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A brief history of Planning in New South Wales

A Brief History Planning in New South Wales: When the Constitution of Australia came into effect in 1901, Environmental Planning was not a critical issue, so there are no specific land use powers afforded within the Constitution.

Section 51 of the Constitution outlines the exclusive powers of the Commonwealth Government, which includes:

  • Trade and Commerce — Section 51(i)
  • Corporations — Section 51(xx)
  • External Affairs — Section 51(xxix)

None of these grant the power of land use or land design. However, the Commonwealth Government, with all State Governments in Australia, have entered into an agreement known as the “Intergovernmental Agreement on the Environment” (IGAE).

This agreement attempts to delineate the roles and responsibilities of the three levels of government concerning planning, development and the environment. The Commonwealth also asserts power indirectly through grants to states or tax incentives for infrastructure projects. Australia has several International Environment Law obligations such as the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands administrated through the Commonwealth Government.

In New South Wales, there are residual and concurrent legislative devices that control planning at both a state and local level. The most important legislation in New South Wales regarding planning is the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979, which governs the bulk of planning requirements.

Ecologically Sustainable Development is fundamentally about maintaining public health and amenity. Post the Second World War governments, corporations and private citizens began considering the interrelation and impacts of sharing limited physical resource.

In 1987 the United Nations via the Oxford University Press published “Our Common Future” also known as the “Brundtland Commission Report”. The report assessed that a vital element for creating a free and prosperous society was sustainable development. A key finding was poverty reduced sustainability and accentuated environmental concerns.

The report commenced the charge for the Earth Summit of 1992, the adoption of Article 21, the Rio Declaration, and arguably initiated the formation of the Commission on Sustainable Development.

Ecologically Sustainable Development pivots on four critical tenants:

  1. Principle of Precaution
  2. Principle of Intergenerational Equity
  3. Principle of Conservation of Biodiversity
  4. Principle of Improved valuation, pricing and incentive mechanisms

History of Planning Legislation in New South Wales

(Beginning in 1901 with the Federation of Australia)

  • New South Wales promptly moved to introduce the Local Government Act 1906 designed to consider building regulations and building standards.
  • Shortly thereafter, in 1909 Royal Commission for the Improvement of the City of Sydney and its Suburbs was established to address the growing issues of industrialisation within a densely populated area.
  • A decade later saw the introduction of the Local Government Act 1919, which was New South Wales’ introduction to the notion of “Town Planning” which saw the restriction of less desirable or undesirable development.
  • A long time later, the Local Government (Town and Country Planning) Act 1945 brought in “zones”, such as the “County of Cumberland” and a novel idea of “planning schemes”. At this point, Sydney had a population of nearly two million.
  • The Commonwealth Government thought particularly highly of State-based planning controls and introduced the 1945 Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement. This agreement is where the Commonwealth exchanged funding for housing for these controls.
  • In 1951 New South Wales inaugurated a defining greenbelt planning scheme that would forever change Sydney; the 1951 County of Cumberland Planning Scheme.
  • A decade later and Strata Title legislation began to allow high rise apartment buildings.
  • The planning procedures had fallen by the wayside at this time and so the state government introduced additional legislation to try and clean it up: Local Government (Town and Country Planning) Act 1962.
  • A year later in 1963 and the County of Cumberland disbanded, instead opting for a centrally operated State Planning Authority.
  • Five years following in 1968, the Sydney Region Outline Plan divided Sydney into four distinct areas: Wyong, Blue Mountains, Wollondilly and Sutherland.
  • In 1974 the New South Wales Planning and Environment Commission Act 1974 established the New South Wales Planning and Environment Commission also dissolving the State Planning Authority on 23rd April 1974.
  • Five years later, the state government passed the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (EPAA). This act created three types of Environmental Planning Instruments (EPIs):
  1. State Environmental Planning Policies (SEPPs)
  2. Regional Environmental Plans (REPs)
  3. Local Environmental Plans (LEPs)
  • That same year the government created the first of its kind, Land and Environment Court of NSW which began operation in September of 1980.
  • In 1988 the New South Wales Planning and Environment Commission became the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning.
  • To further clarify and attempt to create some uniformity between the local government’s, the state government introduced the Local Government Act 1993.
  • In 1997 several amendments were made to the EPAA which designated the Minister for Planning as the consent authority for “State Significant Development”.
  • In 2003 — the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning became the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources, which in 2005 became the Department of Planning.
  • Also in 2005, the New South Wales State Government published “City of Cities: A Plan for Sydney’s Future”. This report was a 25-year outlook on the land between Port Stephens and Kiama. The state government also introduced Part 3A (Major Projects).
  • In 2008 the Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) an independent expert adviser on major developments established.
  • In 2010 the Department of Planning updated the 2005 report “City of Cities” with “Sydney Metropolitan Plan for 2036”.
  • A year following, the State Government repealed Part 3A and expanded the duties of the Department of Planning to become the Department of Planning and Infrastructure.
  • In 2012 the state government began a discussion paper “Sydney over the next 20 years” which aimed at collecting community responses.
  • Later in the year, the Department of Planning and Infrastructure released a white paper entitled: “A New Planning System for NSW”. There were several important takeaways:
  1. The community must be involved, and they must become involved at the earliest stage.
  2. Good policies prevent poor development; therefore, it is both a duty and a requirement to prepare evidence-based policies.
  3. Bureaucracy has stagnated growth, and to assist proposals and applications the government must reduce “red tape”.
  4. Plan infrastructure to deliver positive outcomes to support new and existing communities.
  • In 2014 the Department of Planning and Infrastructure reconstituted roles and responsibilities and became the Department of Planning and Environment.
  • In 2015 through 2017 at the direction of then-Premier Mike Baird, a number of local governments were amalgamated.
  • In 2016 the Greater Sydney Commission was established as an independent government agency.
  • Since 2016 several significant changes have occurred, including the introduction of ePlanning and the Department of Planning and Environment becoming the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment.

Changes in planning legislation, strategic objectives, and development pathways are complex and ever-shifting. If you would like to speak to an expert town planner regarding a project, click here to get in touch.

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