Posted on November 6, 2015 by Sue Puckeridge
Outline of the Future Greater Sydney Commission
The recent introduction of the much anticipated Greater Sydney Commission Bill 2015 [NSW] (Bill) provides clarity as to the exact role the future Greater Sydney Commission (GSC) will play in the NSW planning system and establishes a new structure for strategic planning in this State.
What area does the Greater Sydney Commission cover?
The GSC will have planning and development functions in the Greater Sydney Region (GSR), which will extend from the Hawkesbury local government area in the north, Wollondilly, Campbelltown and Sutherland Shire local areas in the south and the Blue Mountains in the west.
How is the GSC to be constituted?
The GSC is to consist of:
- 4 persons appointed by the Minister being the Chief Commissioner, an Environmental Commissioner, a Social Commissioner and an Economic Commissioner;
- District Commissioners appointed by the Minister. Six districts are proposed in the strategic planning document ‘A Plan for Growing Sydney’, December 2014; and
- the Secretary of each of the Department of Planning and Environment, the Department of Transport and Treasury.
The GSC will not be subject to the control of the Minister, although, the majority of members will be Ministerial appointments. In addition, the Bill provides for the establishment of a 3 Committees – a Finance and Governance Committee, a Strategic Planning Committee and and Infrastructure delivery Committee to assist the GSC to carry out its functions (Div 2, Part 2 of the Bill).
What are the functions of the GSC?
The key objectives of the GSC are: to lead metropolitan planning for the GSR; promotion of orderly development; the alignment of Government infrastructure decision-making with land use planning and the supply of housing; to encourage development that is resilient and takes into account natural hazards; and to support ongoing improvement in productivity, liveability and environmental quality.
The GSC will have both strategic planning and development functions. The key functions are set out both in the body of the Bill and in the attached Schedule 5 which amends the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (EPA Act).
These functions may be delegated to various authorised bodies including the Planning Assessment Commission, a Sydney Planning Authority or a local council or its general manager.
Consent Authority Role
The EPA Act will be amended so that the GSC is defined as a ‘consent authority’ (Schedule 5,  s4(1)).
It is anticipated that the GSC will undertake a development assessment role both independently and via newly established Sydney planning panels provided for under Part 3 of the Bill. These panels will have three Ministerial appointees (one of whom is to be a District Commissioner) and 2 appointees of an applicable local council. They are taken to be joint regional planning panels (s18(3) of the Bill) and therefore will have such consent authority powers as are conferred on joint regional planning panels under the EPA Act.
Upon the creation of a Sydney planning panel, it is envisaged that current joint regional panels, such as the Sydney West and Sydney East Joint Regional Planning Panels will be abolished (s18(6)). The Central Sydney Planning Committee will continue to operate unaffected by these amendments.
The Sydney planning panels will differ from the current Joint Regional Planning Panels in that one of the State members will be a District Commissioner. This is likely to produce greater alignment of decisions across the GSR.
Strategic Planning Role
The proposed new Part 3B of the EPA Act:
- defines the GSC as a ‘relevant strategic planning authority’ with respect to the GSR (Schedule 5 , s75AA(1)), and
- introduces the concept of statutory strategic plans in the form of ‘regional plans’ and ‘district plans’.
As a strategic planning authority, the GSC will have responsibility to prepare strategic plans either of its own volition or if directed to do so by the Minister. Preparation of strategic plans will be a key role of the GSC’s Strategic Planning Committee (s13(3)(b)(i) of the Bill).
A regional plan is a policy which identifies the strategic planning objectives for a region in light of economic, social and environmental matters. The policy is designed to state the objectives for the region, strategies and actions by which to achieve those objectives and the basis for monitoring and reporting on the implementation of those actions.
The document entitled ‘A Plan for Growing Sydney’ is deemed to be a regional plan at the commencement of Part 3B and is to be reviewed by the end of 2017 and every subsequent 5 years.
