Planning Institute of Australia National Congress

Planning Institute of Australia National Congress, 26 March 2013, National Convention Centre, Canberra

Urban renewal and consolidation can provide an effective response to population growth in an environmentally sustainable way—so long as it is supported by clean efficient transport, a wide range of local community facilities, and more and improved open space.

With more than half the world's population now urbanised, cities are where we need to make the real change to address climate change. Cities are responsible for up to 75 to 80 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions and provide the greatest opportunity for deep cuts in emissions.

We are in the critical decade for climate change, and the decisions we make from now until 2020 will determine the severity of climate change that our children and grandchildren will have to deal with.

As transport is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, the creation of compact, walkable and liveable cities is essential if we are to accommodate population growth sustainably.


By 2031, metropolitan Sydney will have an extra 1.3 million people, revised upward just last week by the NSW Government in its Draft Metropolitan Strategy for Sydney. The projected Sydney population will be 5.5 million by 2031.

These new projections require an extra 545,000 homes by 2030, an average of 27,250 dwellings a year—and 17 per cent above the previous 2010 forecasts. The new forecasts include 625,000 more jobs over the next 20 years—an average of 31,250 a year and a 33 per cent above the 2010 forecasts.

While we are yet to determine what these new metropolitan projections mean for the City of Sydney local government area, our former targets require a further 37,500 new homes and 100,000 new jobs by 2031.

The City of Sydney is the global heart of Sydney and undoubtedly remains a growth magnet, attracting residents and jobs, but the inevitable parallel is pressure on available land, on infrastructure and services.

In fact, our jobs target is heavily dependent upon upgrading the City transport system, including new light rail and increased capacity at Wynyard and Town Hall heavy rail stations. We have an over-congested transport system—cars and buses choke city streets; trains are slower than they were a decade ago; and our rail system could reach capacity within eight years.

We also face high and increasing rates of energy and water consumption and waste generation. Without action, by 2030 the City's annual water consumption would rise by 22 per cent, while greenhouse gas emissions would increase by an alarming 41 per cent and the residential waste stream by 50 per cent.


Clearly, we cannot afford "business as usual".

Historically, governments have dumped people on the outskirts of Sydney without public transport or local facilities. This spread of detached dwellings threatens to obliterate the biodiversity and agricultural land in the Sydney food basin.

But urban consolidation can be environmentally, economically and socially sustainable. Greater densities can provide inviting living areas with generous parks and open space, libraries, sporting facilities, vibrant local neighbourhoods and affordable housing, especially for essential workers.

One has only to think of the villages of New York and London, or the historic inner areas of the City of Sydney, which already have Australia's highest population densities. Already, 75 per cent of our residents are apartment dwellers.

This means that many people recognise the benefits of density—lively and walkable neighbourhoods; easy access to quality local shops; quality community facilities and libraries; diverse cultural opportunities; and the possibility of greater sustainability.


Given that my political career began at a street level, in my inner-city neighbourhood, in an effort to stir my local council into providing usable green space and liveable streets, it's no surprise that I continue to value the voices from the street.

Indeed, it has been our policy since my Independent Team was first elected in 2004 to actively engage our city communities, not only in planning for their local areas, but in developing an overarching plan for the City as a whole.

Local government is the level of government closest to the people. Effective councils understand their communities and the local area, and are best placed to plan and deliver projects at that level.

As Lord Mayor, I wanted to ensure that our City organisation connected with and responded to our communities, and that we encouraged participation in decision making.

If we want our cities to be secure, harmonious, and sustainable, we need to involve people in planning their local environment, and their future. We must understand their needs and what they value about their homes and neighbourhoods.


When I was elected in 2004, I wanted to set a future vision for our city and began the work on our long-term plan for our environmental, economic, social and cultural sustainability.

We wanted a vision that would inspire support across the board— so that long-term work could continue, no matter who is in government in George Street, Macquarie Street or Canberra.

We engaged local communities, other levels of government, big business, and small business, cultural and educational institutions, interest groups and visitors in the most comprehensive consultation ever undertaken in Sydney.

Over 12,000 people were directly consulted at more than 30 forums. A further 4,000 people were involved through City Talks, and 2,000 people gave oral comments on the 2030 "Future Phone" at events, schools and educational institutions.

547 people were given personal briefings at 11 sessions, and we held nine roundtable discussions with key groups. We also went to schools and asked primary students to draw the future, and we went to the streets to survey visitors.

