Audience response and questions
Councillor Bob Spencer [Sutherland Shire Council]. We've heard a few times today the term Blueprint for Action thrown around and it's a very important term, because it relates to what we've been working on for the last 12 or 18 months and that's what we call the "People’s LEP" [for Sutherland Shire]. This LEP is probably going to be the most community hands-on LEP in the history of LEPs, and as David Ackroyd was explaining earlier on – about our community consultation processes – I think this will be a community consultation process that David could write a book about, because it's going to be extremely comprehensive and Council is going to a lot of trouble and expense in promulgating that. What concerns me though, having done all that, is that it may not lead to success. I will quote something from Shire Life newspaper which very nicely enunciates the concerns I have. It says that, instead of applauding Sutherland Council's effort to write a housing strategy which complies with community wishes, DUAP is throwing obstructions across the path. Firstly, DUAP has objected to a bid to limit building heights to 3 storeys in certain commercial centres. Secondly, it has objected to Council's restriction on medium density – that's villas and town houses – to 10% of the houses in a given area. Thirdly, probably most importantly and the one that really does worry me at the moment, it has even warned that it will not recommend any of Council's six housing strategy options to the Minister for approval. I was at the meeting when the DUAP representative said that. Now this is flying in the face of everything that we've been told that PlanFirst is about. We have just heard PlanFirst being applauded up here. We're going through that process, yet we're being told just before the thing goes out for community consultation – Council's come up with 6 options we thought we might put out – and we're being told no, if you put that up we won't accept it. I have a real concern about that and I don't want to put Kerry on the spot and I understand maybe it's not within her area to answer, but if she would like to comment on it I would appreciate it.
Kerry Bedford. It isn't in my area and even though you're doing a new LEP you are being subject to the current system, which I think goes to exactly what Laura said – the power sharing issue. It is the Minister who makes local plans now and so he has the final say. In fact, in the discussion paper that went out before PlanFirst was put together, we put the idea that Local Councils would be able to make their own Local Plans and I want that to happen and a lot of people in the Department want that to happen, because until we do that, we cannot get on to regional planning. We simply do not have the resources to put into the regional planning, and part of the problems that you experience at a local level is a lack of good regional planning. So we actually think that if we can put our resources into regional planning, you will have a better understanding of what you are expected to do and take up and run with it and work out how you do it for your local community. Unfortunately you're in a hybrid at the moment and if I could go back to the office and say I would change that, I would. Because I think it does get to the basis of people taking responsibility for their own area and for the State Government taking responsibility for wider issues. I will go back, Bob, and talk to the people involved and see what the issues are and if we can somehow use this as an example of a way to try to look at alternate ways of resolving an issue, then I think it would be really beneficial for both of us.
Hugh Knox [Resident of Gordon]. I wish to make some comments on Kerry Bedford’s remarks, and those of the Mayor Councillor Bennett and also Professor Peter Newman, with regard to DUAP’s intention to get a closer partnership between DUAP or the State Government and Local Councils. The way to go is the immediate repeal of SEPPs 5 and 53 and to leave planning and zoning to Local Councils, with the State Government as an adviser, as a coordinator. Now the next thing I'd like to remark on with regard to SEPPs 53 and 5 – it has often been asked what can the average person do? Because everyone feel absolutely powerless. With regard to all these medium and high density developments going on, I agree with an article that Tony Recsei had in the Herald some months ago and that is – do your sums first. Have a look at what you're going to get, if you sell your house and buy a unit. Because you'll probably find, if you want to live in the same area or a similar area to what you have lived in and you sell your house and with the proceeds you buy a home unit, you'd probably find that you get a home unit of half the size that you had before. You will not get money for value and the other thing is to look at the cost of the maintenance levy. You'll probably find that's pretty high, especially if there's a lift in the building, which is what a lot of SEPP 5 developments have. So I'd suggest that bodies like SOS and Ku-ring-gai Preservation Trust should adopt a couple of slogans (there's a word in both of these which people might consider a bit unseemly). One slogan is "Don't buy from developers, make the bastards bankrupt". The second is – and it's quite obvious with regard to the State Government they have completely ignored all community approaches, ignored the intelligent objections that community bodies have made – the slogan is "Don't put up with corruption in Government: vote the bastards out". Now with regard to Professor Newman, I should explain that I graduated from the University of Western Australia as a civil engineer back in 1957. The first job I worked on was the construction of the Narrows Bridge as a junior engineer – it was the happiest job I ever had in my life. I went back there 2 years ago to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the opening of the Narrows Bridge to find that the Government had ordered the construction of a duplicate bridge over the river. So we started off with a 6 lane highway over the river and there is now in that location a 12 lane highway which everyone seems to think is a total disaster because it simply adds to the traffic and it attracts more traffic, creates congestion, pollution and I don't know what. Instead of expanding the rail system for the south side of the Swan River, they've simply made things worse. And the other observation I've made about Perth in my short visit over there is that there's a lot of construction going on in Perth, which is apparently intended to turn Perth into another Sydney, and of course the stated objective of DUAP quite recently was to use New York as a model for Sydney. New York with its crime, with its pollution, its congestion, its infrastructure damage and so on. So that is about what I have to say.
