To adopt the words of the NSW Minister for Planning and Public Spaces, the "reform journey starts today".
On 2 December, the Minister announced the aptly named Minister's Planning Principles which seek to simplify and clarify the future direction of planning in NSW. The 9 principles will facilitate a simplification of the planning system through a thematic rearrangement and revision of existing strategic plans and planning instruments, which provide the key planning and development controls in NSW.
What do the planning principles do?
The Minister intends to make a direction under section 9.1 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (Planning Act), confirming that the principles need to be embedded into every plan and development moving forward, and given practical effect.
The Minister proposed that the 45 current State Environmental Planning Policies (SEPPs) would be condensed into 9 primary SEPPs, each operating below one of the 9 planning principles. He also indicated that the principles would inform strategic regional, district and local plans (which provide strategic direction for land use planning) and local environmental plans (which provide local planning controls).
We have outlined the principles below, and they are set out in this publication. They emphasise sustainable development (particularly climate change mitigation and adaptation, and enhanced resilience), place-based thinking, integration of infrastructure, affordable housing, the conservation and management of natural resources, and early and sustained engagement with Aboriginal people.
What don't the planning principles do?
The Minister offered reassurance that the planning principles do not complicate the current system, or add any additional layers to the planning process. Specifically, they do not supersede or overrule the functions of the strategic land planning system or consent authorities. Instead, the planning principles seek to serve as supplementary assistance where the direction of strategic planning is unclear, and to guide future planning instruments.
The Minister also confirmed that the planning principles are not designed to be directly considered by consent authorities, such as local councils, when they assess development. Instead, they "will shape on the ground outcomes and promote sustainable development" by informing strategic and land use policy decisions that will subsequently inform development assessment and decision-making.
Outline of the planning principles
The planning principles are organised into nine key areas, which have been developed to reflect key aspects of the environment that are actively managed through the NSW planning system. The Minister was keen to point out that many of the principles are high-level and are to be achieved across the whole strategic plan. All the planning principles must be read together in context, and there is no hierarchy in how they are to be implemented.
The principles can be summarised in this way:
- Planning Systems: a strategic and inclusive planning system for the community and the environment
- Design and Place: delivering well-designed places that enhance quality of life, the environment and the economy
- Biodiversity and conservation: preserving, conserving and managing NSW’s natural environment and heritage
- Resilience and hazards: managing risks and building resilience in the face of hazards
- Transport and infrastructure: providing well-designed and located transport and infrastructure integrated with land use
- Housing: delivering a sufficient supply of safe, diverse, and affordable housing
- Industry and employment: growing a competitive and resilient economy that is adaptive, innovative and delivers jobs
- Resources and energy: promoting the sustainable use of NSW’s resources and transitioning to renewable energy
- Primary production: protecting and supporting agricultural lands and opportunities for primary production.
Implementing the planning principles
While the impact of the planning principles will likely grow as they settle into the planning landscape, they certainly represent a shift from traditional binary concepts of compliance and hint at increased trust placed in developers to navigate the strategic planning space.
The planning principles will be reviewed every five years to ensure that the planning priorities of the community are truly reflected.
The Minister has encouraged planners and the community alike to recognise that the principles are a work in progress, dependent on continued development and implementation on all relevant levels. This suggests that, while the planning principles were not made available for public consultation, the Minster can revise them at any time, so there is still scope to influence them going forward.
What should development proponents do?
Development proponents should review the planning principles and consider whether they are appropriate. It seems there is opportunity to discuss the planning principles before they are implemented in March 2022, and then to discuss how they are implemented in terms of revisions to strategic plans and planning instruments.
Proponents should also consider these principles in designing and locating their projects, to reduce the risk of inconsistency with the principles and facilitate better outcomes for their projects.