Five big challenges for the Planning White Paper – Challenge #2

Throughout this week (from Monday 20 May), EDO NSW looks at five major changes of the NSW Government’s New Planning System – White Paper. Changes that – as currently proposed – could undermine the Government’s efforts to restore accountability and public trust in the State planning system. In highlighting these issues, EDO NSW also seeks out solutions to give NSW residents, businesses and the environment a positive and sustainable future. So we’ll conclude this series with five essential improvements needed for the NSW planning reforms.

2. Community Participation Charter – inclusive but unenforceable?
The White Paper proposes to put public participation at the centre of planning – via a Community Participation Charter. The Charter concept is a welcome inclusion in the Bill, but firm details for this novel approach to public engagement have been left to future Community Participation Plans and guides. This may prove problematic in practice, given that consultation on 20-year regional plans has already started, and is moving rapidly, in areas like Sydney and the Lower Hunter.

What is principally concerning is that it may be impossible to enforce compliance with the Community Participation Charter. Part 2 of the draft Bill is devoted entirely to Community Participation, and it sounds encouraging – except that it’s undercut by a wide-ranging clause in Part 10 that reveals virtually all of it is ‘not mandatory’. This could mean that Community Participation Plans cannot be challenged if they don’t stack up to the Charter, even if they involve significant errors by decision makers.

A shift to upfront engagement certainly has its positives. But there is also a risk of overburdening the community – particularly when coming to grips with new approaches to strategic planning and development assessment (discussed in coming days), which radically alter the process of ‘having a say’. Motivating, upskilling and listening to a wide range of community members will require significant time, expertise and resources.

To ensure the legitimacy of this centrepiece of the reforms, the Community Participation Charter needs to be binding. The public need this assurance and accountability – that plan-makers will match the Charter’s intentions with actions. The Charter’s principles – and their implementation in community participation plans – should also ensure that people have the information, advice and input they need to plan the communities and environments they want to live in.

Wednesday’s post looks at Strategic Planning under the new system. Does the White Paper lay a path to resolving land-use conflicts and other 21st century challenges – growth, liveability and sustainability? Or does it risk locking-in an imbalanced approach upfront?

*Nari Sahukar is a Policy & Law Reform Solicitor at EDO NSW.