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Reform of State planning and development - read more

At Neutral Bay, on Alfred Street North, developers began work on an elevated bus ramp onto the southbound Warringah Expressway. It will pass over existing houses and gardens, on one section buses will loop just a few metres from the fourth floor windows of a block of units. Merlin Reserve has been paved over for builders’ parking and Alfred Street North is being reduced to one lane, the other disappearing to widen the expressway;

At neighbouring Cammeray over 750 mature trees were chopped down and 40% of the golf course bulldozed out of the way, impacting residents, birds and wildlife and leaving a cliff face facing south bound Warringah Expressway. The community was told it was necessary preparatory work for the Northern Beaches Link, despite the announcement in June 2022, that the Beaches Link had been put on indefinite hold, to make way for projects with “higher paybacks,” such as a Parramatta light rail.

At Milsons Point, Bradfield Park is under siege. The park was given to the people of North Sydney in perpetuity, under the Sydney Harbour Bridge (Administration) Act 1932, in recognition of 438 houses and numerous streets demolished to make way for the Bridge. Most of Bradfield Park South is closed for long term storage of materials to maintain the Bridge. Bradfield Park North provides much needed green space for thousands of residents who live in high rise units along Alfred Street South. It is a beautiful park, with part of its grassed area paved with footprints of laneways and buildings that once occupied the site, before work on the Bridge began.


In December, preliminary drilling commenced in Bradfield Park North for the construction of a bikeway linking Alfred Street South and the narrow bicycle lane on the western edge of the Bridge. The bikeway will replace a stairway at the northern end of the Bridge where cyclists dismount and wheel their bikes up or down on a narrow ramp in the middle of the steps. Transport for NSW dismissed alternative designs, such as locating the ramp on a disused bowling-green along Alfred Street South.

Promotion from Transport for NSW shows a golden pathway rising across the park to the Bridge, it has no pillars supporting it, no metal mesh cage over it to prevent debris landing on the rail track, no mention of the forty trees to be knocked over in its path. The pamphlet also stresses that the bikeway is to accommodate all bike riders.

Currently riders of heavier e-bikes cannot use the steps. There are an estimated 2000 shared-ride e-bikes already on Sydney streets; their popularity is growing rapidly, overtaking traditional pedal powered models. Bike rental companies in Sydney, like Bird & Lime from the USA, HelloRide from China, Neuron and Beam from Singapore, soon to be joined by Helbiz from Italy, will be eager to offer e-bikes to tourists for a Bridge ride.

Bradfield Park North is being sacrificed to make way for a bikeway not fit for purpose. It will not be integrated with the Warringah expressway; bikes heading north are to be funnelled into streets around North Sydney. The Bridge bike lane is already busy during peak hours and weekends, it is too narrow to accommodate access for all bike riders, as promised by Transport for NSW, particularly high speed electric bikes.

I ask how Bradfield Park North, given to the North Sydney community under legislation, can be removed without Parliament having passed an amendment to the 1932 Act?

There is increasing frustration and anger in North Sydney at fake State-run consultation that routinely ignores local input and objections; at the removal of planning and decision-making from the local, elected Council; and at a complete lack of support from their local State Member, her failure to attend meetings or to respond to their calls and correspondence and her refusal to advocate on their behalf.

St Leonards, where boundaries of North Sydney, Lane Cove and Willoughby Councils meet, is densely packed with high rise towers, and others under construction. Open space, other than a couple of “pocket-parks” is almost non-existent, as are schools and community facilities. Towers along Pacific Highway overshadow and overlook each other, their surrounding lanes and streets are windswept and inhospitable.

State Government encouragement of intensive high rise development between St Leonards and along the forthcoming Metro Line station on Pacific Highway, has resulted in increasing pressure from developers for Councils to approve taller and bulkier towers along the highway, ultimately creating the wall of high-rise from St Leonards to Crows Nest and onward to North Sydney.

When Councils do not approve proposals for towers in excess of height limits set by statutory Local Environmental Plans, or with inadequate community facilities, developers can proceed to a State appointed Planning Panel. With its endorsement they can submit the plans for approval by the Minister for Planning to be exhibited for rezoning as high-rise.

In June 2022, the Minister issued a Gateway Proposal for 270-272 Pacific Highway to be placed on public exhibition. It includes an increase in height from the current maximum of 16 metres to 54 metres, or 13 storeys. The developer offered Council a minimum of $1 million, up to $3 million depending on its agreement to allow the site to be “developed to its full potential.”

There are four other major developments between St Leonards and Crows Nest, seeking a similar response from the Minister, effectively State rezoning to permit the development to go ahead, at:
290 Pacific Highway, a two-storey commercial podium with 14 storeys above;
360 Pacific Highway, 18 storeys;
378-390 Pacific Highway, 24 storeys; and
391-423 Pacific Highway, 3-15 Falcon Street & 8 Alexander Street, 16 storeys.

A sixth proposal, under development, is to replace the IBM building at 601 Pacific Highway with two towers, one 63 levels, 200 metres above ground, the second, 45 levels, 145 metres above ground.

In Mosman, at 769 Military Road, Mosman High School is being redeveloped to three and four storeys, with a rooftop section or a fifth. The new school, deemed State significant infrastructure, is not required to comply with Mosman Council statutory planning codes. Rather than stepping the building height back from Belmont and Military Roads to Gladstone Avenue, there is virtually no setback from them, the bulk and height of the new school will dominate the heritage streetscape.

Nearby, at 731-741 Military Road, a Woolworths supermarket is to open in 2023, after years of resident opposition and a court battle. Concern is growing in Mosman that these projects are the thin edge of the wedge, that Military Road is the next target, that local businesses will be pushed out and traffic come to a halt, placing Mosman’s heritage streetscapes and its urban village under siege.

How can Parliament progress reform of State planning and development?

Currently those Ministers who progress major infrastructure projects -Transport, Local Government and Planning - have separate and discrete powers. The lack of any overarching coordination routinely leads to dysfunctional development.

Parliament can ensure the Administrative Orders of the incoming Government in March 2023 draw these powers together to pursue greater coordination and transparency in planning and development, attuned in particular to the impacts of climate change.

Parliament can ensure the incoming Government limits Ministerial discretion, ending the misuse of ministerial interventions and loopholes to override Local Councils, community objections, heritage constraints and environmental sensitivities.

Parliament can ensure an end to faceless State-appointed planning panels with no accountability to the community or Local Government.

Parliament can progress reform of self regulation by developers and private certification of major developments currently paid for by the developer.

Parliament can initiate a public enquiry into of the role of Local Government in New South Wales and its future.

Parliament could do many things to improve planning and development, but the majority of its Members are constrained by obligations to their Parties and the deals done by those Parties behind closed doors; and they say and do nothing.

I have considerable experience working within Parliament and will have no hesitation in raising these issues, asking questions and recommending reform. Open and honest questions can only improve parliamentary debate and performance and have a salutary effect on Government.

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