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The Shire in Election Mode:
Hunger for a New Beginning!

  • The OVERDEVELOPMENT issue will dominate the 11th September Shire Council Election

  • Hunger for an end to overdevelopment certainly dominated community submissions to the recent State Inquiry into Council's planning record.

At the Inquiry, the Government's chairman Garry Fielding criticised "the frequency of developers in the Shire being granted variations from the Council's building codes". notably in building flats ( Leader , 22 June 1999).

He called it an "undesirable" situation, against which the Shire community was reacting. And speakers declared that Council, by so frequently consenting to variations from the standards set by its codes, was seen by developers to be "an easy mark".

Council's Housing Strategy Faulted

Purpose of the Inquiry, said Fielding, was to examine the implementation by Council of its Housing Strategy.

In 1996 the Housing Strategy had foreshadowed 2000 additional dwellings for 1997/1998 - yet 4600 were then approved! It had estimated 30% of new dwellings would be flats - yet this blew out to 60%, way ahead of villas/townhouses 18%, and detached dwellings 22%.

Speakers said the explosion in flat-building could have been lessened if Council had stood by its codes when assessing development applications instead of tamely conceding variations to developers.

As the Inquiry proceeded, with 30 speakers and many written submissions, observers could piece together a pattern of forces thrusting for development and all converging to impose obvious OVERDEVELOPMENT on a proud Shire.

How the OVERDEVELOPMENT cocktail was mixed

Speakers acknowledged nation-wide and Sydney-wide pressures for development - such as immigration and country-city drift - but focussed on the dominant responsibility of Council for mishandling local pressures.

Six forces intermixed to produce overdevelopment:
  1. Developers. Most of them deny there is overdevelopment. Leave us alone, they say, to meet demand. A minority prefer to speak of "inappropriate development", such as too many flats and taller high-rise and not enough villas. All want the present building boom to continue unabated.

  2. State Government. Its "urban consolidation" policy puts pressure on Council to keep increasing urban density - or risk intervention by the Planning Minister. The policy's rationale is that Sydney must "infill" and "expand upwards" to avert "sprawl outwards" into the rural areas around Sydney's fringe.

  3. Land and Environment Court. Nearly all its decisions in the 1990s have favoured developers - leaving councils to pay the legal costs. Its "assessors" are mostly intent on a harsh and narrow interpretation of the "urban consolidation" policy, earning it the tag "Rape and Development Court".

  4. Council Planning Staff. Here too there is mostly denial of overdevelopment; rather, an optimism that population growth will soon level out, achieving a happy equilibrium not far above 200 000, enough to keep a scaled-down tempo of building, with developers and workers quietly renewing and diversifying the stock of dwellings to cope with changing lifestyles. Cheerful utopians?

  5. Council's Liberal Majority. As the 1995-99 party-in-charge, the Liberals must carry the main odium for allowing and sometimes fostering overdevelopment. It was their frequent granting of variations from Council's building codes to please and profit developers which led to the charge that developers see Sutherland Council as "an easy mark". Until the March 27th State Election they rejected the perception of overdevelopment and appeared driven by an ideology that to be Liberal means to be pro-development before all.

  6. Council's Labor Minority. ALP Councillors often fought strongly against the frequent Liberal sanctioning of variations from Council codes. This has won them some popular support, notably in the Cronulla area. Party loyalty to the State Labor Government, however, restrained them from mounting a critique of its "urban consolidation" policy. So they missed an opportunity to invoke mass community support in demanding of the Liberal Council that it present a Council-and-community front to State Government, demanding release from rigorous application of the "urban consolidation" policy.

Suddenly it all looks different

By the beginning of 1999, public anger at the Shire's building boom and overdevelopment had left an out-of-touch Liberal Council far behind. No action was taken, even though veteran Liberal MP Bruce Baird, polling in the Cronulla area, had issued a warning-call in September 1998 that overdevelopment was the community's key concern.

The trigger for a decisive change did not come until the ALP's polling for the March state election turned up the same evidence as Baird's. The ALP candidate for Miranda, Barry Collier, had the wit to nail "overdevelopment" to his campaign masthead - and he swept entrenched Liberal MP Ron Phillips from office in the biggest upset of the entire NSW election!

Now overdevelopment is acknowledged on all political sides in the Shire and across much of Sydney. It is only disputed by some developers and some Council planners.

Most significantly a new political force has been unleashed in the Shire: numerous community independents, whether as individuals, small groups, or the ably organised Shire Watch Independents.

They reflect voter fatigue with the major parties, which in the 1998 federal election recorded the lowest combined vote in the modern period. They seek a balance-of-power mandate between the two parties, enabling them to keep community-interests ahead of party-interests.

Policies to end the overdevelopment era

From the various Independents, interesting policies are coming to the fore.
  • Move at once, on a new Council, to distinguish reasonable development from overdevelopment and act swiftly to end the latter.

  • Enforce Council codes, ending the culture of easy granting of "variations" to developers.

  • Reject rezoning proposals which would allow more areas to be opened to high-rise (3-storeys and up). This is absolutely crucial, and more fundamentsl to the Shire's future than even the "variations" issue.

  • Push State Government to acknowledge the Shire as an "outer ring municipality" with special responsibility for waterways, beaches and four national parks, all with recreation functions that should exempt us from the rigours of "concentration" intended originally for only the "inner ring" and middle ring" areas of Sydney.

  • Get back to a time when Council was not marked by today's regular party-political slanging matches.

  • Strive for a consensus spirit on Council, with all sides realising that the things that unite the Shire community are more important than those that divide.

  • All councillors, listening to community organisations, to put first the defence of the Shire's imperilled quality-of-life.