Planning for Emerald City begins in earnest

MacroPlan’s General Manager NSW, Wayne Gersbach, provides insight into the content and context of the recently published District Plans for Sydney. Sydney’s long awaited Draft District Plans (six in all) have been released for public comment. They will remain on exhibition until the end of March 2017.

The plans are accompanied by a Draft Amendment to the current metropolitan strategy which is also on public exhibition until the end of March.

The Draft Amendment is entitled ‘Towards our Greater Sydney 2056’. It ‘reconceptualises’ Greater Sydney as  a metropolis of three cities and is exhibited along with the District Plans to reflect contemporary thinking about Sydney’s future. The three cities represent a new polycentric approach to the planning of Sydney and go by the rather uninspiring titles of:

  • Eastern City – encompassing Sydney City and the economic corridor through to Macquarie Park.
  • Central City – around Greater Parramatta and Olympic Park (GPOP), expected to function as a health, education and administrative service and business hub by 2036.
  • Western City – supported by a new ‘City Deal’ with the federal government to drive a new economy in the emerging ‘aerotropolis’ around the Western Sydney Airport  and its four satellite strategic centres (Penrith, Blacktown, Liverpool and Campbelltown-Macarthur).

The Draft District Plans are required to be considered for planning proposals – i.e. they will form part of the strategic merit framework for all rezonings from this point on. They may also be considered in the assessment of DAs, to the extent that they inform the objects of the EP&A Act.

Ultimately the District Plans will inform the preparation of local environmental plans (LEPs) by each of the Councils that make up their respective districts and will guide strategic land use, transport and infrastructure decisions across local government areas.

The plans are voluminous (over 150 pages per plan) – there is way too much content to cover in a single attempt. Instead, the following observations are gleaned from a first reading of the content:

  • Like plans before them, it is hard to argue with their intent – they espouse a productive, liveable and sustainable city.
  • There is much dependence, however on the interpretation of the plans by local councils. Councils, for example, are required to once again develop ‘housing strategies’ for their own LGAs. These were robustly approached last time round but faded in their relevance and scope. The District Plans provide 5-year and 20-year housing targets for the districts and their constituent councils. These will need to be tested in a market sense. The city’s track record of meeting housing targets is not good and will need to be carefully guided.
  • Oddly enough, from MacroPlan’s perspective, which routinely is focused on new development opportunity, I am more impressed with the vision promoted for a sustainable city than I am with what is provided in the context of a productive and liveable city – an enriched harbour city, a river city with a restored natural landscape and a parkland city that serves our western districts paints an appealing city of the future, connected by a series of blue and green grids.
  • On the other hand, there is much work to be done in informing a coherent approach to achieving the productive and liveable aspects of the plans. Little detail is provided about how jobs targets will be achieved. There is also an apparent over-reliance on centres, without any new insight into how these function and to what capacity they may be developed. From a retail perspective, there is an admission, for the first time in a metropolitan strategy, that new business space is required and that most of this will be needed in the established city. Again, little detail on where or how retail need will be catered for is provided.
  • And then there is employment land – a precautionary approach is promoted which will make rezonings even more difficult, but little insight is provided with respect to how these lands will be transitioned to provide a higher employment dividend.
  • Incorporating the provision of affordable housing into new housing delivery will also require industry examination, whilst the missing middle still seems to miss its target – whatever happened to 4-8 storey apartments as a viable urban infill housing approach. Isn’t this medium density housing? Middle Sydney will require a much higher development return if it is to be tempted to redevelop in the way that is envisaged.

Lastly, the implementation of the plans requires further thought. Unless Council’s get started now, there will be an inevitable delay between finalization of the District Plans and new metropolitan strategy and the advent of new council LEPs. Given housing targets are set at a much higher level than previous plans, this hiatus may prove to be telling and, potentially, counter-productive to the aims of the District Plans in the short- to medium-term.

MacroPlan is representing a number of clients in relation to submissions to the Greater Sydney Commission to promote the inclusion of potentially developable lands into the urban footprint. This work entails a detailed understanding of the State and local government planning regulations and expertise in economic and socio-demographic analysis, interpretation and forecasting - skills sets that are the core function of MacroPlan.

Contact us today about how these plans affect your interests and how we can support you in delivering a well-researched and comprehensive submission.  Every submission will have a different emphasis according to the nature of your business. Submissions close end of March 2017.