Huge planning rules changes will create problems across Canada Bay LGA

By Councillor Charles Jago

The new programs

Centres across Canada Bay LGA with potentially increased low and mid-rise housing
Centres across Canada Bay LGA with potentially increased low and mid-rise housing. Map shows 400 metres around key centres in yellow, and 400 to 800 metres around the centres in pink. Heritage sites are shown in red. More below
Map source: City of Canada Bay Council.

The NSW Dept of Planning, Housing and Infrastructure (DPHI) has issued two major changes to planning rules in recent months. These include:

The problems in brief: these programs, intended to start this year, bring a huge and destructive change to existing planning rules. The major problems include:

  • Undermining local government’s role in land use planning undertaken in consultation with the local community.
  • Around 80% of Canada Bay’s heritage housing put at risk (see endnote).
  • A substantial reduction in the extent of new affordable housing in Canada Bay.
  • Greater loss of trees, making it impossible to meet the council’s tree canopy target of 25% by 2040.
  • Degrading the quality of new housing developments by removing rules for good development.

For a more detailed explanation of the problems of these changes see Government over-reach on housing – let council do it properly (about Canada Bay Council’s motion on this), Canada Bay Council’s description of the changes or (more broadly) a quick guide from Greens NSW.

Transit Oriented Development Program (TOD)

Area effects of Transport Oriented Program on North Strathfield
Area effects of Transport Oriented Program on North Strathfield
More below

Released in mid-December 2023 and not yet final as of March 2024, the Transit Oriented Development Program comprises two initiatives:

  • In Tier 1, the government has chosen eight stations – notably Homebush Station – as “accelerated Precincts” for state-led rezoning within 1,200m of those stations, to be finalised by November 2024. The area includes the Strathfield triangle and parts of North Strathfield in Canada Bay LGA (as well as parts of Strathfield LGA). This program promises permanent affordable housing. The program is expected to start in April 2024.
  • Tier 2 changes planning rules to allow additional housing within 400 metres of 31 stations, notably North Strathfield station. Apartment blocks will be allowed in residential zones within 400m of the station, buildings to 21m (6 storeys) in height. The affordable housing program expected to be a minimum of 2% of each new development – at this stage, we don’t know how long this housing will be kept as affordable housing; it may be for only 15 years.

The changes wipe out protection for heritage listed places in the areas where they apply (see endnote), undermine existing programs of affordable housing, and erode design quality controls. Meanwhile the government is not offering any additional improvements to infrastructure or services in the area, although there is a fund of $520 million shared amongst the 8 accelerated precincts for improved roads, transport links and parks – which won’t go very far at all.

See the Council’s official response to these changes, in their submission to DPHI.

Changes to create low and mid-rise housing

DPHI released the Changes to create low and mid-rise housing with an “explanation of intended effect” (EIE) document in mid-December 2023 for land within:

  • 800m walking distance of heavy rail, light rail or metro stations;
  • 800m walking distance of land zoned E2 Commercial Centre; and
  • 800m walking distance of land zoned E1 Local Centre or MU1 Mixed Use, but only if the zone contains a wide range of frequently needed goods and services, such as full-line supermarkets, shops and restaurants.

Unlike the TOD program, the changes vary with current zoning. Where medium-rise zoning (R3 Medium Density Residential) is already in place, the proposed changes will allow 6-storey apartments within 400m of stations or centres, and 4-storey apartments for areas from 400m to 800m of these locations. The changes will also allow “shop top housing” (one or more dwellings located above a ground floor commercial premises or health services facility).

The NSW Government also wants to allow multi dwelling housing in low density residential zones (R2) within station and town centre precincts – this includes townhouses, terraces and manor houses, in addition to dual occupancies which are already allowed. The government has created “non-refusal standards” for all of these with larger heights and floor space ratios and smaller site width and site area requirements than currently exist. These buildings will be inappropriately sized for the area, but council won’t be able to stop it.

These changes are far-reaching across Canada Bay LGA and there is some uncertainty about which areas will be actually included. Depending on how the centres are chosen, these new rules could apply to the majority of Canada Bay LGA. Please refer to the map below.

Centres across Canada Bay LGA with potentially increased low and mid-rise housing
Centres across Canada Bay LGA with potentially increased low and mid-rise housing. Map shows 400 metres around key centres in yellow, and 400 to 800 metres around the centres in pink. Heritage sites are shown in red. Source: City of Canada Bay Council.

In particular, there are three local centres with E1 zoning (small commercial centres, surrounded by residential zoning) which could be affected: Concord West, Mortlake and Wareemba. Council staff have recommended (and the Canada Bay Greens agree) that four storey to six storey developments, plus town houses and manor houses (two storey apartment blocks usually with just four apartments) should not go in these areas, because it is inconsistent with the existing and desired future character of these places. That’s why the council’s planning staff specifically recommended removing E1-zoned centres from the changes. Note that Concord West is still affected because the rules apply around stations as well.