Peter Newman. First of all, I think it's very arrogant to say that everybody who buys a home unit has not done their sums. I think that you'll find an awful lot of people are very careful when they sell a house and buy a unit and that process is happening very extensively and increasing and there are many reasons for doing it. If you want to say that you don't like home units, say that, but don't judge the people who buy them. The second thing is that if you want to have a system where there are no guidelines from the state and that you are saying there should be no high density – that people don't have the right to do that – that property rights are abolished because we have a cultural police saying it is not right to have, then that is a very strong shift in our culture. We have a sense in which it is possible, through negotiation, to develop options for land, and some people want to develop their land and subdivide it. If you are saying you're not going to be allowed to do that, that's a cultural police approach that I would say be very wary of. Finally on Perth, the Narrows Bridge has been doubled, but since you've been there we have made a decision to build a 1.2 billion dollar rail system down the freeway, across the Narrows Bridge. Because it’s been doubled, it's strong enough to take that and therefore we're able to get a much better rail system in there because the road builders did a good job.
Louise Crabtree [Maquarie University, and resident Petersham]. For me something I'm not hearing, not being addressed here – while I'm hearing really promising things about power sharing and consultation and inclusion and nation building – but for me the key issue we have to think about here is affordability. There's a body that's been set up called the Affordable Housing National Research Consortium. Their report last month said that no income rental household – that's people earning less than $35,000 – none could afford to buy a 3-bedroom house anywhere in Sydney, Melbourne or Adelaide. Neither could they afford to buy a 1-bedroom unit anywhere in Sydney. Further, if you wanted to rent a 3-bedroom house as low income earners, none could rent one in Adelaide, 9% could rent one in Melbourne (if you wanted to live in the outer areas), and 3% could live in Sydney provided you go to the outer areas. There are further statistics about an increase in housing stress, which is where you're paying more than 30% of your income on rent. Generally the figure is in the vicinity of between 50 and 90 percent of income going on rent. This is sort of the bottom level of the real estate 'feeding chain' so, if your rental housing is bottoming out like this and your low income earners are bottoming out like this, the whole structure's unstable – everything above that will come down. So in light of that stuff, my question is how are low income earners and renters being included in this and how can we protect these people from being chased out by property development? A lot of this property development is said to be affordable, that there are units coming up that must be affordable – but they're not. We're talking at least $300,000 upwards to $500,000. That's not affordable. So how are we including these people? How are we protecting these people and how do we rein in the property market? Especially if the property market – the real estate agents – are the ones sitting on councils. I know there are a lot of people here who seem to be voicing a lot of anger at the Property Council and real estate agents. If you want to be able to engage with that, something that is going on is that the Property Council of Australia are having a conference which they have humbly titled "The Sustainable Development Leadership Forum". They're holding it on South Stradbroke Island. If you've got $1,500 you can get there. So if anyone here has $1,500 plus airfare, plus accommodation and you can get to this thing, that's where they're getting together to decide what sustainable development is and what we will get, no matter what we've decided we want. So I just really want to know how we can engage with this, how we can address this, because housing's unaffordable and that's a really basic problem.
