Ku-ring-gai Electorate Building Developments
Mr O'FARRELL (Ku-ring-gai—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [11.11 a.m.]: I move:
That this House notes:
(1) the results of the Ku-ring-gai Municipal Council elections held on Saturday 11 September 1999, and
(2) the clear message delivered by ratepayers in opposing the Government's attempts to impose inappropriate, high
density development upon Ku-ring-gai.
In September last year councils across the State went to the polls. In the municipality of Ku-ring-gai, the Ku-ring-gai Preservation Trust had been formed prior to that election expressly because of concerns about State Government planning policies, in particular, State Environment Planning Policy No. 53 ant State Environmental Planning Policy No. 5. It is rare in this day and age that any of us go to political meetings, community meetings at which more than 1,000 people are present. But because of the way the Carr Government, in particular the Minister's predecessor the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning had handled planning in relation to Ku-ring-gai council, the Ku-ring-gai Preservation Trust was formed at a meeting of more than 1,500 of the Ku-ring-gai municipality residents in the lead-up to 1999 municipal election.
The people who formed the trust, those who subsequently joined the trust, and the many thousands of people who voted for trust candidates in September last year did so because they wanted to protect the residential and environmental amenity of Ku-ring-gai. They are concerned that State Government planning instruments are adversely affecting their area. This is not an attempt by Ku-ring-gai municipality to put up walls. It is not an attempt by Ku-ring-gai municipality to say to the other parts of Sydney: This is your problem, not ours. Rather, this is a response by Ku-ring-gai municipality to say: Ku-ring-gai has a number of unique residential and environmental features. We have a particular style of housing. It is not appropriate that blunt instruments like SEPP 53 and SEPP 5 be used to change that character across the whole of the municipality.
To say that the Ku-ring-gai Preservation Trust was successful is an understatement. Some 10 councils were elected in September last year, seven of which represented the Ku-ring-gai Preservation Trust. Only two councillors from the former council retained their seats, one of whom is a member of the Preservation Trust. Two other councillors were elected on an anti-development platform but they were not members of the Trust. There was an overwhelming endorsement by electors in Ku-ring-gai against the State Government's intention to increase densities across that municipality.
I moved this motion, notice of which was first given on 14 September last year shortly after the council elections, because of my concern about ongoing State Government actions towards Ku-ring-gai. I want to address this in two ways. First, I want to talk about SEPP 5. I want to acknowledge, given that he is in the House, that in dealing with development issues in Ku-ring-gai, the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning appears, on the surface at least, to be listening and to be proactive. But the concern of Ku-ring-gai is that notwithstanding the attitudes that he has expressed there seems to be a reluctance on the part of his bureaucrats and the department to understand what the Ku-ring-gai Preservation Trust representing the wider community and represented on council by seven councillors, is on about.
As I have said in this House time and time again, SEPP 5 is a cancer across the Ku-ring-gai electorate, despite the fact that in February 1998 this Government revised the policy, despite the fact that in revising the policy it was intended to increase the availability of housing to aged and disabled people, despite the fact that housing should make efficient use of existing infrastructure and services, and should be of good design. On none of those counts is it being following correctly in Ku-ring-gai. Last night I told the House that in some cases a single housing block in Ku-ring-gai is having a SEPP 5 development placed on it so that up to 16 new housing lots can replace the one home. That is one family in one house being replaced by 16 family units in 16 housing lots.
That is a policy that is simply out of control. As I have said previously, it is a policy that developers are driving a truck through. These developers are not buying blocks of land in areas that are already zoned for increased densities. They are buying blocks of land for far cheaper prices in areas where single homes exist. Why are they doing that? Because there is a bigger buck to be made. It is also obvious that there is no good design necessarily to be effected in these SEPP 5 developments, despite the Premier's protestations from time to time about the need to bring better design rules into planning. Time and time again the Land and Environment Court has expressed a view about some of these developments. In 1998, in a rare rejection of one of Ku-ring-gai's SEPP 5 developments, the court described it as "Nothing more than residential flats by another name."
