Mr ROB STOKES
(Pittwater) [11.36 a.m.]: I bring to the attention of the House a development proposal at Warriewood that has generated a great deal of concern within my community of Pittwater. Objectively, the proposal—for 16 residential flat buildings in ordered rows of up to five storeys—is the largest, tallest and densest ever seriously proposed in Pittwater. While the community understands and accepts the need for development and change, the sheer size and unexpected nature of this proposal has generated incredible passion and resistance. In less than one week almost 1,000 signatures were obtained on a petition opposing the development in its current form—a petition that I was pleased to table yesterday. But that is just the tip of the iceberg of community horror at the sheer size and scale of a high-density proposal in an area of farmland in an outer metropolitan suburb more than an hour of multiple bus trips from Sydney.
The main objection to the proposal in its current form relates to infrastructure, or rather the lack of sufficient infrastructure to support a single residential development that could bring 2,000 extra people to Pittwater. This represents a population increase of more than 3 per cent in a single development. I have a research background in planning and my expert opinion is that the community is absolutely correct in its fears that there is insufficient infrastructure capacity to support a development of this enormity, not to mention the precedent that it might create for future development in the locality. The environmental assessment provided with the applicant's proposal observes that the development would accord with urban consolidation objectives. An important objective of urban consolidation policy is to produce cost savings that will relieve pressure on public finances. Urban consolidation is designed to minimise spending on urban infrastructure, including physical infrastructure, such as transport, water and drainage, communications and energy, and social infrastructure such as health services, education, and policing.
Infrastructure savings are generally listed first among the objectives of urban consolidation policy, and have been a central rationale of the policy since its inception. There is clear support for the view that the need to economise on infrastructure is the strongest imperative for urban consolidation. The New South Wales Government has promoted urban consolidation as a way of reducing the need for capital expenditure on infrastructure by making greater use of underutilised infrastructure in existing areas. Of course, the assumption is that the existing infrastructure is underutilised and has excess capacity. This is simply not the case in Pittwater. The Labor Government has not invested significant amounts in any public infrastructure in Pittwater throughout the past 15 years.
One has to go back to the last Liberal Government before one finds any significant funding for Pittwater's sewerage, water, roads or health infrastructure. Yet Pittwater is going to see its population grow from around 58,000 to almost 83,000 over the next 20 years—a steeper increase than anywhere else on the beaches or lower North Shore—yet it is the area furthest from jobs and the central business district. A regional employment study completed by eminent planning consultancy Hill PDA found that the region suffered from significant vehicle traffic congestion and increasing commuting times, with almost 200,000 trips made through the three corridors linking the region to the rest of Sydney.
High proportions of Pittwater residents travel to work at Chatswood and Macquarie Park. Both those destinations are accessible along single-carriageway roads only, with extremely limited public transport options and restricted road widths hindering the effective flow of services and the ability to implement express bus lanes. The majority of trips along that corridor are car based—a modal share of almost 90 per cent, compared with 35 per cent of all trips to global Sydney by private vehicle. The Government has made it clear that no significant infrastructure projects are to be undertaken in Pittwater.
Currently our hospital is being downgraded, and upgrades to the vital Mona Vale Road corridor have been delayed continually. Our sewerage plant is virtually at capacity, with sewage overflows at the cliff face every year. The State Infrastructure Strategy promises for the region have been forgotten and the recent transport blueprint makes it clear that there will be no road and few public transport improvements to the area. On basic planning grounds, without substantially improved infrastructure there is no sound basis for a development of the scale proposed.
Strategic planning documents have consistently identified Warriewood Valley as a suitable area for small-lot residential subdivision with some capacity for multi-unit housing. The successful development of a seniors living development has also added density on the understanding that retired people not commuting in peak hours would not worsen congestion and would not undermine the objective of employment containment. Warriewood is identified as a stand-alone shopping centre. It is not a town or village centre. It is not proximate to frequent public transport services, and even when people get to an express bus it is an hour-long trip to jobs in the central business district. It is not an appropriate venue—in planning theory or practice—for high-density housing. That is clear from even a cursory look at planning strategies for the region.
The community has always understood that the site will be developed for medium-density housing. Pittwater Council has already provided consent for the development of 135 town homes each with dual car spaces. But there is a world of difference between 135 townhouses with two car spaces and 600 units in 16 residential flat buildings with an average of one car space each. Without big infrastructure investment before high-density development the result for the community will be bad planning outcomes and reduced liveability. This is not rhetoric but solid, basic planning theory and practice. That is why this application must be determined by an independent expert body, because the facts speak for themselves and any expert body worth its salt will recognise that this application in its current form is unsustainable.
The Government has established a Planning Assessment Commission to determine contentious applications, particularly those where the applicant has made political donations and where the application represents a departure from the established and democratically agreed upon planning controls for the area. I call on the Minister for Planning to ensure that this application is assessed in its entirety by the PAC without any limitation or political interference. No-one is suggesting that Meriton does not have the right to have its application assessed, but by the same token the community, which has to live with the consequences of whatever happens on the site, needs to have confidence in the independence of the process.