Miriam Verbeek. When we were developing the Bundeena/Maianbar DCP I bought this up. I said, currently part of the character of Bundeena and Maianbar is that we have here an artist community. Now artists are notoriously poor and the reason why they live in Bundeena and Maianbar is not only that is it a lovely place to live, but until recently, housing was affordable there. It is now not affordable. There are more and more artists moving out. I said, can we build into this DCP some method of keeping housing prices affordable? The reaction of the rest of the people in the committee was "No we can't" and it wasn't that there was some sort of planning restrictions, it was more – we don't have the right to do that, people do whatever they like on their properties and we shouldn't even start to think about whether we can keep houses affordable. That wasn't something that the committee members thought they should even think about, so I'm really glad that Louise has raised it because I think that it is fundamental – as a society we should really think about that. It should be fundamental.
Laura Bennett. I'd like to make two points. My area doesn't have a lot of affordable housing, however it did have a limited number of boarding houses close to one of our business areas. There was a demolition application that came in for those. Now I was aware of the fact that there is a SEPP which has been put out by DUAP and its intention is to preserve low cost housing. Our planners managed to miss the fact that this was among the only low cost housing in the entire municipality. I drew their attention to it, they brought in a consultant, the final report that came to Council said that the matter had been referred to DUAP – and DUAP was of the opinion that given the re-development potential in terms of the amount of money that would accrue to the developer from developing the site there was no justification for stopping the demolition of the boarding houses! Now, there is a planning instrument in place to protect low cost accommodation – our fast diminishing stock of it. But it gets back to implementation – it's the way it's implemented in practice. One of the problems with dealing with urban policy issues is that all the resources are held outside of the community groups and the local councils. We don't have the money to get the planning studies up which would allow us to address these big problems. I have heard, and I don't know whether it's true, that there are extensive stocks of land on the urban fringe that are held by bodies such as Landcom, that the supply is kept from the community, is kept fairly low. Instead, development is pushed elsewhere. I think we need to sit down and look at all these issues – maybe that's not true, but I don't know. We don't have the information; no one tells us. We don't have any input into the broad policies. We get no information. Until that's rectified, we're not in the position to come up with answers, and the people who do have it certainly aren't providing it for us.
Les Robinson. I'll add a small comment. I'm not an expert on this, but I understand that in the United Kingdom and in the United States of America, the provision of affordable housing is one of the principal functions of Local Government and I think a lot of our councils used to do it here before we all became seduced by economic rationalism. Maybe, instead, a lot of councils here think it's a hobby, a lucrative hobby, to be land developers. Maybe they could get back to some of their moral responsibilities.
Dirk Bolt. I think nation building should be all inclusive, not exclusive. I think housing is a basic right and I think it is the task of Local Government to play a much bigger role in it. I think the money for it is in the community. If we have money to build 12 lane highways which will jack up the centralisation which will jack up the cost of housing, as it always does, then I think we should have some money for housing.
Tony Recsei [Save Our Suburbs]. I'd like to pose a question to Kerry Bedford. We have heard quite a lot today about the problems relating to higher densities and this seems to be the major problem that's lurking in the back of people’s minds. Save Our Suburbs has conducted a survey just last week amongst people in various locations in Sydney totalling 900 people and the biggest single complaint about what's worrying them is creeping medium density. 61% of those interviewed complained about that. So that brings me to the point of asking DUAP what is the rationale for this policy? Why are they imposing it on a community by means of a gun at the head, when the community are very much against it, and in posing this question, I want to ask for a proper rational answer to this – something that's backed by analysis or by concrete examples of somewhere in the world where one can find that higher densities in fact alleviate the problems that DUAP say will be alleviated by this policy? Because all of my research shows that in fact the opposite occurs. There's more traffic congestion, there's more pollution, and so on. Earlier this year in this same Forum, the Director General of DUAP was due to appear in the seminar, but she cancelled a couple of days beforehand, refused to send an alternate, and so we missed the opportunity then of finding out what drives the policy. It has many serious effects including possibly (related to what the last speaker said) the cost of housing . The Government is deliberately restricting the release of new land. I believe there are only 4 blocks of land from Landcom that is being available for sale and because of scarcity therefore the price goes up and makes housing less and less affordable. So I think we really have reached the stage now where we must demand the rationale for this policy – why it's being done to us and what the future holds?
Kerry Bedford. I think if the conference organisers wanted somebody on urban consolidation, they really needed to invite somebody who knows about it. Because I'm here in terms of locality planning and about looking at doing things a new way. I think urban consolidation is a good test case – to say let's not let this happen again, because we don't want people to be continually complaining about the policies of DUAP. Nor do you want to be continually complaining. So I think I would like to use urban consolidation as an example of where we can look at doing things differently in the future, because I don't think anybody agrees that it's been done well. But in terms of the rationale of the policy – sorry, wrong person.