Second, the other big problem about SEPP 5 developments is the fact that neither local councils nor State Government can ensure that they are being occupied by people to whom the SEPP was targeted. The policy cannot be policed and therefore it should not exist. I am also disturbed that because of a decision by the Premier in 1987, SEPP 5 developments are exempt from section 94 developer contributions. Notwithstanding the fact that the residents of those SEPPs are having an impact on community infrastructure and services, they are not required to make a contribution to the further development of those facilities and the like. The fourth point is that these SEPP 5 developments are not restricted close to service and infrastructure. It is a nonsense for anyone to suggest that they are being built close to public transport, shopping centres, medical facilities and the like.
I have streets in my electorate that are well away from such facilities where one SEPP 5 development is fundamentally altering the character of that street. It is that to which the trust objects, it is that to which Ku-ring-gai council is objecting and it is that to which fundamentally the Ku-ring-gai municipality has objected. The second issue revolves around SEPP 53. I will not be too provocative because I am still hopeful that the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning will produce a sensible outcome. Before I go on I should say that the Minister initiated a review into SEPP 5. He included, at my request, Ku-ring-gai council in that review last year with Ku-ring-gai council representatives. We are still waiting for the review to be released. We have had an interim report, but the final report is well overdue. If the Minister can make a contribution to the debate the one thing I would ask is: When will we see the report of that SEPP 5 review?
It is not only Ku-ring-gai but Sutherland, Penrith and many other councils across this city that want to see an end to the abuse going on with SEPP 5. SEPP 53 is being considered by the Minister's department at the present time. Ku-ring-gai council, which has acted far more responsibly than the former council, has tried to put together a residential strategy that is consistent with the broader nebulous criteria that the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning sets out, and that is currently before the Minister and his department. I hope that the Minister does the right thing in terms of the Ku-ring-gai community. But I make the point about SEPP 5 that notwithstanding that councils adopt residential strategies in line with the Government's demand, these SEPP 5 developments can make a mockery of those strategies.
They can increase densities in areas that were never intended to have increased densities. They can fundamentally affect a streetscape and landscape and the environment of a particular area. I could easily characterise this as a NIMBY—not in my backyard—argument, but it is not a NIMBY argument. People from all over Sydney and from areas represented by members on the other side of the House have moved to the Ku-ring-gai electorate for the great schools, both public and private, that are offered, the choice of housing stock, the fact that that housing stock often has large blocks of land, which is terrific for bringing up children, and the fact that it has national parks are on two sides. We live in a fortunate part of Sydney that has been recognised by the National Trust. Our urban conservation areas were put on the endangered list by Tom Uren.
The purpose of this motion is to ensure that the reasons Ku-ring-gai Preservation Trust councillors were so successful in September 1999 and that so many people in the Ku-ring-gai community supported them are reflected, recognised and acknowledged by this Government. We do not want a continuation of threats to our community or to the residential environmental amenity currently being proposed by SEPP 5 and SEPP 53. We need this Government to recognise that local communities do have intrinsic worth and that State governments need to exercise planning instruments with a great deal of care. We have been critical of former Liberal and Labor governments for this one-size-fits-all attitude to planning in this State. SEPP 5 is a terrible example of what can happen under that approach. I say again: we hope the Minister looks favourably at SEPP 53.
Dr REFSHAUGE (Marrickville—Deputy Premier, Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, and Minister for Housing) [11.21 a.m.]: The first part of the motion obviously is strongly supported by the Government. We note the results of the Ku-ring-Gai Municipal Council elections on 11 September 1999. It is hard to oppose that. The second part of the motion is absolutely outrageous. It is not true to suggest that the Government is attempting to propose inappropriate high density development in Ku-ring-gai.
Mr O'Farrell: Well, it's true.