The result was an extraordinary consensus, with 97 per cent of people telling us they want us to take action against climate change, and to make Sydney a green and sustainable city.


We consulted, we researched, we committed, and now we are taking action.

The diverse work includes widening footpaths, planting thousands of trees, creating new parks and street gardens, restoring heritage, building libraries and pools, funding community volunteer projects, promoting a small bar revolution, sponsoring cultural events and drafting new planning controls. All part of creating a liveable city!

Sustainable Sydney 2030 put solutions on the agenda that are now embedded into state strategies—most importantly, George Street light rail and pedestrianisation to revitalise the CBD.

And we are reducing greenhouse gas emissions within our own organisation, with our residential communities and with business.

These efforts have been recognised with a prestigious international award—the City won a silver award in the most sustainable government category of the renowned International Green Awards for its vision, innovation and advocacy in areas including energy, water, waste and transport.

Officially recognised as Australia's first carbon-neutral government, the City's sustainability achievements include:

  • Reducing water consumption in the City's buildings by 20 per cent;
  • Retrofitting city buildings to improve energy and water efficiency, reducing carbon pollution by 42 per cent;
  • Increasing recycling rates from 49 per cent to 66 per cent through advanced waste treatment;
  • Installing $4.3 million worth of solar panels on more than 30 major buildings, cutting annual carbon pollution by 2,250 tonnes; and
  • Installing 6,500 LED street and park lights to reduce electricity use by 40 per cent

We are working with the private sector through the Better Building Partnership, 13 property owners who are collectively responsible for nearly 60 per cent of our CBD office space working with us on emission reductions; and the CitySwitch program to help office tenants reduce their environmental footprint.

And we're are supporting residents looking for more sustainable living, whether it's through the Smart Green Apartment program; workshops, community gardens; or our proposed City Farm.


In our experience, it is a case of taking the community with you – not through slick public relations, but through proper process. People are NOT stupid, and they know when you're trying to massage them.

Proper process means doing the necessary research, looking at all the options, talking to the community – and listening to them and responding by making changes to the plan; and it means lobbying to make sure transport issues are resolved and – vitally – it means making sure the necessary services and facilities are in place as the development proceeds.

During consultation on our new planning controls we held more than 100 meetings with local groups and industry stakeholders, and City planners responded to hundreds more phone enquiries.

The new Plan, adopted last year, accommodates increased density in carefully-chosen areas.

Our goal is to protect the amenity of our heritage urban villages and provide density in renewal areas, such as the former commercial and industrial areas of Green Square and the Fraser's Property development at Broadway, at Harold Park and the Ashmore Estate.

To help get the controls right, we met with the community and asked what they valued, and prepared urban design studies for all our villages—with the reports publicly available for extended periods for further review and consultation.

Our staff and consultants did site-by-site reviews to determine appropriate height, density and public domain controls—although State directives for controls on a block-by-block basis mean that much of that work is not reflected in the final controls.

We have also strengthened controls for sustainability, good design, cross ventilation, solar access and quality buildings and materials.


And while there are inevitably dissenters, the result was a remarkable degree of consensus around our new planning controls that will achieve the majority of our target of dwellings and jobs for 2030.




While our renewal areas are dense (Green Square takes my breath away!), we intend them to be well planned and beautifully designed.


To help us, we established our highly regarded Design Advisory Panel and Public Art Advisory Panel, and sought out respected professionals, such as our Planning Director, Graham Jahn.


The $8 billion Green Square renewal, being delivered by a partnership with LandCom, Leightons and Mirvac, is one of Australia's largest urban renewal sites, eventually expected to provide 20,000 new jobs and house 48,000 new residents.


It will transform the southern areas of our city—with that change already well underway, as thousands of new residents move into developments such as Victoria Park and the ACI site along South Dowling Street.


Many of the parameters for Green Square were set before by Team was elected. So I have worked to achieve design excellence in the development—improved landscaping, public transport connections and nice parks


We have an Infrastructure Strategy that identifies infrastructure requirements, the costs and contributions from the development sites, which are indexed quarterly in line with the CPI.


We've adopted decentralised water and energy strategies, and are negotiating a contract with Origin Energy to provide a low carbon tri-generation precinct. A heritage building is ready for conversion into a green infrastructure centre to reduce energy and water use and costs across Green Square.


And the City has been working to get State action on Green Square light rail, including buying some sites to help secure the vital transport corridor in the face of State inaction.