John Brunton. I think the State Government’s position on urban consolidation is being spelt out in numerous documents. It's just a matter of reading those documents and I think that justification is there.
Gordon Hocking [Sutherland Shire Environment Centre]. I'd like to make a comment, followed by a question. First the comment. Poor DUAP. This is a very serious problem, if you look at Australia's population, we had around about 1,000,000 Aboriginal people who lived for about 50,000 years on this continent relatively sustainably. We have now 19.1 million people and we have had, in my lifetime, a reaction from the land fighting back against our assaults on it. We've had the longest blue-green algae infestation in the world on the Darling River. We have desert sands which have been lifted off areas that weren't deserts before and dumped in the Tasman Sea. We've had Melbourne with a cloud over it so that you could barely see through, of dust that came from the western areas of the state. And now we have people complaining in Sydney because of that same problem – the impacts that we humans are having upon the residential amenity within the Sydney Metropolitan Area. There are about 6.5 million people in NSW at the moment and there's 4.1 million people in Sydney. By the year 2051 all of NSW’s present population except for about half a million will be living here – that is, we'll have around about 6 million people in Sydney, almost the population today of the whole of NSW. I'd like to direct my question to Peter. Do you think that Sydney's population can grow to 6 million people, from 4.1 today, by the year 2051 without poor DUAP having to impose urban consolidation policies?
Peter Newman. I think that it's very hard to imagine Sydney with 6 million people. I dare say it was pretty hard when it was one million and you had to imagine three as well and they probably didn't imagine the extent of the sprawl that has happened. It's enormous. So poor DUAP has got policies in place to try and prevent further spread of that sprawl and now they're under attack because it's impacting on communities. I think that we do need to try and limit the total number of people that can come to Sydney and the other major cities. But how you do it, I don't know. There are policies you can have on immigration which immediately start to impact on the human rights of families to have their relatives join them and you clearly do need global policies about population but that in many ways is happening and very rapid changes are occurring in the family sizes around the world. There is hardly any nation now that is not – even the African ones – where population growth is not slowing down. So in the next 30-40 years we'll get to the point of global stationary population. But in that interim period there will be some pressures. There will probably always be pressures to come to Australia but meanwhile in Australia we have pretty much less than replacement level now amongst the population that we have here. So the overall pressure is coming because people like to come to Sydney and they are still leaving the inland areas. Now if you can come up with a solution to that one – how you could get some regional towns to grow again and help to solve those problems out there. Most of the problems were bush problems. There are things you can do, but we haven't yet been able to implement them in a way that reverses that trend into the cities. They're major issues that we've got to address and I would hope that we can address them as well as trying to address these issues in the city.
Les Robinson. I would like to make a general comment. I don't think it's at all productive to demonise medium density housing for its own sake. Lots of people want it. The problem is not medium density housing, which is really a great part of a diversity of community, which we need to be healthy. The problem is a kind of state terrorism by governments using market forces to basically achieve their aims without any kind of political participation. What we've got to fight is the politicians and the political system that have done that to us, not medium density housing itself.
Moderator. One of the things that came through this morning is that there are places where, with good design and good community participation, a lot of these issues have been better handled than the way they're being handled now, and that's not a defence or whatever. It's pretty clear we're not dong it well and the debate perhaps should be how to do it better not just whether we like or dislike what is going on.
Speaker from the floor. I'd like to ask DUAP and also the developers… We're being told – people of my age – that we should be moving into SEPP 5 accommodation. There's supposed to be this fantastic market out there which frankly I'm not seeing in my area. But I would ask them, if they're so concerned about us poor people living in Sydney, why aren't they pushing SEPP 10, which is for affordable housing? Why aren't they pushing SEPP 19 which is for half-way houses, for drug addicts and people like that? Is it because the developers aren't very keen on that? And the second thing I would like to say is, of course we're scared of high-rise. Would you please note there is no, or very little or no, green space, and when I asked somebody from the Chatswood Council, please tell me where are all these people going to go for a little bit of green space in our wonderful climate, he said 'They can get on the train'.
