Moderator.Our next speaker addresses the topic, "The local impact of state planning policies". Who better to address this universal problem than the Mayor of Ku-ring-gai Council, Councillor Laura Bennett? Laura was a member of a community group formed to fight over-development in Ku-ring-gai and was elected to Council in September 1999, became Deputy Mayor, and In September 2000 became Ku-ring-gai's first female Mayor. She has had extensive involvement in planning issues as chair of Council’s Environment and Planning Committee and Residential Strategy Taskforce. Prior to her election to Council, she worked as an academic, teaching law. Laura has written a book and articles for national and international journals.
Councillor Laura Bennett
Mayor, Ku-ring-gai Council
I came down on the train to Sutherland and the closer I came to Sutherland, the more the environment improved – the amenity of the houses and the neighbourhoods. This links indirectly with what I'm to speak about this afternoon, the impact of State Environmental Planning Policies on local communities.
The two SEPPs I intend to single out are SEPP 53, the policy which ensures that urban consolidation will be implemented across Sydney and adjoining areas, and SEPP 5, the policy for aged and disabled housing. It is very appropriate, in many respects, that a woman give this address, because what I'm going to do this afternoon is, in essence, take two unfashionable causes and insist on a degree of recognition of their value and their importance within our city.
The first is the concept of the suburbs. The suburbs are a much maligned concept. The suburbs are not fashionable. The suburbs do not fit in with the terminology used by DUAP, which is the terminology of the cosmopolitan, the international, the urbane and the global. The suburbs have somehow become confined as a relic of the late 19th century or early 20 th century, and perhaps in some cases, the immediate post-war period. The intrinsic values of the suburbs are not recognised in urban planning policy, particularly that pushed at State level.
The other major loser, the other major group that is rarely spoken about except to cite statistics to indicate its numerical lack of importance, is families. Families are not recognised, nor are they promoted in urban planning policies.
If we look at SEPP 53 – the urban consolidation policy – and the way that it is implemented, there are some very clear underlying themes to that policy. One of them is that all suburbs irrespective, all areas irrespective of the rhetoric, are to have a housing mix. That means each area must provide a mix of low, medium and in many cases high density. In addition, each area must conform to a particular demographic profile.
There should be accommodation for a certain age group according to the metropolitan average, all the way up and down the line depending on your starting point. There is no recognition in urban planning policies, as far as I can see, that different parts of the city legitimately service different needs. One of the great losers in this are children. Children and families. Single-dwelling housing has disappeared by and large from the inner-city areas. Increasingly, SEPP 5 and urban consolidation policies are pushing single residential dwellings out of the middle areas as well.
Families are being forced to the outskirts of cities. There is no recognition of the social effects of this. Those who have relatively little money and cannot afford the travel to work that this implies will increasingly house their children in medium and high density, and we see this in areas such as Willoughby. One of Pat Riley's (Mayor of Willoughby) concerns is the number of small children who are increasingly living in the high density developments surrounding Chatswood. I do not think this is an advantage. This is not a step forward. If you look at areas such as Sutherland or Ku-ring-gai, they were developed as family areas and they were developed with a very extensive social infrastructure to service those families. This is something that is not recognised in planning policy, where all areas are treated as interchangeable.
In Ku-ring-gai alone, we have 44 schools. We have over 27,000 children attending those schools. The children in Ku-ring-gai, as in all Local Government Areas where families typically congregate, have open space needs far in excess of those of other groups in the population. Children require schools of a reasonable size so that they can play. Small children require playgrounds in parks. Older children require sports fields and sports facilities. If you look at the infrastructure that Ku-ring-gai provides in these areas, and it is extensive, you will see that over many years, areas in the middle and to a lesser extent the outer ring, have developed a social infrastructure to cater for those groups. In Ku-ring-gai alone, we have 46 sports fields, 144 parks, we have 96 playgrounds, 71 tennis courts, 3 half basketball courts, a skate facility, 25 netball courts and 6 junior bike paths. All of this infrastructure is utilised by our children and the children of neighbouring, and in many cases, far off municipalities.
This infrastructure is not recognised under SEPP 53 and not recognised by SEPP 5 either. Yet there are other forms of infrastructure that have been recognised as the basis of why SEPP 53 and SEPP 5 are foisted on us – physical infrastructures. We are told endlessly, and I'm sure if you've attended more than one of these meetings you will have heard this argument, that there is under-capacity in existing infrastructure in middle and outer ring suburbs – that there is capacity in our sewage, capacity in our water, capacity in our roads, drainage, all of it. But those of us at the coalface know this is not true. We do not, however, get the opportunity to convey this to DUAP, because DUAP implements the policies of 53 and 5 and it has no mechanism to evaluate their implementation.
That is not good policy making. If you are a good policy maker, you know that irrespective of how good your policy is, how well it is drafted, it will always operate in ways that are unintended and you have mechanisms for looking at how, in fact, it is working. DUAP does not do that. DUAP stays in the middle of the city behind electronically closed doors and leaves it to people such as myself to deal with the consequences of deteriorating infrastructure, lack of capacity, all the other issues in addition to distressed residents dealing with amenity, privacy and other problems. These issues are never faced by those who put these policies into place. That is left to myself and of course to the residents who experience it first-hand.
There are other costs to these policies. This is a picture of a SEPP 5; I think this is a Gordon one, in Maurice Street. Behind that SEPP 5 is a watercourse. That is an area of eucalypts going down to a National Park. You can see from that the overlooking, the privacy and the extent to which the block is built out. These are problems we face constantly with SEPP 5 as a form of medium density.
