The NSW Government has released a controversial planning policy, one week before Christmas.

At the end of November, NSW Planning Minister Paul Scully announced proposed changes to planning rules that would automatically increase density in areas currently zoned R2 (low-density residential) and R3 (medium-density residential).

The changes came in the wake of NSW Premier Chris Minns (image below) singling out areas such as Pittwater on the Northern Beaches, saying it was ‘gripped’ by NIMBYism (Not In My Backyard) and not taking a fair share of housing development.

NSW Premier Chris Minns addresses NSW Parliament

A number of claims were made to play down the potential impact of the policy, including during a debate in the November meeting of Northern Beaches Council, that it was intended to increase density in the vicinity of ‘train stations’ and would therefore not apply to the Northern Beaches.

This week the NSW Department of Planning and Environment released a detailed policy document titled ‘Explanation of Intended Effect: Changes to create low-and mid-rise housing’. The policy document has confirmed that the proposed changes are not limited to the vicinity of train stations and will apply to the Northern Beaches.

The initial confusion may have originated from the definition of ‘Station and town centres precincts’ which had not been stipulated until the release of the document this week. They are now clearly defined by the following;

The Station and town centres precincts are proposed to be:

  • Within the Six Cities Region (i.e. Greater Sydney)
  • 800m walking distance of a heavy rail, metro or light rail station; or
  • 800m walking distance of land zoned E2 Commercial Centre or SP5 Metropolitan Centre; or
  • 800m walking distance of land zoned E1 Local Centre or MU1 Mixed Use, but only if the zone contains a wide range of frequently used goods and services including full line supermarkets, shops and restaurants

The policy says input from Councils will be sought, but is also clear that where Council has established planning controls that are more restrictive than the proposed change, the most permissive control will apply, with the new policy overriding more restrictive local planning controls.

The detail reveals areas that had previously been thought relatively immune from mid-rise (six-storey) development, such as Avalon Beach and Belrose appear to fit within the government ‘precinct’ definition.

Six-storey height limits will be slightly more restricted than initially thought, permissible only within 400m of the defined precinct boundary. Beyond 400m the allowable height will step down to three storeys out to 800m. Areas zoned R2 will also be permitted to increase density, with ‘low-rise’ apartments and other multi-occupancy dwellings.

If adopted, this could result in urban renewal of areas such as Mona Vale, with the area east of Barrenjoey Road to Mona Vale Beach zoned R3, currently occupied by three-level apartment buildings built decades ago.

The uplift in building heights will make it economically viable to demolish the existing buildings and reconstruct them as six-storey apartments. Current owners are likely to see windfall capital gains as a result. Areas zoned R2 will likely see some amalgamation of landholdings and demolition of detached housing for the purpose of building ‘low-rise’ apartment buildings, which the policy defines as up to 9.5m in height.

Northern Beaches Council

After initially adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach until the policy detail was released, Northern Beaches Council have reacted with alarm, revealing that some developments may go as high as seven storeys in the case of shop top housing in town centres.

“These changes have considerable implications for our area. Should the changes come into effect, our area would look drastically different.

“These radical changes raise several concerns for Council around planning, infrastructure, the environment, and hazards.

“Council is preparing a submission on the proposed reforms. We have also written to the Honourable Paul Scully, Minister for Planning and Public Spaces, expressing significant concerns about the radical proposal, and requested an urgent meeting with the Premier and Minister for Planning,” said the Council statement.

Council have identified areas of specific impact, including Avalon Beach, Mona Vale, Narrabeen, Dee Why, Balgowlah, Manly, Forestville, Frenchs Forest, and Belrose. They also referred to the proposal as ‘rezoning by stealth’.

Pittwater MP Rory Amon

Pittwater MP and Shadow Assistant Minister for Planning Rory Amon (image above) slammed the plans, saying his initial concerns about the proposal had been vindicated, with height limits effectively doubled under the proposals.

“The Government’s plans to dump significant development in Pittwater without adequate infrastructure is wicked. The Government have cancelled the Mona Vale Road West widening, putting lives at risk, have canned the Beaches Link Tunnel, and Federal Labor have ripped $75m from the Wakehurst Parkway funding. These cancelled projects and density will leave our suburbs in gridlock and ruin our quality of life.

“Independents who claimed to be in a position to negotiate with Labor have failed to save us from this onslaught. We are not against development, but we are dead set against development without adequate infrastructure. In an area without mass transport options, these changes are unacceptable. With our community, we will fight this unreasonable plan and I will let them know how they can help in the weeks ahead,” said Mr Amon.