Laura Bennett. They don't make money
John Brunton. My only response is, my mother in-law was moved into a unit in Gordon. She's in her 70s and she moved quite happily from a house into a unit because that's what she wanted to do. There are real people that do it.
Guy White. Firstly, a quick question for Kerry. Who thought up the name for PlanFirst? Did DUAP think of it as a piece of irony? A little joke? When else do you plan? More seriously, we've heard a lot today about various immediate effects of development in the immediate local context. They have a very obvious impact. For instance, the Rhodes Peninsula problems could be avoided by remediating it and simply lowering the density. But State Government would still want its money elsewhere. The building industry would be happy to put their hands up to build it, the superannuation and finance industries would be happy to put the money into it and reap the rewards. We'd be happy to accept the superannuation. The Joe Blows with houses would be happy to see their land values pushed up, etc. – so, on with the treadmill. I'm wondering if all we do is look at the local and short term, the obvious impacts, aren't we, including DUAP, no more than managers of an inevitable decline? When did we get to consider the boundary condition, the pressure of growth in a finite system, population and affluence? When can that be raised? What forum is there to raise that to make the connection between the local and the immediate and the long term – to the average Joe? When do they get to see that connection before it's coming over their back fence or coming through the local paper?
Kerry Bedford. I think that that's a really important issue and I think that that is part of what we are trying to discover – a new way of doing things and a different way of talking about what our future is, and a different way of involving people, and a different way of making decisions. And I would actually like to hear ideas of what sort of structures, formats or what you think would actually work better than the system we have now. This is the time to put it forward and try to test some ideas.
John Brunton. I don't have an answer, but I'd like to make a comment. A number of the things that have been said today relate to some cities in North America. Seattle, Portland and some other cities influenced the work that DUAP has done on PlanFirst, and in those states in the Pacific north west of the USA they have growth management acts and those states and those cities are required by legislation to prepare plans to deal with growth and they are accountable. It has to be shown every year how they are going about achieving and managing the growth that is occurring in those particular states and cities. That's one thing that is needed in this state – that there isn't really an overall plan for where population is going and how are we going to manage growth. There is a plan for the Sydney-Newcastle-Wollongong strip, but really beyond that, there isn't a plan to show how that conurbation is going to relate to the rest of the state and I think that's one of the essential things that the state government needs to put in place.
Laura Bennett. I'm actually quite a strong supporter of regional planning. I know from practical experience that Local Governments are not well equipped to handle things like catchment issues. You really do need a regional approach on those issues and to that extent I don't have a problem with PlanFirst. But PlanFirst has now been sold to everyone here, in glowing terms, three times. The central thing I've argued is we need a more democratic system. The original proposals for PlanFirst was that it would remove the implementation of State Planning Policies from Local Government to Regional Organisations and those regional bodies would not be democratically elected. Their composition right now is unclear. Originally it was stakeholders – local business, MPs, Local Government, but no elections. That means that if policies like SEPP 53 and SEPP 5 continue, local councils would not have the primary say, even though in fact they put the proposals up and they get them knocked back. But they wouldn't have a primary say. It would be the regional organisation that had the primary say. Now maybe in the latest versions there's been such an outcry that's changed. But PlanFirst is not about democracy – in its first incarnation it was about less.
Patrick Carney [Koolewong and Point Clare-Tascott Progress Association, near Gosford]. This is a question for Laura Bennett. Laura, thankyou for coming to Gosford last year. I was one of the people in your audience. The second thing is, the offering of options is rampant on the east side of Gosford, in the Kincumber Valley, round Saratoga and in Terrigal. I can feel for your situation on Bobbin Head Road. The question for you is – from your experience, do you believe that developing statements of desired future character is a useful and affordable activity for councils to work on with their constituents?
Laura Bennett. You're correct – it's a very expensive way to go. I actually think it has a lot of benefits when done over the long term. The problem is it has to sit in the right sort of system. Has to sit in a workable system. It's no good having a wonderful LEP with locality statements if they can be overridden by State Environment Planning Policies or if your Locality Statements are appealable – not the statements themselves, but their application are appealable in the Land and Environment Court so that they can be undercut in the court all the time. If they're embedded in the right sort of legal arrangements, then yes I think they will be a very powerful tool, but my understanding of the way the planning regime is going, is that it's all being watered down. All the protections at LEP level are being watered down. The Land and Environment Court 'reforms' are going to make things worse, and to that extent councils will be spending a small fortune on beautifully presented documents, with probably heartrendingly accurate descriptions of what communities want, but… [only to be taken] straight to the Land and Environment Court for a "determination"… completely undercutting our planning regime... destroying it because developers are moving into areas and councils do not have the time, the resources, or the legal power to make a consistent, coherent and effective response. I think that developers have caught on to the option system and the 40-day period. Are we going to see this moving right around Sydney more and more? So there's going to be more bushfires, not less?