A district plan is a similar policy document to a regional plan but sets out the planning priorities for a district within a region, and identifies areas of State, regional or district significance within the district, including priority growth areas. It is envisaged that the district plans will take the place of the subregional stategies. District plans must be prepared and publicly advertised by the GSC within 12 months of the Minister declaring any part of the GSR to be a district (Schedule 5,  s75AD(2)).
Significantly, both regional plans and district plans must be prepared having regard to State infrastructure plans and strategies.
Strategic plans are not environmental planning instruments.
The Minister is responsible for making a regional plan (Schedule 5,  s75AE(1)), although there is not reason why this power could not be delegated, whereas a district plan prepared for the GSR may be made by the GSC (Schedule 5,  s75AF(3)).
Both regional plans and district plans are subject to a mandatory community consultation requirement that the drafts be publicly notified for a period of at least 45 days (Schedule 5,  s75AH).
Local Environmental Plans
A major reform is that the GSC and not the Minister will be responsible for making local environmental plans (‘LEPs‘) in relation to the GSR (Schedule 5,  s53 of the EPA Act). This will include decisions relating to gateway and pre-gateway determinations and rezoning applications.
As soon as practicable after a district plan is made, a local council within that district must review its LEP for the area and prepare such planning proposals as are necessary to give effect to the district plan. It must also report to the GSC as to this review and the preparation of any planning proposals to give effect to the district plan.
Although the Bill does not expressly remove any power from local councils, the GSC will be empowered to make environmental planning instruments for each local government area within the GSR (Schedule 5,  s24 and  s53A) .
Hierarchy of plans
The Bill establishes a hierarchy of strategic planning documents reminiscent of the structure proposed in the Planning Bill 2013 (which never passed Parliament). The contents of these plans is also similar to the regional growth plans and subregional plans that were proposed in that bill, without the detailed planning controls or the inclusion of targets for certain development.
In preparing a district plan, the GSC must ‘give effect‘ to an applicable regional plan of which the district is a part. Similarly any planning proposal must similarly give effect to any district plan or in the absence of an applicable district plan, any applicable regional plan.
The Minister’s Second Reading Speech states that this means that the plans must ‘speak to each other‘. The words ‘give effect to‘ suggest that district plans and LEPs must contain provisions which implement rather than are simply consistent with the higher level strategic plan.
The Power of the Minister to Declare Regions Outside of Sydney
Despite the name of the Bill, the proposed amendments to the EPA Act impact upon the whole of the State. A ‘relevant strategic planning authority’ is defined to include not only the GSC in respect of the GSR, but also, ‘in the case of any other region—the Secretary or any other person or body prescribed by the regulations…’ (Schedule 5,  s75AA).
The Minister has the power to declare ‘any area of the State (other than the Greater Sydney Region) to be a region for the purposes of this Part’ and Part 3B has been drafted so that the strategic planning structure established under that Part will apply in the event of such a declaration.
According to the Minister’s Second Reading Speech, it is the Government’s intention that this approach will gradually be implemented across the State.
The Bill reflects the government’s policy to shift from local individual controls for small areas to more regional controls and is consistent with the government’s desire to increase the size of local council areas, ensure greater coordination of planning across areas and implement the strategic planning document, ‘A Plan for Growing Sydney‘.
Significantly, the legislation also implements a long awaited policy of ensuring better co-ordination between land use planning and infrastructure planning. This is reflected in the make up of the GSC and the establishment of the Infrastructure Delivery Committee, and in the matters which must be taken into account when preparing strategic plans.
The Opposition has supported the creation of a Greater Sydney Commission and if this continues, the Bill is likely to pass Parliament.
This article is intended to be a summary of the structure and function of the GSC and the key changes to the manner in which strategic planning is carried out in NSW as set out in the Bill. Future articles which consider the implications of some of these changes will follow.
The Bill can be read here.
Prepared with the assistance of Angelique Williams.