Wakehurst MP Michael Regan

Member for Wakehurst and Northern Beaches Councillor Michael Regan (image above) left the Council Chamber before a vote at Tuesday evening’s (19 December) Council meeting to seek an urgent meeting with the Premier and Minister for Planning over the proposed changes.

Mr Regan said that while he welcomed the NSW Government’s commitment to increasing housing supply, and supported the effort to expand the mix of housing types, he did not support a blanket approach to density on the Northern Beaches.

“In my dealings with the Planning Minister and the Premier, it is clear they understand the infrastructure constraints on the Northern Beaches, which impact the amount of growth that can be accommodated. Equally they have been open with all Councils that this is a consultation, and that Councils that meet or exceed the intent will be exempt from any SEPP [State Environmental Planning Policy].

“The critical piece here is the desire to work with the local councils to ensure they are not fudging their responsibility in delivering housing choice for their LGA [Local Government Area]. So when 80 percent of Councils don’t allow dual occupancy, or terraces and the like, the government has identified this as an issue and decided to step in.

“I will continue to work with the Planning Minister, as well as Northern Beaches Council and my fellow Councillors, to deliver more diverse and affordable housing options in strategic locations, consistent with the Northern Beaches Local Housing Strategy.

“I don’t support the blanket application of density changes by the NSW Government which do not take into account the fundamental infrastructure constraints of the Northern Beaches, or other parts of Sydney for that matter.

“With the Beaches Link Tunnel cancelled the capacity for Northern Beaches to increase housing is limited. That meant that the 6,000 dwellings planned for around the Hospital [Northern Beaches Hospital] is now 2,000. Equally, the Town Centre of Brookvale is capped at around 1,300 dwellings until the intersection outside Officeworks is upgraded. Any increase in population must come with detailed infrastructure planning to accommodate growth.

“I have a successful track record of working with the Governments of the day and am working hard to get the best outcome for the Northern Beaches.

“These are significant and important reforms that will deliver more diverse housing for all generations across the state and critically here on the Beaches. The current proposal on exhibition is not without risks and together with Northern Beaches Council, I am engaging rigorously to negotiate a more strategic approach,” said Mr Regan.

Matt Cross at Glenrose Village Shopping Centre

Member for Davidson Matt Cross (image above), whose electorate also includes the rail corridor between Roseville and Gordon, expressed concerns about plans to increase density without accompanying infrastructure.

“Planning should include detailed plans about how our local community will continue to be a vibrant place to live. Any increase to population will require further investment in infrastructure to our roads, public transport, schools, hospitals, and green space. I will continue to strongly advocate for our community’s fair share of infrastructure,” said Mr Cross.

Woodlands Estate at Mona Vale

Urban planning expert and Chair of the Mona Vale & District Association Kelvin Auld said a one-size-fits-all approach was inappropriate for Pittwater.

“Labor’s proposed changes don’t adequately consider our unique Pittwater context, physical constraints and capacity of urban infrastructure, transport and human services.

“Labor’s changes, if made, conflict with and undermine Council’s local strategies and community involvement in the development of those strategies.

“In particular, all the good work on the new Mona Vale Place Plan would be negated resulting in an inappropriate scale of development without adequate infrastructure and services.

“The Association welcomes Council’s decision in opposition to the changes and seeking an urgent meeting with the Premier [Chris Minns] and Planning Minister [Paul Scully].

“The Association would like Council planners to prepare a comprehensive analysis and submission objecting to the EIE [Explanation of Intended Effect] on exhibition and make it available prior to the end of the exhibition period to assist the community,” said Mr Auld.

Northern Beaches Local Housing Strategy

The full details of the NSW Government’s proposed changes to housing density are explained with accompanying rationale in the document ‘Explanation of Intended Effect: Changes to create low-and mid-rise housing’ (PDF). The proposed changes are on public exhibition and submissions can be made until Friday, 23 February 2023.

Impact on properties can be understood by looking at zoning maps available via Northern Beaches Council’s planning website. Currently, the maps remain split by the former LGAs of Pittwater, Warringah and Manly. To see what areas are currently zoned R2 and R3 in your area, visit this webpage and use the pull down menu at the top left, choosing the relevant LGA Zoning Map and zooming in to see the detail in the desired area.

Images: NSW Government, Northern Beaches Advocate

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