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FOKE

More on the threats facing Ku-ring-gai

This page provides further detail on urban consolidation , political donations , State Environmental Planning Policies , Ku-ring-gai Council’s planning policies and documents and population policy.

Urban consolidation

This policy appears to have no justifiable rationale.  Quite the opposite – others, such as Save Our Suburbs, have mounted strong cases that demonstrate basic flaws in the policy; flaws that the State Government has not even attempted to rebut.  In FOKE’s view, a policy that threatens so much built and natural heritage, that steals so much amenity and property value from existing residents, deserves not mere justification, but should be required to show compelling net benefit to the NSW community.

The starting point for many proponents of so-called urban consolidation is to argue that "urban sprawl" must be halted.  The NSW State Government, in restricting the availability of further land in the outer ring of the Sydney basin for housing, has taken up this argument.  The result has been rapidly increasing land prices, as buyers compete for the limited land available. ‘Housing affordability’ has fallen to record levels.  A deal of this is due to increasing house size, and more facilities, but land prices, including the cost of basic infrastructure, are a major factor.

But this simplistic rationale has many flaws.

Political donations Go to top of page

In the absence of any proper justification of urban consolidation, it is not surprising that many believe that the policy has its real basis more in the flow of donations and favours from property developers to major political parties, individual politicians and particularly to the government of the day.  There have been many recent revelations of corruption, influence-peddling, and illegal donations that appear to coincide with planning decisions of doubtful probity.  These have led many to question whether political donations should be allowed at all, or should be capped at very low levels.  Not only are such donations a threat to proper planning process, they bring politicians generally into disrepute, and strike at the foundation of transparent political process.

The NSW Government has made useful changes to some features of the political donation regime, but has also foreshadowed the possibility of reverting to something closer to the former regime.  Whatever, problems will remain unless the root of the problem is addressed.  All significant donations should be disclosed on the Election Funding Authority web site in timely fashion – daily in the period immediately preceding an election, not six months after the event!  Voters deserve to know, when they vote, who is paying the piper.

Penalties for non-disclosure and late disclosure should effectively treat amounts that are disclosed late, or are not disclosed at all, as bribes.  Penalties for politicians should include loss of office.  Until then, many will continue to treat their disclosure responsibilities as minor, if not with contempt.  Penalties that invite comparison with a slap on the wrist with a wilted lettuce leaf are nothing less than an invitation to laxity, malpractice and corruption.

The report of the above inquiry into political donations may be found here. To explore timing "coincidences" between past political donations and planning decisions, plus links to other useful sites, see www.democracy4sale.org.

State Environmental Planning Policies (SEPPs) Go to top of page

Political donations allow developers and others to wield influence on those with responsibility for:

People with such responsiilities may be found at many levels – local councils (both staff and councillors), planning panels (staff and panel members) and the Department of Planning (ministerial and departmental staff, plus ministers. Just as important a threat to transparent planning policy is the existence of State Environmental Planning Policies (SEPPs).  These allow the exercise of centralised and potentially arbitrary power.  For some time the use of SEPPs have allowed the State Government to exercise very significant planning powers with little accountability.   Unlike legislation and regulations, SEPPs are issued with effectively no parliamentary scrutiny.  Most vest very significant power in the Planning Minister.  In particular, there is little if any opportunity to challenge whether a Planning Minister’s decisions have been reached reasonably, having regard to the facts, or after due process.  No matter how arbitrary a decision may seem, how capricious the exercise of power may be, how tainted a decision may appear by an apparently associated political donation, decisions are effectively final.

Ku-ring-gai Council’s planning policies and documents Go to top of page

To complete the range of planning policies and documents affecting building and development in Ku-ring-gai, you should also check out Ku-ring-gai Council’s own planning policies and documents, accessible on its web site.

A number of these items include provisions thrust upon Council by the Planning Minister or his department, notwithstanding that some of them appear in stark contradiction to SEPP No. 65 – Design Quality of Residential Flat Development.  Moreover, new or changed Local Environmental Plans (LEPs) require ministerial consent before they can be formally ‘exhibited’ – the first step towards ‘gazettal’, which also requires ministerial consent.  In recent times, the minister and his department have been unwilling to allow any changes sought by Council.  However, Development Control Plans (DCPs) remain basically a matter for Council.  the controls set out in LEPs, however, take precedence over those in DCPs.

Regional Planning Panels Go to top of page

In Ku-ring-gai, and just two other local government areas in NSW, the position has been made worse by a "Planning Panel", appointed by the Minister to take over all significant planning powers of Ku-ring-gai Council.  The three-member panel is chaired by Elizabeth Crouch and was appointed for two years, coming into effect on 3 March 2008.  The detail of the Panel’s role is set out here , but the three main roles are:

Each of these has the potential to bring huge change to Ku-ring-gai and its residents, affecting heritage, environment, streetscape, traffic and amenity, as well as the ability of existing infrastructure to cope.  Much of the cost of necessary infrastructure upgrades will fall on residents.  And all these decisions are now being made by people who have not chosen to live in Ku-ring-gai, and who won’t have to live with the results of their decisions.

Residents deserve to have their views on Ku-ring-gai’s town centres heard, treated with respect, and heeded.   But quite the reverse has applied.  Residents’ views have generally been treated with a mix of condescension, scorn and contempt.  Such ‘consultation’ as has occurred has been superficial.  Residents have been effectively disenfranchised.

It is simply not acceptable that suburban residents – in Ku-ring-gai or anywhere else in Sydney – should be required to accept massive change to their town centres and suburban streets simply because some ‘planning experts’ have decided they know better than us how we wish to shop or otherwise conduct our lives!  Our views should prevail!

Population policy Go to top of page

There appears to be a complete disconnect between

All this points to the need for a serious national debate on immigration levels, in which the views of Federal, State and Local governments are all reflected, and where the interests of all our residents and citizens are paid heed, not just those of the developers whose interests lie in trashing suburbs and the quality of life in them.

Otherwise, State housing strategies will increasingly be seen to serve the symbiotic relationship between major political parties and the developers of apartment buildings.  Current strategies and policies, unjustified or arrogantly imposed, threaten the democratic process, and democracy itself.

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