Nicole Mahler [Ecobuild Pty Ltd]. We're an ecologically sustainable design and building company based in the Sutherland Shire. One would think that, given a lot of the rhetoric today, it would make us quite popular with Council. They've talked a lot about their views and how important the environment has rated in the community consultation process that has gone on in the Shire. I'd like to report that our average approval time with our DAs through council is nudging 200 days, so my point that I'd like to make is about building controls specifically, and a lot of what you see around you actually complies. So it's the controls themselves that need to be addressed. Just be very careful when you're going through a community consultation process and I'm talking about the community representatives here. Just be careful about what it is that you decide and do take the time to sweat the details, the numbers do matter. Make sure you really understand what it is that you're getting and what those controls provide you with. Understand what that house, or what that block, is going to look like, because you may be quite disappointed at what you get if you don't sweat the details. They are important.
Janine Kitson [Councillor, Ku-ring-gai Council]. I would like to say that we've been talking about local issues and state issues and yet obviously what we're talking about has national significance. Especially how Professor Bolt talked about nation building and that Australia is such a highly urbanised country. The issue that we've talked about – especially the vulnerabilities of our cities – would any of the speakers like to comment on what they see as a federal response to these local and state issues?
John Brunton. I might be game. Do you want me to be nostalgic? Back in 1972 the federal government under Minister Uren was very active and took a broad range of initiatives on urban issues. I think it was seen as one of the issues that counted against that federal government in 1975, and while Mr Keating has made a bit of an attempt at becoming involved in urban issues, I think the federal governments since '75 have been reluctant to become involved and I would say that the federal government at the moment has decided it's not something that would deliver them any votes, so it's better to stay away from.
Moderator. It's quite clear that federally the political emphasis is upon rural sustainability and that's a terribly important issue and the emphasis has moved a long way from trying to grapple with the almost intractable problems of urban sustainability. The mythology of where our environmental problems are is that it's in the bush. It's clearly both in the bush and in the cities and the cities aren't getting the attention.
Laura Bennett. Can I just say something about immigration, which any sensible politician would stay away from. But whilst I support humanitarian immigration, I find the economic arguments for immigration to be highly dubious. We have a very high unemployment rate. We do not spend enough money training our own children. Much of the immigration is for economic reasons, in terms of Australia's economic interests, skilled migration. We'd be better off training our own young. In terms of the fact that we are an aging population, no one has taken into account the fact that productivity per worker has massively increased. We do not need to import people to make up for the changing age distribution at all. All we need to do is maintain our productivity improvements and train our own people. You've got to ask who wins out by not training our people? It's governments and it's employers.
Anne Wood [Councillor, Wollongong City Council]. It's quite interesting – I was just about to make a comment on immigration before you said that. A few months ago I was listening to the director of the Australian Bureau of Statistics on ABC radio and he was asked about immigration and its effects and he said that if there were no immigration, Australia would have zero population by the year 2361, judging by our present birth rate, and I thought now that's a very telling indicator. Clearly our growth at the moment is highly determined by immigration. Surely our federal government should be directing where this growth takes place, and when we hear about scenarios such as Sydney growing to 6.5 million people, if that's largely on the basis of migration from overseas rather than from the rural areas, then surely we should be insisting that there be more liaison between agencies. Laura, you've just commented on that, would you like to comment on my comment as well?
Laura Bennett. What we seem to have these days is a whole series of disconnected policies which work against one another and there is no overall vision for this country. But more importantly than that, there's not the sort of detailed planning which relates different things to one another and that's what we need.
