to do more 'positive' things with it. The legislation is still about imposing controls; it is still essentially 'negative'.

Many decisions by governments apart from the controls that apply to your or your neighbours' lots affect the value of your land. If a government's budget expenditure provides a railway station and new line nearby, the value of your land will probably go up. The same will happen if government improves the quality of the local school, or if the local crime rate goes down.

While many things that government does affect the place where you live, the legislation imposing a development control system is not a good instrument for controlling how and when governments make all those other important decisions.

Controlling development is just one of the means of trying to make sustainable cities and towns, and legislation for this purpose should not try to do more than set up an efficient, effective and transparent development control system.


Planning Legislation Will Not Control Budgets

As an example of the fantasies about planning legislation, ever-hopeful planners like to think their plans could control the budgets of governments. The argument goes, if the controls are altered to allow development where previously it was prohibited, then those plans also should make it illegal for governments not to spend money on the infrastructure necessary to support the new developments.

It won't happen.

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About the Author

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

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