|Experienced Mr Woodward points Council in a new direction
- Sutherland Shire will be divided into scores of 'locality areas', each with a well-defined character, if a major Report on the Shire's urban future is endorsed by Council.
- Council commissioned the Report as part of its election pledge to residents that it would find ways to limit or prevent development which is out-of-character with the Shire's green and uncongested image
The Report's author, John Woodward, has had a distinguished career as a Commissioner of Inquiry in planning disputes.
He urges that a new Shire Plan must have at its base a strategy of safeguarding what is left of the natural environment - its remnant bushland, treed slopes, struggling flora-fauna, and pollution-threatened waterways.
The timing is perfect.
"The Report couldn't have arrived at a more helpful moment," says Neil deNett, Chairman of the Shire's coalition of 17 Precinct/Progress associations.
"It has come just when three powerful forces have converged. First, the Shire community's rising alarm at traffic congestion and overdevelopment; second, Council's decision to construct a new 'People's Plan'; third, the publication by State Government of a 'White Paper' which at last makes a bid to meet Sydney-wide criticism of its Urban Consolidation ('pack-em-in') policy.
"The achievement of the Woodward Report is, not only that it has responded to these three separate forces, but also that it has combined the essence of all three in a set of down-to-earth proposals which it offers as a Council committee begins its year-long (or more) process of coming up with a detailed 'People's Plan'"
The prospects are good.
Among a range of possible outcomes, John Woodward believes the Shire would be well advised to:
Woodward sees an opportunity to foster 'quality neighbourhoods'.
Embrace the best of the new ideas offered by the Government's White Paper and use them to the Shire's advantage.
Add ideas of our own, including retention of good elements of the present zoning system.
Negotiate with State Government from strength-of-principle positions which he has outlined.
Embark on education of the community as guardians of the Shire's remarkable natural environment.
Sutherland Council should seize an unexpected opportunity offered by State Government to prepare an innovative Plan for the future direction of the Shire, says John Woodward
He says such a Plan, provided it is put together with full community participation, has a strong chance of gaining the Government's acceptance if it boldly "picks up the best of the ideas of the White Paper" which has just been announced by Planning Minister Dr Andrew Refshauge.
In a phone interview with Shire Life , Mr Woodward explained that all councils' LEPs (local environment plans) must get such approval by the Minister.
"The White Paper marks a significant change for the better in the State's thinking about local plans - it is part of a bid to modernise plan-making in NSW.
"So here is an historic chance to replace the existing baffling complexity of the host of Shire plans, zones, development controls, policies and processes with a single new plan for the whole Shire - 'One Plan'.
"This can fit neatly into the project announced in September by the Mayor to draw up a Peoples' Plan for the Shire, with the utmost participation by the community throughout all stages of the project.
"In my report I have recommended a new focus on localities within the Shire, dividing the Shire into localities that residents relate to, and spelling out both the individual living and natural environment character of each locality.
"Minister Refshauge has provided an opportunity for community and Council to shape the Shire's future in new ways. The Shire will then be in a strong position to say to State Government, 'Look, we have done what your White Paper has urged us to do, and we now want to have the power under the new plan to reject any development that is out-of-character with a locality.
"The Shire can thus confidently and justifiably call on the Minister's pledge to assist councils to create 'quality neighbourhoods' within a new 'world-class planning system', as he puts it in his foreword to the White Paper".
Shire challenged to define 'character of its localities'
The State Government is really proposing what looks like a shift for the better from longstanding urban planning procedures that have produced so much ugliness and overdevelopment in recent decades, says Environment Centre Executive Officer Jim Sloan.
It is a shift from the blunt instrument of the old 'zones' to a recognition of the 'character of localities'. Few Shire residents could follow the bewildering numerical list of zones such as 2(a), 2(b), 2(c), 2(a)1, 2(a)2 and many more.
Now, as the Woodward Report urges, our Council can set about dividing the Shire into meaningful "localities" - perhaps seventy of them - each to be identified by a distinctive local character which is spelled out .
Residents will welcome this new emphasis because they typically value their chosen neighbourhood nearly as much as they do the dwelling they have chosen within it.
As each locality is identified within the Shire, its residents, business people and environmentalists would be drawn into the drafting of a 'Statement of Future Character', a point by point description of the types of development and the controls consistent with that character.
Residents would also have the opportunity to contribute to a 'Local Action Plan' for each locality. This would involve a prioritised program for implementation of needs such as road work, footpaths, cycleways, traffic calming, landscaping, inclusions in the Greenweb, stormwater control, and broad environmental management in a locality- all this being vital detail that cannot be expressed in the present Shire-wide Local Environment Plan.
The concept is challenging, says Jim Sloan. Of course we must be cautious and must lay down specifics. But the concept does offer participation at all stages to residents who really care about their neighbourhood. To Mr Woodward's credit he has glimpsed possibilities here and has highlighted them in his Report.
To his credit too, he has not embraced the Government's White Paper proposals uncritically but has drawn Council's attention to the Paper's invitation to NSW councils to go beyond 'traditional provisions and developments in their plans' (6.1) - that is, to be innovative where local character suggests an initiative. (The Paper gives examples from Tweed, Dubbo and Willoughby councils.)
The White Paper urges councils to construct Plans that will help to deliver six goals:
- sustainable management of resources
- environmental protection
- jobs and infrastructure
- suitable and affordable housing
- healthy and vibrant communities
- attractive and safe neighbourhoods.
These are similar to goals outlined in Sutherland Shire Council's Guide for Shaping the Shire to 2030 . - J.S.
What should Council and Community now do?
Seize the 'localities' approach - and keep the Minister up to what he offers in the White Paper.
Both the Government's White Paper and the Woodward Report emphasise Council's obligation to draw the community into ALL STAGES of the formulation of the new Plan.
Council has taken some positive steps in that direction, but much of what it has done took place around Christmas when people's attention was elsewhere - so invigoration of these efforts is now needed, at the very least through its Newsletter.
Council's Advisory Committee on the 'People's Plan' needs to respect John Woodward's Report by going through his 'Findings and Recommendations', one by one, to decide whether to accept/modify/reject.
Some Councillors, in their busy lives, have not been able to study the Report or the White Paper ; nor have they been able to attend the sessions of the Advisory Committee; so measures should be taken to inform them, by briefing meetings and other means.
Woodward's Report speaks of unfortunate conflicts between the Engineering and Environmental departments of Council and within the Environmental department itself - surely these can be settled soon and amicably.
The Report urges that Council set up a new Transport and Traffic Forum to rationalise its present plurality of relevant committees - this could be done quickly.
Efficient implementation is vital. The Plan itself is only half the answer; the better half is implementation by convinced and knowledgeable people. Training of staff should begin sooner rather than later.
Prioritising is obviously necessary. The Report recommends looking to the eastern part of the Shire first, with the urgencies being in Miranda, Caringbah and Cronulla; as to the western suburbs (around Menai), their turn would come after their transport and traffic problems have been substantially improved.
Council needs to put together a top team of negotiators who will bring knowledge, bargaining skills and political savvy to the task of steering its draft Plan past DUAP and the Minister (not to mention the new unknow quantity, the Regional Forum).