Dirk Bolt. Australia's a very vigorous nation, but the energy that is in the country in my view is absorbed by the rapid growth of a few cities to an extent that determines the other parts of the country. Hobart is emptying. I look to the west and nothing is happening, the north, and so forth. I think it would be very much wiser, from the point of view of national development, to start putting some effort into developing other parts of the country, if only from the point of view of national security. Clearly it is not a very good policy to put all your eggs in one basket, or Melbourne-Sydney, as may be. It is much better to proceed with developing many more cities. Now if I may make a comparison – Australia has exactly the same population as the Netherlands, yet in the Netherlands, there are two cities that are just a little bit more than one million people. The rest of the population is distributed. But that doesn't happen by accident. It happens because the government in the Hague is very strongly in favour of a proper distribution of population and growth and it uses every economic means that is at its disposal to achieve that. It does not happen by itself. I think it would be unwise to let Sydney grow to the stage where it will stop growing only because it has choked itself. The social and economic cost of that would be enormous and the money that would be lost in that way would be very much better spent on developing growth centres elsewhere, doing in other words a good bit of "colonisation".
Neil deNett. First a gentle reminder to Miriam, that I too raised the instance of affordable housing at Sutherland Council’s urban working party and the example that I gave was that I would have liked to have seen some sort of encouragement and incentive for people to retain older and fibro housing in Bundeena, and I brought along a booklet, "Fibro Houses of Sydney". I'm absolutely in love with fibro houses – I've renovated four in Bundeena and they're all still standing. Now, the significant point is that fibro houses mostly contained renters. As to the point that Miriam made that the artists were leaving, so also are our renters, and to have a viable and vibrant community, you need a mix of people and Bundeena is starting to polarise and you can feel that happening. I'll extrapolate this a little further – Sutherland Council’s Blueprint for Action, or "Peoples LEP", has really no connection at this stage with PlanFirst. It's based on the old system and we have that same polarisation in our centres where we have nothing but units. The only way you're going to get a mix there is to get kids living in units, which I think is undesirable. What I'd like to put to John Brunton, or Kerry Bedford, or anyone who'd like to answer is: Is there any prospect with PlanFirst that it will solve some of these problems? And I'll add the rider that at present I'm not happy with PlanFirst, because it's got lots of problems which have been raised earlier at the meeting and there need to be some very serious changes made to it in order for it to be acceptable to Council and the community. Could you enlighten us a little as to whether you're hopeful that PlanFirst will address basically those two problems that I've mentioned, affordable housing and demographics?
John Brunton. Firstly, I'll make a comment that may mean something to Neil. You'll remember that the Peoples LEP Advisory Committee considered the issue of how to deal with affordable housing, and decided it was too difficult and did nothing about it. My other comment may appear cynical, but I can assure you that it's reality. The biggest driver for provision of affordable housing is the need to retain a workforce that would be the sort of people that would live in affordable housing. The Willoughby City Council, which is a neighbour of Ku-ring-gai, they're one of the leaders in providing affordable housing. One of the reasons why Council needs to be interested in the affordable housing field, is that they don't have enough people in that area to do the more, what you might call, menial occupations, the people who clean the houses and offices, who drive the buses, all those sorts of things. So that the desire for affordable housing in the end gets driven by economics, because the people are needed to do the work, so you've got to find somewhere to house them, and bringing them in from the central coast was becoming uneconomic in the broader sense.
Kerry Bedford. There's not much point in doing PlanFirst unless it produces much better outcomes, otherwise we might as well have stayed with the system that we have. PlanFirst is a huge task, it's an enormous change to the way we work now – if it's going to work properly we need to start with the State Government, because the State Government is set up with single issue departments. It has one department responsible for threatened species, another responsible for roads, another responsible for railways, another responsible for social services. So who is actually making the trade-off decisions that need to be made when you get down to a place? Ultimately it's the person there who has the biggest political agenda or the more money. I don't think that's a sustainable way to work. PlanFirst is saying "whole of Government" and yes that's the buzz word now, but it's a word that's losing its credibility. We can't sustain a State Government that is spending a lot of taxpayers’ resources on single issues. There has to be a common goal and we have to resolve those differences of the Sate Government at a regional level, because we're not going to see the restructure of State Government overnight. But we can see the resolution of those single issue State Government policies done when you get to a place where you can actually make a trade-off. Where you can say this mine will go ahead, and the vegetation will be cleared, or this development will not go ahead, because we need that wetland, and we're looking at regional strategies which will set outcomes that must be monitored and that has got to be a key element in what we do. So we set a target for an area – say, where water quality is an issue and we say we've got to see an increase in the water quality over a certain amount of time. To do that, we are going to have to increase the wetland area by 10%. Now when the local councils come to draw up their plans, they can decide how to increase the wetland area by 10%. Perhaps by putting in new wetland areas and allowing development of one. But however they do it, it has to be monitored and we have to make sure that we are actually achieving the outcomes that we decide. Now the regional forums, which are a key element in making PlanFirst work, have got to have all the players involved. If we have got one message out of today it is that you have to get everybody that has a stake, involved in the process – to take ownership of it. So the forums have got to represent the people who have an interest. The councils, the State Government agencies, the interest groups, the community groups, all of the people who might be marginalised, and that’s the system that we are trying to set up under PlanFirst. But there is resistance all over the place because that is a huge shift in power and it is a huge change to the way we work, but I believe it is really worth trying to do, and even if we don’t get that whole way this first round, we have to take incremental steps and make changes, because I really believe that as a State Government we need to change the way we deliver services to the community in NSW.
