Trees on Tennyson Road, Mortlake

Trees on Tennyson Road, Mortlake

This morning I went to Mortlake with the aim of protecting eight mature trees on Tennyson Road Mortlake (next to Breakfast Point). The Canada Bay Council, in responding to local requests for a footpath, had slated eight beautiful old paper-bark trees for removal as part of the work, because of the narrow space for the new footpath. I talked to a number of local residents who were there about the issue. The residents want the footpath, but also to keep the trees. It will take a bit more effort and expense, but looks very possible.
I called Council staff and asked them where they were up to on the job. They called me back shortly after that the council would look at other options. They need time to sort out how to make this work. I am now hopeful that this can be done in a way that preserves the trees. Full credit to fellow Councillor Andrew Ferguson for alerting me and doing the ground-work with local residents that made the event work.

Review of Canada Bay Local Environmental Plan (LEP)

Council has now agreed to update its Local Environmental Plan (LEP). This major document controls all development across Canada Bay. Council will update it because the previous version from 2013 is now out of date. The key agenda concern for all councillors was to minimise the impact of the NSW state government’s dodgy low rise medium density policy, which allows much looser control over low-rise medium density buildings like dual occupancy buildings, “manor houses” and terraces, within housing zones that already allow multiple occupancy dwellings like apartment buildings.

As of mid July, 50 councils across NSW (including Canada Bay) have been able to defer the application of the low rise medium density policy. The update of the LEP – from the council’s point of view – aims to minimise this new policy of the state government, and similar policies which may arise. The state government, for its own reasons, also wants LEPs updated, and has offered funding to councils for this to occur. The state government must approve each LEP before it takes effect. The update will take about two years, because it requires consultancy to produce a number of substantial documents, and because of the complexity of the LEP document. The process also includes community consultation. Council will produce four background study papers as part of the LEP update:

  • Housing and Employment Study
  • Social Infrastructure Strategy
  • Local Movement Strategy
  • Sustainable Development Strategy

Beyond dealing with low rise medium density, there are potential advantages in revising the LEP. In particular, it could allow some useful changes with environmental benefits. Similarly, more community-oriented provisions in the LEP or DCP can give better community outcomes.

In regard to the Low Rise Medium Density Housing Code

The Low Rise Medium Density Housing Code if applicable in Canada Bay would not allow developers to put manor houses or terraces into places with zoning that does not allow apartment buildings. (I understand that’s due to our Local Environment Plan (LEP) or Development Control Plan (DCP).

However where it applied it would bring other substantial problems, especially with much looser controls on dual occupancies, but other things as well. It also substantially widens the role of private certifiers on those medium density developments.

The period of the extension on introducing the Low Rise Medium Density Housing Code may only be one year. Obviously this gives some breathing room, but does not solve the long-term threat. Obviously a two-year period to revise the LEP is longer than a one year postponement on the Low Rise Medium Density Housing Code, so that leaves a huge gap, during which a lot of buildings would get approved creating precedents which would undermine any action a year later. Probably our best response would be to try to create pressure for longer-term changes through pressure in the next state election, due in March next year. It appears the State Govt wants to reduce that pressure with their one-year postponement.



The NSW government controls planning panels, but renames them “local”

One little thing I discovered this week: the NSW government controlled “IHAPs” (Independent Hearing and Assessment Panels) across Sydney all have now been renamed “Local Planning Panels” – by a direction from the Minister for Local Government. Here we see a great example of Orwellian “doublespeak”, with the panels staffed predominantly by people recruited and appointed by the NSW government, with a chair appointed by the government, and now a name chosen by the government. Not very local, except for one little thing: the government makes the councils foot the bill.

According to Wikipedia, “Doublespeak is language that deliberately obscures, disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words.”

George Orwell invented the term in his book Nineteen Eighty-Four. Memorable phrases from that book include the slogans:

  • War is peace
  • Freedom is slavery
  • Ignorance is strength

You may think I am exaggerating. I say: the government does not believe in democracy for local government. So they have set up procedures which take away the most significant decisions formerly made by councillors. They have the power to do this, because the Australian constitution does not recognise local government as an independent sphere of government.

The government uses deceptive, misleading language to describe the planning panels, which are local to the extent that they make planning decisions about specific localities.  Yes there is a single local representative on the panels, who has no power to oppose development which the community does not want – unless it meets the state government’s highly prescriptive rules.


Report for June 2018 (short version)

Attended Council meeting 12 June, where councillors agreed to update the Local Environmental Plan (the key local document for planning matters) to give Council more control in dealing with new state government rules, of which the latest is their low rise medium density policy.

Chaired Council’s environment advisory committee meeting on 28 June. The Committee completed setup of its internal teams, which will take on projects in the areas of: education; litter and waste; and biodiversity. I also attended the first meeting of Education team held in late June, prior to Environment Committee meeting. In its main meeting a key presentation and discussion looked at Council’s carbon emissions targets.