In total, the City has allocated approximately $560 million towards public infrastructure for the Green Square Town Centre, the commercial, retail and cultural hub of the entire renewal area.




The City's central role at Green Square has been to ensure that planning controls allow for appropriate growth and development. Our controls aim to provide the workplaces and housing for the target population while keeping development innovative, sustainable and – importantly for long-term cohesion – respectful of existing neighbourhoods.


We have mandated a total of about 330 rental units for worker housing—low-to-moderate income households as development proceeds over the next 15 or 20 years. We continue to pursue sustainable water management and lower-carbon trigeneration electricity to create a sustainable new community.


We are still in the early phases, but I hope that we will see a vibrant, cohesive and sustainable new community evolve there over the coming years.


What this brief outline does not tell you is the hundreds upon hundreds of hours that have gone into not only the research and drafting of plans, but in the face-to-face meetings with other stakeholders and with the community.


Planning controls have been exhibited, and revised, and taken back to the community. Needed facilities have been discussed with them, and their feedback taken on board. Yes, it's laborious, it is time and energy and resource consuming. But it produces results – good, strong, viable communities – not slums of the future.




Just a few weeks ago, we announced the winner of an international design competition for a library in the Town Centre.


The international competition aimed to get the best possible ideas for this major piece of community infrastructure, since design excellence is a major contributor to making urban consolidation workable. We had a fantastic result. Over 160 architects from 29 countries submitted a range of thoughtful and inspiring schemes.


The process included a public exhibition of the proposals, with a comprehensive website and a display at the inaugural Green Square Fair last October.


In the end, two 20-something Sydney architects, Felicity Stewart and Matthias Hollenstein from Stewart Hollenstein, with Colin Stewart Architects, won the day.


Their design redefines the traditional idea of a library, fusing innovative buildings with the outdoor plaza to create flexible – and beautiful – range of spaces for books and technology, meetings, performances and events.


Some of the buildings are below ground while bookshelves sit outdoors in the plaza. The design includes an amphitheatre, a storytelling garden, water play zone and wide open spaces for festivals.


Our jurors, who included John Denton and Glenn Murcutt, called the scheme "dynamite" and "absolutely world class". And the public response to the designs has been universally positive.


The City has set aside $40 million for the 3000-square metre library and 4,200-square metre plaza.


Other facilities will be housed in historic buildings on the old South Sydney Hospital site which will find new life as community facilities, such as a hall, an arts workshop, meeting rooms, studios, exhibition galleries, rehearsal spaces and a theatrette.


We have also planned new open green space, including a new 6,500 square metre park in the Town Centre, a larger park of 15,500 square metres in the nearby Epsom Park precinct and a smaller park on the former Hospital site. Other small parks are planned.




On a smaller scale, we have been through a similar process at Harold Park – a former racetrack at the north-western edge of our LGA, now being redeveloped for medium-density housing.


When former Harold Park owner, the NSW Harness Racing Club, decided to move and sell the site, it was looking for a substantial return and the State Government was lobbied to take control of planning for the site.


Through the fortunate political timing of a marginal seat and a state election, the City of Sydney was successful in retaining planning responsibility. And we immediate commenced a considered process of research, negotiation and consultation.


We went to the community with a blank sheet — firstly at a crowded meeting one hot Saturday afternoon at St Scholastica's school.


As the hands shot up to ask for the entire site to become public open space, I explained up-front why that was not a practical option.


In order to protect our heritage areas while meeting State Government housing targets, we needed housing development on renewal sites—particularly a ten hectare site on light rail and bus routes, within three kilometres of the CBD.


In parallel to holding public meetings, we were negotiating with the Harness Racing Club


Because of the private owner's expectations, I was worried that, whatever the outcome, the State Government might add greater height and density.


I wanted to secure a long-term public legacy in exchange for the substantial benefit of a rezoning, and sought for the 38 per cent of the site that was currently private open space to become public open space.


Many people told me that it couldn't be done.


Our other non-negotiables for the development were for it to respect the form of surrounding heritage terrace houses in Glebe, Forest Lodge and Annandale. We wanted the historic tram sheds restored with community uses, and we wanted affordable worker housing be provided.


We held a number of very well attended meetings in Glebe over the following twelve months, including mail-outs, workshops and meetings with particular groups.


We gave the community opportunities to review technical studies on matters like traffic, retail, social analysis, and to give their feedback. All this fed into the draft plan which went on exhibition.