Dr REFSHAUGE: It is not true at all. Especially when your mate the former Mayor of Ku-ring-gai came to see me, the one who has just been deposed by his own lot, to talk about appropriate development. He said, "Yes, that's what we want, appropriate development." Your argument has been cut by your own mate, whom you put up to be mayor and who, unfortunately—I do not know whether his behaviour has caused problems—has decided now not to stand as mayor again and somebody else has taken over. Again, it is another one from your fan club, or is it the other way? Are you part of his fan club? We sat down and discussed appropriate development and the mayor said, "Yes, that's fine, we are happy to do that." The Opposition has no facts to support the claim that the Government is trying to impose inappropriate development. I will judge the proposal of the council by the same standards as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition on whether it produces density close to public transport and shopping centres. That is what the Opposition said should happen; we will see if it follows the transport corridors that are in place. That is what I talked to the mayor about and that is what he said he would do.
Sure the mayor has changed, but presumably the general tenor of the council has remained. We will be keeping a clear watch on that issue. No doubt when councils do the wrong thing they can be chucked out. When councils do the right thing by their residents, they get endorsed. When residential strategies have been endorsed by councils and have been done well, like the City of Sydney and some of the great councils of western Sydney, such as Fairfield and Blacktown, those councils get ringing endorsements. But where it is done very badly—a classic case of that is Sutherland council because it kept using State environmental planning policy [SEPP] 1 totally inappropriately—councils get chucked out. The old Liberals on Sutherland council got chucked out. You get chucked out when you do badly on council. It was not in any way a comment on the policy; it was how it was being implemented.
I find it difficult to comprehend also from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition his ability to decide that older people should not have choices in his electorate. Part of the Opposition policy is to abolish SEPP 5. Of course, SEPP 5 is intended to provide accommodation for aged people. His interest is, "Let's get rid of that." That is the Opposition's policy. After 18 to 20 months we have actually had few policy suggestions from this Opposition. One policy is to abolish SEPP 5. Opposition members seem to have differences of opinion with that. In fact, there was some indication from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that he may support changes to SEPP 5 rather than abolishing it, but he can work out his own difficulties.
Mr O'Farrell: Is SEPP 5 working?
Dr REFSHAUGE: Yes, it is. In a number of areas it is working very well. Clearly, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition's anti-elderly policy will come back to haunt him. . When the people who live in Ku-ring-gai now become empty nesters and want to remain in the area but live in smaller dwellings he will say, "No, you can't have them." They will have to move out of that area because they cannot have smaller dwellings. That is what he is saying and that is his policy. His other policy was dual occupancy, and that was a one-size-fits-all Liberal policy that was an absolute disaster. It is interesting the Opposition is not going back to that policy because its other policies have not worked and it has not come up with anything else. What will the Deputy Leader of the Opposition do about the need for aged people in his area? Nothing. All he says is to abolish SEPP 5 and not provide accommodation for older people. That is a great policy! That is something I am sure will win him the great favour of the elderly constituents in his electorate.
I cannot understand why the honourable member is being so stupid about this. Why does he not come up with something sensible, a policy that might work for people. All he says is, "I've got no ideas, so we'll abolish anything the Government might be doing." We have had genuine and strong support from all councils throughout the metropolitan region for getting a better residential development strategy. When any council has said to me it wants to review its residential strategy, I have said, "I'm quite happy for you to do that." It is a matter of agreeing to the general policy. We need to make sure there is accommodation for people who are coming to live in Sydney and that we do not contribute to the urban sprawl unnecessarily. There is certainly commonality of support for that.
None of the councils I have spoken to disagrees with that. They say they want to be able to maintain the local sensitivity. I said, "Fine, do that." In fact, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is saying that high density development should be close to transport and shopping centres, and that is exactly what we are saying. We are not saying anything different. If he has a policy he thinks will help to actually advance things for his constituents, it would be really nice to hear it. All we have had is 18 months of carping and negativity, but no policies, from a no-hope Opposition with no hope of being in government. That is really not very productive and it is certainly not what his constituents would want from him. His constituents want him to find solutions, not just to say, "Oh, I don't like that." The reality is that he has no policy.
Mr O'Farrell: Where are your solutions?
