22 Dec 2016

Visions of lattes and polycentric cities: the Greater Sydney Commission draft district plans

By Jennifer Harris and Nikki Robinson

The Greater Sydney Commission is calling for submissions to inform the next iteration of the draft District Plans. 

The District Plans will have teeth. They will influence actions in Greater Sydney’s metropolitan plan, and they will ensure local environmental plans have sufficient direction to drive improvements for local communities" but what role do the draft District Plans play now?

Councils will be required to amend their local environment plans to align with the District Plans, which will also become a consideration for planning authorities in regards to planning proposals put forward from 21 November 2016 onwards.

Who should read the draft District Plans?

Developers, councils and government agencies all have a vested interest in reviewing the draft District Plans issued by the Greater Sydney Commission on 21 November 2016. 

The draft District Plans are required by NSW Planning legislation and give effect to the Greater Sydney regional plan, A Plan for Growing Sydney (which was released in 2014).

For developers and councils, it is important to be aware that the draft plans need to be considered as part of the merit assessment for any planning proposal and gateway review process. In some cases the draft  District Plans can be relevant to the assessment of development applications. 

Polycentric cities

The establishment of three great cities in the Greater Sydney Region is emerging as the core organising principle of the Greater Sydney Commission’s work. This is a critical piece of the 30 minute city vision and sets the scene for achieving the goal of people being able to live within 30 minutes of where they work, study and play.

Towards Our Greater Sydney 2056 is the draft 40-year vision underpinning each of the draft District Plans; it identifies three cities based around:

  • Eastern City (CBD);
  • Central City (Parramatta); and
  • Western City (focused around the Western Sydney Airport).

What are the priorities/ opportunities are identified in the draft District Plans?

At the heart of the strategic vision for each of the six districts is a metropolitan wide objective for Sydney to be a more livable, productive and sustainable city.

There is a consistent message about getting the balance right between creating and nurturing great local neighbourhoods while building great urban systems – such as transport, water and other utilities and public resources including parks, education and health.

Across each of the districts there are some common key themes:


  • Provide five year housing targets for councils;
  • Provide 20 year District housing targets;
  • Require Councils to undertake Housing Studies to inform the 20 year targets;
  • Introduce affordable rental housing at a rate of 5 -10% to apply to land within new urban renewal or land release areas identified via a local or district housing strategy;
  • Increase social housing provision; and
  • Support innovative school planning and provision.


  • Deliver a "Green Grid" of open space for Sydney;
  • Manage a "Blue Grid" of waterways and catchments to support biodiversity; and
  • Plan a resource efficient and resilient city.


  • Promote office and retail activity in strategic centres and some District centres (via B3 zones);
  • Provide 20 year Job targets for Strategic and District centres;
  • Recognise health and education super precincts that will create opportunity to stimulate economic activity;
  • Identify the importance of freight access and movement; and
  • Manage employment and urban services land by taking a precautionary approach to re-zoning of that land and to step away from the previous industrial lands checklist in A Plan for Growing Sydney.

What does a precautionary approach to re-zoning mean in the draft District Plans?

We have heard anecdotally that the precautionary approach referred to in the draft District Plans may be interpreted differently by different councils.  For developers this lack of certainty will be a challenge and an opportunity to influence outcomes. 

Last week Geoff Roberts from Greater Sydney Commission addressed these concerns. He said that the Greater Sydney Commission does not expect councils to stop progressing re-zonings or development applications while the District Plans are finalised. 

Both councils and developers have an interest in getting certainty from the Greater Sydney Commission, even before the District Plans are finalised. 

We recommend developers keep channels of communication open  with their advisers, because  each local council can interpret the precautionary approach in its own way so developers can't assume that one analysis will be shared by all councils

The coming months will be a period of flux and transition so developers and councils need to work closely together to ensure the outcomes they are seeking meet their needs. 

Collaboration areas ‒ watch this space

The draft District Plans have identified Collaboration Areas where significant productivity, liveability or sustainability outcomes can be achieved through the collaboration of different levels of government and the private sector.

In the Bradfield Oration on 19 October 2016,  Lucy Turnbull said  

”…the time has come for us to rethink how the Government interacts with the private sector on major city-shaping projects. … I have found the formalistic structure and probity rules around normal conversation and engagement with people who are often the innovators and deliverers of creative, better solutions for our city – who often happen to be in the building development industry – can be constraining. Particularly on issues such as affordable housing, carbon neutrality and high quality urban design, we need to ensure that we have a culture that encourages communication and collaboration that promotes private sector innovation too."

The regulatory  frameworks that govern arrangements between the  public sector and the private sector need to be streamlined significantly  to create a regime that encourages communication and collaboration between the public and private sector and which promotes private sector innovation too. 

There is no doubt a more workable system would benefit the public and the private sector and create greater alignments and opportunities for Government and the private sector to deliver on the vision set out in the draft District Plans.

This may, in time, require a review of the procurement provisions with the Local Government Act which currently apply equally to the purchase of goods (ie. rubbish bins) as to the delivery of large-scale urban renewal projects.

What next?

The Greater Sydney Commission is calling for submissions to inform the next iteration of the draft District Plans.

We will be reviewing the draft District Plans in further detail, and continue to analyse industry commentary and opinions on the key themes and impacts.  We know there is already heated debate about the affordable rental housing rates, so we will be focusing on that in more detail.   We will share further updates with you.


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Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this communication. Persons listed may not be admitted in all States and Territories.