Standard Instrument proposals will over-regulate

26 May 2010

The Urban Taskforce recently completed its review of the NSW Department of Planning’s paper Potential Amendments to the Standard Instrument – March 2010.

Regretfully, we are very critical of the great bulk of the proposals in this document, with only a few exceptions. It seems that these proposals have been prepared on the assumption that the NSW planning system is suffering from a lack of regulation and detailed prescription. We beg to differ.

Frankly, we are surprised that the Department of Planning should be proposing such a significant increase in regulation and prescription at a time when the wider community is becoming increasingly aware of the inherent problems in this approach.

We are not seeking to be negative for the sake of it. In fact, we were very positive about the original Standard Instrument that was produced by the Department in 2006. However, we are alarmed at the Department’s apparent abandonment of the reformist move towards multiple-use zoning, embodied in the original 2006 Standard Instrument. The options paper moves NSW further away from the ideals of the 2006 document.

We are also critical of the options paper’s proposal for a new mammoth body of heritage regulation that will literally reach in the lounge rooms of many tens of thousands of households across NSW.

Our comprehensive submission to the Department of Planning is available here.

Our key concerns are summarised below.

The counter revolution against multiple-use zoning

The December 2007 amendments to the Standard Instrument (which took place without consultation or prior notice to industry)  represented a roll-back of reforms designed to promote multiple-use zoning. The changes saw town planning traditionalists successfully re-instate the primacy of single-use zoning in NSW. The options paper largely represents a further step to dispose of the last vestiges of the visionary multiple-use zoning system, pioneered in 2006, but never implemented.

Some examples of the return to single-use zoning in the options paper are:

  • formalising “business development zones” as being largely about “bulky goods premises” when they were originally supposed to be about office and retail uses (which included bulky goods premises but was not limited to them);
  • attempts are made to rid the “enterprise corridor” zone of the last vestiges of its role in providing a ready supply of affordable housing, as envisaged by the Metropolitan Strategy;
  • industrial retail outlets are to be scaled back in size without justification;
  • a new layer of additional regulation to descend on the least regulated form of retail development – a neighbourhood shop;
  • a new definition of “high technology industry” to be created – which will allow less politically sexy forms of light industry (with the same minimal impact as “high technology industry”) to be banned from some local council areas;
  • a new power is to be given to councils to permit “retail premises”, but ban “bulky goods premises” in the same zone;
  • a new power is to be given to councils to allow restaurants in a zone, but ban wine bars (until now they had to permit or prohibit both together in a zoning plan);
  • a new power is to be given to councils to allow professionals, such as lawyers, accountants and architects to work in a zone, but ban health care professionals such as doctors, physiotherapists, psychologists and naturopaths;
  • a new power is to be given to councils to prohibit cinemas and nightclubs, whilst allowing other businesses that provide services to the public – and such uses are now no longer to be permissible as a matter-of-course in enterprise corridors; and
  • coastal protection works currently allowed in ten zones, subject to council approval, now may be subject to blanket bans, in all zones.

On a positive note, we do support the Department’s efforts to reform the definition of “hardware and building supplies” and support the inclusion of this term as a mandatory permitted use in the business development zone and the light Industrial zone. It should also be mandated as a permitted use in the IN1 general industrial zone. We also support efforts to address obvious flaws in the existing definition of “shop top housing”, however we would prefer a return to definition that more closely resembled the 2006 definition of “shop top housing”.

Mammoth new heritage regulation

The scale of the proposed new heritage regulation is mammoth. The implications of the far-reaching changes in the options paper will impact on everyday home owners across NSW. The changes include:

  • high level protection for almost every privately owned physical object or property relating to either the modern or historical occupation of NSW by Aboriginal people;
  • abolition of mapping requirement for protected Aboriginal places with the result that every site, of contemporary significance to Aboriginal people will automatically be protected under planning legislation, even when on private property;
  • abolition of time limits requiring speedy responses from Aboriginal people when consulted about development applications on private property;
  • abolition of rule requiring “relics” to be 50 years old or more before being protected under the planning laws, along with the corresponding abolition of the rule requiring “relics” to be attached to or buried in the ground – this means household furniture, among other things, will now be “relics” under planning legislation;
  • owners of heritage listed buildings will now need to write to council and seek agreement for even the most minor of maintenance issues – an excessive intrusion into the life of thousands of owners of heritage listed homes;
  • several proposals designed to give draft heritage listings, that have not been approved by the state government, the same status as those that have -taking away people’s property rights without the involvement of any state-level elected representative;
  • a weakening of existing incentives for the adaptive re-use of heritage properties; and
  • a removal of the requirement to properly document heritage matters in LEPs and their maps – green lighting careless conduct by both parliamentary draftsmen and those that instruct them.