Dr REFSHAUGE: We have reviewed SEPP 5 and the reason we have taken time over it is that councils wanted to be consulted. I am a consultative Minister, I like to talk to councils and get their views. I know the honourable member may not want his councils to listen, but he asked me to include Ku-ring-gai, so I did. Sutherland wanted to be included, so I put Sutherland in. Obviously, this all takes more time. We have to put that information back to the councils who participated, and to the other councils and major stakeholders to get their views. That is important. If you want to cut down on consultation, put that as part of your policy; say that you will not consult with people. Certainly in due course we will publish a response to that review and to the input. I see already that people opposite will say, "No, get rid of SEPP 5." I issue a challenge to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition: If you want to be leader—you are showing signs that it might be a useful thing for you to do, it might be worthwhile your thinking about being leader—come up with a policy. This is the first test for him, because it is very much about his area. Come out and say, "Yes, that policy is good and I'd change it in this way to make it better."
I challenge the honourable member to do that. He should show some leadership, show that he is thinking about policy. The Opposition spokesperson will say, "No, we do not want this at all," but he will not come up with an alternative. The Coalition will condemn itself to the Opposition benches forever if it does that. I do care about the older constituents in all Coalition electorates. It is important to provide them with housing choice that enables them to stay with their networks in their local communities, but the Opposition's proposition to abolish SEPP 5 will not allow that. I spoke to the councillors but make no comment on their proposed local environment plan. They understood what was required and committed themselves to it. If they are able to deliver that, things will go well.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition put up the clear test that any concentration of accommodation should be close to public transport and to shopping centres. That is appropriate, and obviously the Government would give it a tick. However, it will not do that if the council does not live up to the test of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. Honourable members will see how he responds to the final assessment of the residential strategies that are delivered. I reiterate that every other council has played ball, come to the party and delivered the goods. Ku-ring-gai has not, and it has been obstructive all the way. I hope that the present councillors have clearly understood the residential strategy. They have given me a commitment that they will consider the criteria that the Government has laid out, which includes the necessary criteria for higher density development—proximity to public transport and shopping centres. I oppose the motion.
Mr HUMPHERSON (Davidson) [11.31 a.m.]: As many members probably know, the Ku-ring-gai Municipal Council area is characterised and made special by substantially treed streets, substantial amounts of vegetation, reserves, a couple of national parks and, threaded throughout, a predominantly residential area. In many respects it is a dormitory area. Many people moved to the Ku-ring-gai area, have remained and hope that their children can grow up and live there for those reasons. They feel protective and should be respected for having that feeling. One hopes that governments and their elected representatives would acknowledge that and take the concerns of the residents on board.
The council area is divided into a couple of State electorates. My seat of Davidson picks up about one-third, largely that part in the catchment of upper Middle Harbour. The larger part is in the electorate of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. The people in Ku-ring-gai feel that the area, their lifestyle, their investment and their choices are threatened by the style of housing that is being interspersed amongst their homes in what is predominantly a single-dwelling residential area. These were the issues that influenced voters at the September 1999 election. The majority of people who cast their votes were influenced by a desire to protect what they had and support those who respected that desire and wanted to preserve the character of Ku-ring-gai. The concerns they expressed then—a large part of which involve State environmental planning policy [SEPP] No. 5 and SEPP 53—remain.
To many people, State environmental planning policy No. 5 is a greater ogre than dual occupancy ever was. It has been under review now for the best part of 12 months. Only minutes ago the Minister could not guarantee when it would come back or what it would contain, which demonstrates that he does not understand the concerns of the residents, nor does he seem to care about the impact that SEPP 5 is having. The new Mayor of Ku-ring-gai, Laura Bennett, was present at a meeting at Lane Cove a week or so ago attended by the Hon. Henry Tsang from the upper House. In speaking to a number of applicants in her mayoral office she said, "We have areas zoned for medium-density housing that are appropriate for that sort of housing. Why do you not go there and put in an application for that land rather than going into residential areas?"
