March 24 2022
Almost unbelievably, NSW Planning Minister Andrew Roberts has scrapped requirement of his predecessor Rob Stokes that fire and flood risks be considered in planning approvals. This is only a week after the worst floods in history, and a few months after the worst bushfires.
His excuse was that he had a priority to act on affordable housing. No doubt flood-prone land is cheaper.
One might think that It is almost impossible to explain such stupidity, but we might note that the Property Council and the Urban Taskforce supported the decision, with the usual disparagement of ‘red tape.’
We might also note that Minister Roberts started working in Parliamentary offices at the age of 22, worked for Flagship Communications as a PR person and was cited by journalist Chris Masters as the liaison person between Alan Jones and John Howard’s offices. Flagship Communications was the PR company for the Orange Grove development, which set up a ‘factory outlet’ and turned it into a full blown shopping complex (until it was shut down by then-Premier Bob Carr after lobbying from Westfield). He became an MP at the age of 33 as member for Lane Cove.
There has been quite a lot of negative reaction to his planning decision in the letters columns.
Here is the SMH story:
NSW Planning Minister scraps order to consider flood, fire risks before building
By Julie Power March 22, 2022
NSW Planning Minister Anthony Roberts scrapped a requirement to consider the risks of floods and fires before building new homes only two weeks after it came into effect and while the state was reeling from a deadly environmental disaster.
Mr Roberts last week revoked a ministerial directive by his predecessor Robert Stokes outlining nine principles for sustainable development, including managing the risks of climate change, a decision top architects have branded “short-sighted” and hard to understand.
But a spokesperson for Mr Roberts said the minister had been “given a clear set of priorities to deliver a pipeline of new housing supply and act on housing affordability” by Premier Dominic Perrottet.
The president of the NSW chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects, Laura Cockburn, said the decision was difficult to understand “after the recent devastating floods and with bushfires still scorched in our memory”.
The revoked directives had sought to address “risk-management and resilience-building in the face of such disasters”, Ms Cockburn said.
“In the midst of our current flood and housing crises, why would a government choose to remove planning principles aimed at disaster resilience, and delivering affordable housing?” she said. “This is a short-sighted decision that could have enduring negative impacts.”
Mr Roberts’ spokesperson said: “The minister did not consider that the planning principles due to take effect on March 1 would assist in delivering his priorities so discontinued the principles and issued a new ministerial direction to that effect.”
Mr Roberts’ move coincides with expectations the government will also scrap or substantially change the new Design and Place State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) under consideration for apartments and homes. The policy stresses sustainability, quality and liveability by requiring, for example, better ventilation.
Mr Stokes’ directive on sustainable development, issued on December 2 but in effect from March 1, was designed to simplify the planning system, cut red tape and put people first. It said housing should meet the needs of the present “without compromising those of the future”. It was scrapped on March 14.
These principles are also reflected in the new design policy developed by the office of the State Architect. It is being reviewed.
Mr Stokes directed the planning department, developers and councils to also consult Indigenous landowners, consider the risk of climate change, and provide the public with information about the risks of natural disasters where they developed, lived or worked.
“Land use should be compatible with the level of risk of an area, such as open space or playing fields in flood-prone locations,” Mr Stokes’ statement of principles said.
Many in the property industry expect Mr Roberts will abandon plans for the new Design and Place SEPP.
Luke Achterstraat, NSW executive director of the Property Council of Australia, supported Mr Roberts’ move. With NSW facing a shortage of about 100,000 dwellings, the council backed any measure that sought to reduce red tape and activity that would “unblock” the planning system.
“The added significance of why we support the Minister’s announcement is that he has doubled down on housing supply and affordability, and has recognised the industry has been in an elongated process of policy reform.”
He said the Property Council expected the new Design and Place SEPP would either be set aside or substantially changed. Mr Achterstraat said the government’s own modelling found they would cost an additional $2.3 billion.
The chief executive of Urban Taskforce Australia Tom Forrest also applauded Mr Roberts’ decision.
“Planners were confused. Lawyers were aghast. Developers were exasperated. It is great to see this unwelcome initiative abandoned,” Mr Forrest told The Urban Developer, which first reported Mr Roberts’ policy change.
Stephen Albin, an analyst and principal of consultants Urbanised, advised Mr Stokes on the scotched principles.
He was disappointed to see Mr Stokes’ principles abandoned when NSW’s planning system needed reform. “The definition of stupidity is doing something again and again, and expecting another result,” he said. “We wanted a modern planning system that was inclusive.”
Ms Cockburn said she hoped the latest change by Mr Roberts would not impede the significant efforts to design places to meet the needs of their communities in the Design and Place SEPP.
Architects across Australia are also campaigning for new planning policies that ensure clearer standards and codes to protect consumers from worsening impacts of climate change, including new controls for building in floodplains.
A recently released research report by Climate Valuation found a million homes nationwide will be “at high risk of devastating riverine flooding by 2030 without investment in adaptation and mitigation”.
The future of building on floodplains will also form part of the inquiry into the NSW disaster that has left nine people dead and thousands with damaged homes.