We have made representation after representation to DUAP about the effects of these policies. I have to tell you the amended SEPP has made very little difference in terms of how these policies impact on our area. The area of North Turramurra gives an example of what happens when State Environment Planning Policies are imposed on a local area. All representations on their effects are met with deaf ears. You'll note the area here is a small urban community surrounded on three sides by national park. There is one access road – Bobbin Head Road – going down the centre in the yellow. That is the only access road to the other areas of Ku-ring-gai. It continues for quite a way. This has become a de facto aged care community.
Over the last 5 years, massive numbers of SEPP 5s have been approved in this area. We have retirement communities which are literally abutting the national forest. I understand that clearing has not been done in this. I understand that it is at close to tinderbox level and yet our ability to refuse the additional SEPP 5 developments which are now being lodged with Council is minimal, given that our success in the Land and Environment Court on bushfire issues is not at all high. There are environmental issues in this area, there are threatened species. There are bushfire areas. The area to the top is not sewered, it is not connected to the water supply, nevertheless, we have SEPP 5 applications. In the last 3 months we have had a domino effect in this area. We have had real estate agents go around – this is the real politic of what happens on the ground, as opposed to the nice theory – we have had real estate agents go around and effectively tell local residents that if they do not allow developers to take options, they will find themselves surrounded by SEPP 5s and there are enough examples around in Ku-ring-gai to know that it happens. We have 19 blocks, which have options under them currently, which haven't even come to Council. This is not planning. This is an out-of-control juggernaught.
I don't know if you understand how the option system with developers works. One of the arguments that development opportunities will not be taken up is that they're too expensive – it's too expensive to buy. What happens in Ku-ring-gai, and increasingly in many other areas on large blocks, is that developers simply approach someone and they take an option. They don't actually purchase it. There are specialised companies operating in Ku-ring-gai who never actually build a SEPP 5; they specialise in getting an application through Council or the Court and then on-selling it to developers. This is why the whole area is going. It is going because of the options system and because of the ability of developers to ram these through the Land and Environment Court.
We've had many meetings in North Turramurra and other areas about such things. We've had well in excess of 2000 residents over the last couple of months come together in public meetings to protest. But we never get, in spite of community representatives asking time and time again – we never get anyone to come to us from DUAP, nor do we get anyone to come to us from the Minister’s office. That's the reality of how these things work, as opposed to the rhetoric, as opposed to the academic theory. We're told that, with SEPP 5, this sort of housing is needed for our aged and those with disabilities.
One of the most potent areas where our aged community and our disabled community needs accommodation is with respect to nursing homes. Ku-ring-gai is one of the areas that has very large blocks, very large houses. There are opportunities to build nursing homes in Ku-ring-gai. There is a terrible shortage of nursing home accommodation and as our population ages this is going to become more and more acute. The blocks which we have available for such accommodation are being used by large developers to build very large SEPP 5 medium density projects. Those who tell you that this is about serving the needs of the aged and those with disabilities are misleading you. Because there is no proper planning here, the opportunities for providing for the most urgent needs of our older residents are disappearing and there is no government agency looking at this – there is no oversight of this.
There are also the costs of SEPP 5. In Ku-ring-gai alone, the legal costs are running at around $600,000 – that's the direct legal costs. If you add in officer time and other things, you're coming up to $800,000 a year. We need that money for roads, we need it for drainage, we need it for facilities. It's going in a pointless exercise to lawyers and consultants right now. This is the sort of impact that we need to be focusing on because this is what communities are losing every time councils fight these policies.
One of the things that didn't come out of the March 3rd Population Forum, which I also attended, was a sense of where we could take these issues – of what could be done about them. I notice that the attendance is down at this forum, considerably down, and I think part of the reason is that we come to these things and we're fired up and we want to know what can be done and we don't hear any answers. Sometimes we hear very sophisticated rationales for what is happening which we don't agree with and we don't have the language with which to properly criticise, and sometimes we are told in stirring terms that yes we are right, but there is no way forward.
Last Thursday night, I attended a meeting of the Northern Regional Organisation of Councils, which represents 7 councils in our area. We agreed that we would go to the Minister and ask for an 18 month moratorium on SEPP 5s because we were promised nearly 2 years ago that we would be able to lodge exemptions from SEPP 5 if we provided for it in our planning instruments. Two years since, the exemption guidelines have still not been finalised. This is not an urgent matter for DUAP, but it is an urgent matter for us. Even if the Minister finalised the guidelines tomorrow, it would still take us up to a year to get an application for exemption in, in the proper form, and in that time our community would continue and communities around Sydney would continue to suffer an irreparable and ever-escalating loss. Because, believe me, this is not just Ku-ring-gai and Sutherland; this is spreading, because developers have worked out this is a way around every Council control there is.
Every area that has any large blocks. Penrith (I was told the other night), Willoughby, Hornsby, Sutherland. All those councils. If you are on something over 1000 square meters, you are a target and this will escalate. I was hoping there would be more councillors here today – there aren't from other areas. If SEPP 5 is a problem in your area, take it to your regional organisation of Councils. Ask them to adopt the motion we did. We need a united front on this. An earlier speaker said it was up to elected representatives to show leadership – we need to do this. If you don't have councillors here and this is a problem in your area, write to them, ring the, harass them. My residents do all that to me so I don't see why you shouldn't do it to them as well. Do it to them, get them to adopt that sort of action. Without a united front, without a common policy, we can’t even begin to have any degree of success. That's only one thing, it's a small thing, but if it worked it would have a tremendous impact. So please, give it some consideration.