Patricia Lee [Gateway COC]. Mine's basically an overview of it all. We've talked a lot about the residential issues and where they fit and we've talked about the council and how the two interact. But as we saw before in Les's overhead, there's business as well, and the transportation of people at the moment is to go to work and to go home, so the transportation issue has been brought up. But I just spent two days in Newcastle with a bunch of businessmen who have in their heart a desire to set up businesses for people who are struggling in the community. They want to help set up these businesses, and mayors ask what can we set up and how can we do it? Those sorts of people – are they being met by the council? Are they being addressed and included in the planning? Because it sounds like, with the residential increase, we need a business increase as well so that people getting good training don't have to travel so far to work. So is that being covered in any way at all, or is it at the moment just a case of a council and the community excluding the businessman?
Laura Bennett. I'm a little unclear about the connections that you're drawing. I'm a little unclear about what the role of the businessman is. I suppose in my municipality we don't actually have an industrial area, we have a commercial area. Primarily the workforce in my area consists of professionals. It's not the sort of workforce where it makes sense to have them locally based. They're the sort of people who spread out. They're engineers, they're doctors, they're all sorts of things, and they've got to move around. What Ku-ring-gai finds however, and this is anecdotal, is that although the State Government’s objective is to reduce car travel by locating people around railway stations and transport nodes, that in fact is not working for us. Our major issue with transport is through-traffic and it's primarily from the central coast, and my understanding is that what you tend to have is families particularly who have been forced out of Sydney by high house and land prices, so they've moved up the central coast because they don't want medium density for their children; however, they are people who need to work. So they drive in to Sydney. So we have a policy which ostensibly is about reducing car travel, but by forcing families to the outskirts and beyond it – this as far as I can tell has the opposite effect. So I actually think that land prices and opportunities for single dwellings have a significant role to play in things like travel times and car usage. To that extent, there's an interaction between business and locality and home ownership. But I'm really not clear what the relationship is and I haven't seen the research which convincingly demonstrates to me that the way we're going is the way we should be going.
Les Robinson. I think what you were saying is that there’s a group of business people who really want to be getting into social entrepreneurship and that's happening in lots of places and it's a wonderful thing and should obviously be encouraged. But local government is quite schizophrenic when it comes to how to respond to this, because there's one tendency inside local government to say it is a service corporation. It does roads, rates and rubbish and a bit of community services and that's the services we provide everyone’s customers. That has taken over since the new Local Government Act has come in and really become one of the dominant paradigms in Local Government – we're a kind of corporation. Well, we have to assert a different kind of vision for what local government is. It's very flexible, it's about actually giving a community the kind of destiny that the community aspires to, and that means local government gets into things like that. There's a lot of other quite district activities local government needs to get into to build the futures that we want. So we really need to assert that our local government is much more than just a version of Integral Energy, or Sydney Water.
Laura Bennett. I'm chair of the longterm financial planning committee. I would have to stress that one of the reasons that local government is contracting is because our infrastructure has aged and we can't afford to maintain it. A lot of the imperatives you're talking about are economic. We're contracting to our core activities for economic reasons. Now if someone wants to resource those and if state and federal governments could hand a little bit of money back for looking after roads etc... They need to resource this adequately. We'd be only too happy to take on additional services, but right now we don't have the money and that's why we contract.