Posted on November 25, 2020 by Stuart Simington and Adriana Kleiss

Proposed reforms to the Education SEPP on exhibition

The NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment is currently exhibiting proposed reforms to the State Environmental Planning Policy (Educational Establishments and Child Care Facilities) 2017 (Education SEPP).

The proposed amendments are part of the NSW Government’s Planning Reform Action Plan to create a more ‘timely, certain and transparent planning system’.  The amendments to the Education SEPP are said to aim to:

  • further streamline approval processes to make it easier for schools, TAFEs and universities to build new facilities and improve existing ones,
  • contribute to the student housing strategy proposed by the draft Housing Diversity SEPP by allowing student housing on existing tertiary institution campuses,
  • support the changing nature of tertiary institutions by making provision for innovation hubs,
  • respond to concerns regarding the amenity impacts of child-care centres in low density residential zones.

A number of the key reforms are discussed below.

Definition of ‘educational establishment

In response to stakeholder concerns that the existing definition of the term ‘educational establishment’ is ambiguous in so far as

• an existing school is seeking to establish a separate new school campus at a new location, or
• an existing school is seeking to establish a new recreational facility located some distance from the traditional school buildings.

It is proposed to amend the definition to ensure that new school facilities or campuses located at a distance from an existing registered school are assessed as a new schools rather than as alterations or additions.

Permissible uses

The proposed reforms would make it possible for local provisions that apply to land adjoining an existing educational establishment to apply to the land on which the educational establishment is situated if a site compatibility certificate has been issued and the establishment is on State land. For example, this would allow residential development within the grounds of an existing school where land adjoining the school is zoned residential.

The amendments would also allow an existing establishment to expand onto adjoining land where educational establishments are not permitted, provided that a site compatibility certificate has been issued.

Development permissible without consent

The reforms would allow development for the purpose of two storey facilities by or on behalf of a public authority within the boundaries of existing schools, TAFEs or tertiary institutions.

In schools, the amendments are subject to the development not exceeding the equivalent of an additional classroom (30 students) or 10% of the existing student or staff numbers, whichever is the greater.

The Department considers that the amendments would also not permit car parking facilities of more than one storey as there must be no an alteration of traffic arrangements.  And the amendments would also not permit a contravention of an existing condition of the most relevant development consent.

Exempt development

It is proposed to apply restrictions on the hours of operation for exempt development for the purpose of school based child care. The hours of operation would be the same as those currently applying to complying development: no operation on a Saturday or Sunday or before 7am or after 7pm.

These hours of operation would only apply where there is no existing condition on a development consent applying to the school relating to hours of operation.

Currently temporary classrooms (such as demountables) are exempt development if removed within 24 months of being installed. This is proposed to be increased to 48 months.

State significant development

Currently development for the purpose of a school (regardless of capital investment value) triggers the State significant development provisions.

It is proposed to amend State Environmental Planning Policy (State and Regional Development) 2011 to introduce a capital investment value trigger for new schools and increase the capital investment value trigger for alterations and additions to schools and for new tertiary institutions.

The new triggers are proposed to be $20 million for new schools, $50 million for alterations and additions to schools and $50 million for tertiary institutions.

Conditions of Consent

Currently the Education SEPP contains clauses to ensure that development permissible without consent and complying development do not contravene any existing conditions of consent applying to the subject site.

The provisions currently refer to the ‘most recent development consent’. This is proposed to be amended to ‘the most relevant development consent’. The Department says that this change would ensure that all valid and relevant conditions of consent are considered.

Child care centres in low density residential zone

It is proposed to introduce provisions to prevent child-care centres within close proximity of each other in low density residential zones (R2). A separation distance of 200m between child-care centres is being considered. The amendment seeks to address concerns raised about amenity impacts, such as noise and traffic, arising from child-care centres being in close proximity to one another.

Student housing

The amendments propose to make student housing permissible with consent within the boundaries of an existing educational establishment. This amendment is designed to align with the Housing Diversity SEPP Explanation of Intended Effect which proposes a definition of ‘student housing’ be included in the Standard Instrument LEP.

Student housing’ would be defined as a building that:

‘provides accommodation and communal facilities principally for students enrolled to study at an education establishment during teaching periods; and may incorporate some fully self-contained dwellings’.

The proposed provision would only apply to student housing within the boundaries of an existing establishment. Student housing not within the boundaries of an existing establishment would be subject to the proposed provisions of the Housing Diversity SEPP.

Innovation Hubs

The Education SEPP is proposed to be expanded to permit ‘innovation hub activities’ on existing tertiary institutions as development permissible with consent. There is no definition of the term innovation hub activities’ provided in the Explanation of Intended Effect, however it is indicated that these activities will typically involve commercial uses associated with the tertiary institution. Residential accommodation would not be permitted as part of innovation hub activities.


This is the first review of the Education SEPP since commencement in September 2017. The Department has received frequent requests and concerns from key stakeholders. The proposed reforms aim to respond to that feedback by improving the operation and usability of the SEPP.

The proposed amendments are currently on exhibition until 17 December 2020.

The Explanation of Intended Effect for the proposed amendments can be found here.

To discuss this post, please contact Stuart Simington on 8235 9704 or Adriana Kleiss on 8235 9718.