Introduction

Bob Walshe
Sutherland Shire Environment Centre

Ladies and gentlemen, good morning, and a greeting from the Forum’s sponsors:

Combined Resident/Precincts of Sutherland Shire
Sutherland Shire Environment Centre
EcoTransit Sydney
Total Environment Centre
Sutherland Shire Council

My name is Bob Walshe, from the Environment Centre, which has done much of the detailed organising of the Forum. This has been a particularly difficult year for everyone concerned with Sydney’s urban problems – and today we shall directly confront those problems with the help of some very well-informed people.

The Forum may be seen as having its genesis in the White Paper issued in February by State Government’s Department of Urban Affairs and Planning (DUAP), the paper that goes by the name PlanFirst and is sub-titled "A Review of Plan Making in New South Wales".

PlanFirst explicitly promised a very great deal: to be "more inclusive", "more user-friendly", "more outcomes driven" than in previous planning, according to Minister Refshauge – and to facilitate planning for "sustainability", "greater community involvement" and "promotion of partnering" between government and community in "shaping quality neighbourhoods" – the complexity of past planning would give way to "a single local plan for each local government area".

In one word, it sounded good. Particularly appealing to community people who began to study its propositions was the idea of "locality planning", the dividing of each local government area into localities, with each locality describing its own unique character – a character that must not be ignored by development applications.

To some people, however, all this sounded too good to be true. A rather passionate discussion has been going on throughout Sydney – and we take that up today. To quote just one local doubter, the longtime urban activist, Dr Jean Leyendekkers, "Why believe the cheery proposals of the White Paper… that the leopard has changed its spots – that, overnight, DUAP has become environmentally caring and concerned to preserve the character of the ‘localities’ into which it has been packing ever more medium and high-rise developments" – under its "urban consolidation" policy.

Well, there are some of the problems that have generated this Forum. It is a forum – which is to say, a higher level of civilisation than a debate. A debate forces participants into opposite corners, where there is only black or white; whereas a forum offers constructive argument and the possibility of convergence of views.

In that spirit, who better to start our discussion today than the President since 1991 of the National Trust of Australia, Mr Justice Barry O’Keefe. Let no-one suggest that Barry brings only a theoretical or an academic approach to our subject: he was for 23 years a councillor on Mosman Council and for ten of those years the Mayor… All that on top of his 5 years as Commissioner of ICAC, the Independent Commission Against Corruption; and a stint as President of the Local Government Association of NSW. And further, Barry is a great environmentalist who assisted the campaign by a dozen local councils against the proposal to establish an airport just up the road there at Holsworthy.