THE state government’s plan to set up a development authority with powers to compulsorily acquire private property for resale to developers is anathema to elected representatives of local government, but not necessarily to the professional planners who work for councils.The elected councillors view another planning authority as a further dilution of their powers and responsibilities. But many council planners see it as the ultimate outcome of the failure of current development processes.Potential sites to house Sydney’s burgeoning population are disappearing fast and the government’s plan is to increase density in established suburbs. This is cheaper than greenfield development on the city fringe which requires huge expenditure on new infrastructure.A prime target for compulsory purchase would be small apartment blocks in strategic locations that could accommodate larger developments. At present a single apartment owner can frustrate efforts to amalgamate such sites.”Planners in every council can identify sites and precincts where redevelopment will bring benefits to the community but redevelopment is being frustrated,” said a senior planner in one metropolitan council.”Often these areas stagnate because site amalgamation is too difficult, but sometimes it is due to the development standards imposed by the council. Redevelopment is not financially viable. For political reasons the council chooses not to address the issue,” he said.Planners point to the financial benefits that can flow to the community if the process is designed correctly.”If the financial gains from site amalgamation and rezoning come to the community rather than to property speculators there will be a source of funds for essential infrastructure upgrades … Capturing these funds for the community is essential,” one said.Cronulla is one location that developers would target because existing buildings do not make the most of available potential.The director of environmental services at Sutherland council, John Brunton, agrees that development in the beachside suburb has been frustrated by current planning processes and says worse could be around the corner.”Throughout North Cronulla there are numerous sites that are developed with small apartment buildings which have a floor space well below the potential that could be achieved,” he said.”This is an area with significant potential to create a highly attractive environment that caters for a coastal lifestyle. However, uncontrolled redevelopment of this area at higher densities could squander this opportunity. There is the threat of recreating what already exists but with taller buildings.”Planners do have some concerns about the proposed new powers. They question whether the authority would make decisions based on proper technical analysis or would just make recommendations to a minister, who would still make political decisions.”Under the current process the rezoning of land is subject to political decisions by both the council and the minister. Achieving the best planning decision can often be a matter of chance,” said another council planner.Mr Brunton agrees. ”At the very least there needs to be an open and transparent process where the community is engaged in examining every proposal. The community must be confident that decisions will be based on technical assessment rather than political considerations.”
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