The Greens campaigned against the redevelopment and the car lobby came out against parking restrictions to manage congestion.


But by the end of the process, many people welcomed the development and I think — I hope— the majority of people consider it a fair outcome.


The owner and the developer accepted it as a fair outcome.


The $1.1 billion development involves 1,200 residences for about 2,500 people.


The outcome secures one-third of the site (3.8 hectares) as public open space and the City is now consulting on a master plan for the new parklands, including two kilometres of walking and cycling paths to connect with existing local and foreshore parks, and the existing light rail service.


Height limits are restricted to eight storeys in the valley, equivalent to the two- and three-storey terraces on the cliff above the site.


There will be 500 square metres of community space in the historic tram-sheds, and 1000 square meters of land that will provide around 50 affordable units.


It was a model process that responded to legitimate concerns and expectations, while securing long-term and tangible public benefits in exchange for an up-zoning.




A planning reform process now underway in NSW proposes that consultation will take place almost solely during the strategic planning phase, on the assumption that later development applications will be supported.


This won't happen and I reject the assertion that effective public engagement is responsible for perceived delays in housing development.


At the City of Sydney, some 11,455 dwellings have been completed since 2006, with a further 17,242 already approved and in the pipeline for completion in the next five years.


To put that another way: in just 12 years to 2018, the City will have achieved almost half of its 30 year target.


While consultation at the strategic phase is essential, the full implications of the strategic-level plan will rarely be obvious to lay people; the strategic plan doesn't deal with detailed design; and there will be people who move into an area after the strategy has been formulated.


The process we went through at Harold Park does not preclude legitimate concerns at the DA stage, though not in the large numbers that would have existed had we not gone through a comprehensive process.


At Harold Park, we provided certainty for the proponents, as well as for the local and broader community.




The depth and effectiveness of our consultation has been specifically recognised in relation to Pirrama Park Pyrmont and our Village Plans.


Pirrama Park is part of our commitment to high quality open space, which has involved improvement to nearly every City park such as Paddington Reservoir Gardens, Rushcutters Bay Park, Prince Alfred Park, Harmony Park in Surry Hills, Redfern Park, Sydney Park and Victoria Park.


Pirrama Park was opened by the City in 2010. It won architecture awards and the City received a Highly Commended Parks and Leisure Australia Award recognising the broad community consultation that was an integral part of the design process.


The City engaged in seven community forums, took feedback from 23 community groups, consulted with over 1,000 citizens and received 14,302 written comments.


The result is a stunning $24.2 million investment, including $1.6M in consultation and design, to achieve an award-winning park with adventure playground, striking amenities building and harbour promenade interpreting the original shoreline. The design captures stormwater for irrigation and solar panels supply most of the park's power.


Our plans for local villages also resulted from extensive consultation within each of the City precincts.


We worked with local communities to identify and enhance the distinctive character of each village. People let us know what they loved about their neighbourhoods, and the projects that they would like to see happen.


This was done through household surveys, community meetings, workshops, focus group discussions, briefings and interviews during 2006.


At the end of the process we reported back to communities with "A Snapshot of Projects for our Local Action Plan Strategy 2007-2010". This consultation was recognised by the NSW Local Government and Shires Association, with the City receiving the prestigious RH Dougherty Award 2006 for Reporting to Your Local Community.


The village planning process identified priority improvements for each precinct, with 416 project ideas suggested by residents. These projects were embedded in our strategic planning and budgeting, with majority now complete or underway.




Receiving recognition for consultation is encouraging – but it's not the reason why we do it. Working with the community enables better outcomes.


By not taking short-cuts, and involving communities throughout, we continue to see projects and development that provides a better environment for our City.


This is a vital role for local government, which has a unique capacity to work with local communities on sustainable, inviting, compact, walkable, mixed-use cities and neighbourhoods. We understand the local services and infrastructure needed, and have a central role in providing much of it.


In this context, it is disturbing that the unique role and contribution of local government is routinely ignored or undermined in Australia.


A Bill currently before the NSW Parliament would effectively make democratically elected local councils into state corporations, accountable to the Minister and subject to his direction. And at a Commonwealth level, a limited proposal to ensure local government can receive Federal funding is struggling to get State support.


Australia is facing major and urgent challenges. The capacity of local governments to engage and involve their local communities will be essential to delivering the quality, innovative and sustainable solutions needed.