Attended a committee meeting of the Parramatta River Catchment Group on 7 June. It has now completed its master plan for the River, covering multiple projects. The plan will be launched in October as part of Riverfest (9 day festival across multiple locations and councils), and coinciding with the International River Symposium in Darling Harbour.

Bus services in the Inner West have been privatised

Bus services in the Inner West have been privatised

As of the 1st July, bus services in the Inner West have been privatised. On that day I went to the rally at the Leichhardt bus depot against the privatisation, and in support of support of drivers who are now losing pay and conditions. The privatisation breaks an express promise by the NSW Coalition that buses would not be privatised. We have already seen a large string of bus stops removed across Canada Bay on a dubious basis – all getting ready to help the operator make more money. Unfortunately, this will get worse.

More on dealing with development approvals

Most people reading this page will be dealing with some kind of development application that they support or don’t support. Hopefully this page will help you.

First of all, don’t send your objection to a councillor thinking they will be able to listen and get the application rejected at a council meeting. That’s because councillors no longer have a decision-making role on development approvals (which in my view undermines local democracy).

If you have an objection, send it to council staff. Council will then normally contact you about it.

If the development is contentious, then the Council staff will refer their report and recommendation on the DA to the “Local Planning Panel” (previously called an Independent Hearing and Assessment Panel [IHAP]) for Canada Bay. If the development is not seen as contentious, Council staff will determine the outcome. However, the following matters require referral to the Canada Bay Independent Hearing and Assessment Panel:-

  • DAs relating to development previously determined by the Panel
  • DAs where the owner or applicant is the Council or a Councillor, a member of a Councillor’s family, a member of Council staff who is involved in exercising Council’s functions under the Act, or a State or Federal Member of Parliament, a relative within the meaning of the Local Government Act 1993 of any such person/s. DAs for minor works such as internal alterations and additions to retail/office premises, advertising signage etc are excluded from this requirement.
  • DAs that receive 10 or more objections from 10 or more different households.
  • DAs seeking to depart by more than 10% from the development standards contained within the relevant Local Environmental Plan, but not where the Secretary of the Department of Planning and Environment has given concurrence to the contravention of the development standards or where the concurrence has been assumed.
  • DAs associated with sensitive developments such as designated developments, residential flat buildings assessed under State Environmental Planning Policy No. 65 – Design Quality of Residential Apartment Development, demolition of heritage items, licensed places of public entertainment (eg., clubs, hotels etc), sex services premises or restricted premises, and DAs accompanied by a Voluntary Planning Agreement under Section 93F of the Act.
  • Modifications of existing development consents under Section 96 and Reviews of Determinations under Section 82A of the Act that meet the abovementioned criteria. Note: Any Section 82A Review of a Determination arising from an application previously determined by the Panel shall be determined by different members of the Panel to those who made the original decision.
  • All Planning Proposals are required to be referred to the Panel for advice.
  • Council can elect to refer any other planning or development matter that is required to be determined by the Council to the Panel for advice.

More information on government policy for planning panels.

You can also call Council’s Strategic Planning team on 9911 6555.

Dealing with the panel

Unlike the DAs previously determined by councillors in open meetings, the IHAP’s meetings are mostly closed to the public, although they must publish the reasons for their decisions.

However, can still have the opportunity to address the IHAP at its meeting, for which you will need to register in advance.

How the NSW government has changed the rules

The NSW Government’s new legislation excludes councillors from making decisions on DAs. The excuse is to stop corruption. The “solution” is to remove the democratic influence of councils, with the NSW government grabbing control and planning laws made even more developer-friendly than before.

Up until now, DAs which were controversial were passed from council staff to the councillors. The decisions were made in an open council meeting, where people for or against a development had the chance to speak. But now, because of new NSW state government law, our councillors will no longer have any role in these decisions. Instead, they will be made by planning panels called IHAPs (Independent Hearing and Assessment Panels) – all across Sydney and Wollongong.

In most cases, the outcome would be the same. But in some cases it would be different, because elected councillors are concerned not just about following planning rules, but representing the community’s best interest. For that, they are accountable to the community, and can be later voted out of office if enough people disagree with them.

This is the latest example of the NSW state government taking power away from democratically elected local councils, and imposing their own rules. Not only that, but the extra bureaucracy adds more costs to councils for all its expenses. Then on top of that: if somebody appeals to the Land and Environment Court against any of their decisions, the council (who had no say in the decision) has to foot the legal bill.

Who asked for this backward step? The real estate industry. The Planning Panels / IHAPs are called independent, but the state government effectively controls them.

If you are concerned about this, learn about what the state government has done and continues to do about planning laws. Yes, I know it’s complicated. That’s why they have gotten away with this – up until now.

I hope this helps explain the current situation.


Councillor Charles Jago
Canada Bay Council