The answer is simple: It is financially far more attractive to buy land zoned residential single-dwelling than to buy land zoned medium density. Furthermore, developers who buy residential land and lodge a SEPP 5 application do not have to pay the section 94 contributions towards community facilities and services. Under the current circumstances with SEPP 5, most applicants who lodge applications for medium-density housing_the choice that the Minister talks about_will not do so in the areas in which the council and the community want developments commenced and constructed. As a member of Parliament I have for many years advocated the need for housing choice. Diversity of housing is needed, particularly for the elderly, but it must be provided in such a way that it preserves the character of the existing area. We do not have to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
We do not have to destroy the character of streets in Roseville or Lindfield or other parts of the Ku-ring-gai Municipal Council area. Simply put, when the State Government and the Minister allow a single SEPP 5 development in the centre of a streetscape that is treed on both sides and has large dwellings surrounded by vegetated gardens it destroys the character of an entire street. If multiplied by several streets throughout a suburb, the character of the suburb is substantially destroyed. State environmental planning policy 5 is an abomination that, the Minister fails to recognise, is far less attractive than the residential strategy put together and adopted unanimously by Ku-ring-gai council. The Minister should acknowledge that unanimity and support the council's desire to provide choice in appropriate places, close to transport, protecting and preserving the character of buildings and ultimately respecting the wishes of the entire population of the Ku-ring-gai council area.
Mr BROGDEN (Pittwater) [11.36 a.m.]: The Minister, in replying to the speech of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, stated that the Opposition's policy is to abolish SEPP 5. He is right. The Coalition will abolish SEPP 5 in its current form because it is bad planning policy. The Minister knows that because he has instituted a review of the policy. If there were nothing wrong with it, we would not be waiting for a report on SEPP 5. The Minister has admitted his problems with the policy. They were not his fault but that of the former Minister for Planning, now Minister for Health, who in January 1998 rewrote the old SEPP 5 to open it up to gross distortion. State environmental planning policy 5 as it stands today is a green light to developers for backdoor urban consolidation. It is destroying the neighbourhoods and the character of many Sydney suburbs. Together with places like Ku-ring-gai and Pittwater it is hurting suburbs like Ryde.
In many places across suburban Sydney developers are seeing SEPP 5 as an opportunity to put through backdoor urban consolidation projects, which are leading to overdevelopment in Sydney suburbs and the destruction of the character of our city. That is being done in a clever way by some but stupidly by others. There are many applications under SEPP 5. In Ku-ring-gai not a month goes by when the council rejects an application for a standard development under its own rules. Then surprise, surprise, a few weeks later in goes a SEPP 5 application. What is wrong with SEPP 5? At the top of the list is the problem that it is totally unenforceable.
Even if it sought to meet the objectives of the policy, which are admirable and with which the Opposition agrees, nobody would agree with the objectives of SEPP 5, which are to increase the availability of housing to provide a wider choice of residential accommodation for aged and disabled people, to make efficient use of infrastructure and services and to be of good design. Nobody disagrees with those objectives; no-one in this Chamber would; no-one in the community would. The problem is that the Carr Government's SEPP 5 does not meet those objectives. The gate is open and it is being abused widely across New South Wales. Its greatest fault is that its objectives cannot be enforced. Nobody—not the State Government, the intellectuals, the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning or the local council—can ensure that the person who buys and/or occupies a SEPP 5 development is over 55 or disabled.
Quite simply, at the age of 31 I could buy a SEPP 5 development and move in tomorrow. There is nothing to stop me from doing that. The policy is fatally flawed in achieving its initial objective, that is, to provide a greater choice of housing for elderly and disabled people. It is failing and will continue to fail to do that. The Opposition wants to know when it will receive the Government's final report on SEPP 5. I attended a meeting almost a year ago with the Minister and several mayors and general managers of councils, including Ryde, Ku-ring-gai, Pittwater and Warringah councils. In that meeting the Minister said, "I don't want this to take forever. I want a quick inquiry and report."