In addition, the changes will also have irreversible impact on heritage protected places (see endnote), with no apparent pre-analysis on the likely effects. Numerous historical places will be lost if this goes ahead.

With these changes to housing around many residential centres, the government is making changes to an area far larger than necessary to meet their housing goals. With the substantial height increases the government is requiring, they could have limited the changes to a smaller area and still achieved a huge number of additional dwellings. The broad geographical extent of the planning rules means that the majority of established suburbs across Canada Bay LGA will be irrevocably altered over time.

In addition, DPHI has recently expanded the incentives potentially available to developers for affordable housing with extra building height and floor area. However, affordable housing has been diluted to only last for 15 years.

See the council’s responses to the “Changes to create low and mid-rise housing” program and the related new “Housing SEPP” (SEPP – State Environmental Planning Policy).

Initial location of TOD impacts on North Strathfield

Area effects of Transport Oriented Program on North Strathfield
Area effects of Transport Oriented Program on North Strathfield

The TOD programs have been defined as applying within circles around stations (1,200m around Homebush station and 400m around North Strathfield station). However, more detailed plans will be released with exact locations covered, which is not expected to include the entire area within each circle. It appears possible that adjacent areas outside the circles may also be included. Note that TOD also applies to Strathfield and Burwood LGAs, but those changes are not shown here.

Map of combined changes

What we know so far

It seems very likely that TOD Tier 1 will be applied to the Strathfield Triangle and the (heritage listed) Bakehouse Quarter, which require new strategic plans clarifying where housing density and infrastructure will go.

However, we don’t have details of their detailed rezoning. I am now expecting the NSW government to release a strategic plan for North Strathfield and parts of Strathfield and Homebush in “mid-year” – maybe June, July or August. This plan will go on public exhibition for public feedback. That plan will show actual details of which places will be upzoned for much increased density.

Problems with the new changes

The Canada Bay Greens support additional housing in Sydney, where it can integrate into the existing architecture and heritage of the local area. In principle, locations around stations and other areas are places where additional housing makes sense. Fortunately, these changes are not pushing more high-rise, which we don’t support. However, here are our main concerns:

  • There must be sufficient infrastructure, especially including green space, public transport, good transport access and public schools to meet the needs of the increased population. Right now, that’s inadequate for the needs of the current population.
  • The rules must ensure good quality development using accepted planning standards and not arbitrarily undermine the environment or heritage.
  • A part of each development must be provided to the council as affordable housing in perpetuity, at a proportion at least similar to existing council affordable housing programs (currently 4% or 5%).
  • There must be proper engagement with the community and local government.

Unfortunately, the new programs have major problems when considering the concerns given above. However, Canada Bay Council (and also the Greens) would like to work with the government to properly implement additional housing, because new housing is urgently needed.

More broadly, the success of the government’s plans is in serious doubt. The government is desperately hoping that, with so much rezoning, developers will flood the market with new housing. However developers already have plenty of rezoned properties that they can develop, as councils across Australia have approved record levels of housing in the last ten years. In order to ensure premium profits, developers will continue to avoid flooding the market.

It’s now clear that the private sector won’t build the scale of housing we need. That’s why in Australia after WW2, governments – federal and state – stepped up and directly developed the housing themselves. That’s what we need now.

Feedback on these changes across NSW

Other councils’ concerns

  • Northern Beaches Council: Radical state planning changes to create medium and higher density housing …”Proposed amendments to State Environmental Planning Policy (Housing) 2021 would override all NSW councils’ planning controls and restrict a local council’s capacity to refuse inappropriate development. The implications of the proposed policy are alarming for the Northern Beaches, our community and the environment.” 
  • Ku-ring-gai Council …”There will be impacts on heritage, trees, biodiversity, traffic and stormwater. Significant tree loss across Ku-ring-gai. No consideration currently given to the necessary infrastructure to support density such as schools, transport and community facilities.”

Local Government NSW

Key concerns surround Government’s housing supply changes “… the process disregards the carefully considered strategic planning work undertaken by councils in consultation with their communities and the Department to deliver agreed housing targets tailored to the characteristics and capacity of different places.“

Better planning network

“… extensive damage to the environment, loss of heritage, and overload infrastructure and local services.” See more

Endnote on heritage

In early March, Premier Chris Minns has made statements on TV that the housing density changes (he is calling them reforms) will not override heritage protections, saying that is untrue. His intervention is welcome, as we want to protect heritage. However, the planning experts have clearly advised that, if the changes are implemented as written in the draft documents, then our heritage housing will have no protection. Developers will be able to buy heritage housing and demolish it. Given the Premier’s statements, we look forward to improvements to the government’s planned changes to properly protect heritage.

For those who think that new housing is more important than heritage protection, please understand that the government is already rezoning substantial areas with an enormous potential for new dwellings. It is completely unnecessary to put our heritage at risk. We can have a lot more new housing while keeping our heritage.