Councils requested a very open inquiry to allow the community to participate fully and the Minister said, "Trust me, we will have a short inquiry. This will not take long." It has been one year now. The interim report identifies the strong concerns of councils about SEPP 5 on behalf of their communities and the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning reflected that fairly in its report. However, it has done nothing since that meeting, and the report was due in September. The best the Minister can do today is to say that it will be out in due course. Will he still be the Minister or will he be in private practice in Marrickville by the time this happens? Will he have resigned from the Ministry and the Parliament before SEPP 5 is reviewed? We need the review now, and we demand that the Minister deliver the SEPP 5 review immediately. [Time expired.]
Mr O'FARRELL (Ku-ring-gai—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [11.40 a.m.], in reply: One of the things that I will regret when the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning retires from this place is his singular ability to distort the truth and twist words. We saw a bit of that skill from the Leader of the House but at least with the Minister there is an intellectual impetus and some substance. The Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning says that the second part of the motion is opposed because the Government has not attempted to foist inappropriate housing densities upon Ku-ring-gai. That is a lie. This motion was moved in September last year. The preceding two years were characterised by the Government and the former Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning endeavouring to do exactly that.
This Minister says that the only increased densities that this Government is pushing for are around public transport modes and shopping centres. That is a lie. The former Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning endeavoured to increase densities in Warrawee, for instance—a suburb with no shopping centre and completely characterised by typical Ku-ring-gai residential homes. The Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning tells lies; he is dissembling. From the outset the Government has sought to inappropriately increase densities across Ku-ring-gai. When the new council was elected, dominated by Ku-ring-gai Preservation Trust [KPT] candidates, it set about trying to undo some of the bad work of the previous council and to relieve some of the pressure placed on the council by the former Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning.
It put together a residential strategy that reflects increased densities in appropriate areas in Ku-ring-gai. It accepted the strategy unanimously. All 10 councils, KPT and the like, accepted that. It is up to the Minister and his department to accept that strategy or make changes to it. Notwithstanding that, despite the department having had that strategy for more than two months, there has been no agreement to it. If the Government was committed to working with local communities, surely a strategy that had been unanimously accepted by council and developed in co-operation with the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning would have been signed off far more quickly, but it has not been.
The Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning comes into his own on SEPP 5. To suggest that I do not have an interest in older or disabled people in my electorate is a complete and utter nonsense. I wish the Minister had been with me at North Turramurra Bowling Club on Monday morning, when I met with 100 senior residents. Those residents expressed concerns about the effect of SEPP 5 upon their community. They have a direct interest in this planning instrument and, like I, support the aims of the planning instrument. However, like the road to hell, this planning instrument has been paved with good intentions.
As the honourable member for Pittwater pointed out in this House and outside, SEPP 5 simply cannot be enforced and, even worse, it is being abused by developers to line their pockets. The people with whom I met at North Turramurra on Monday morning want a choice in housing, and that choice is being proposed by Ku-ring-gai Municipal Council. The seniors want affordable housing. I can tell the House that the SEPP 5 developments being constructed in Ku-ring-gai are not affordable and are not within the reach of many of those people for whom they are allegedly designed.
Contrary to the comments of the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning, most of those SEPP 5 developments are nowhere near public transport, so even if aged and disabled people could afford to buy them, they would be locked in; they would not be able to get around. Some of the SEPP 5 developments I have seen have more stairs than I have in my home. If I was fitter I could use those stairs, but many aged and disabled people could not live in those developments. Some of the developments are narrow and are completely unsuited to the people this Government claims they are designed for.
The honourable member for Pittwater made the point that the Minister has promised a review of SEPP 5. If there were no problems the review would not be necessary. The review has been going on far too long, and in the meantime developers have been making a fortune. Given the elements of corruption that hang over this Government, I do not know whether there was a deal between planning Ministers past and present and developers to make a buck out of this. There is clearly something wrong when a policy such as this has been the subject of review and the problem cannot be fixed. This motion seeks to fix the problem.
Question—That the motion be agreed to—put.
The House divided.
Mr D. L. Page
Mr J. H. Turner
Mr R. W. Turner
Mr R. H. L. Smith
Mrs Lo Po'
Mr W. D. Smith
Question resolved in the negative.