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Deification of the NSWs Planning Act inhibited reform

By John Mant - posted Tuesday, 16 August 2011

When enacted the Environmental Planning & Assessment Act (EP&A Act) was flawed and pretentious and its instant deification has inhibited its reform.

Assisted by committees of usual suspects, the Department of Planning has regularly attempted to 'reform' the Act, proclaiming each time that the Act had 'no fundamental faults'. Not surprisingly the reforms have merely added complexities rather than fixing the problems.

The new Minister for Planning has just announced a further reform effort. At least this time the chair of the review is shared by a couple of respected ex-politicians, rather than being filled by a long serving planning bureaucrat.


But, if the work on the reforms is to be done by the officers of present Planning Department with the same suspects setting the agenda, further fiddling, rather than a fundamental review, is the likely outcome.


The NSW Department of Planning.

Too many in the planning profession and even some of those who teach planning, seem to believe that administering legislation such as the EP& A Act is all you need to do to effectively plan and manage cities and towns.

Too many think the only fundamental improvement required is to amend the Act to legally bind all parts of government to the planners' long-term plans.

My experience with trying to fix planning legislation in four other States is that enthusiasts always start reviews of planning systems with the following false hopes:

  • That the planning legislation should bind governments to long term planners' plans.

  • That these plans will somehow be able to achieve environmental protection, sustainable development, affordable housing, increased growth and full employment.

Much time and effort is wasted while these false beliefs are disposed of and we can arrive at the correct view, namely that no government is going to pass legislation to bind itself to long-term decisions about its future budgets. And no Court is going to order that a government's budget is illegal because it fails to give effect to some planner's strategic plan.

Planning legislation will always be limited essentially to a process for adjudicating between the competing interests concerned with the allocation of development rights and obligations.

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About the Author

John Mant is a retired urban planner and lawyer from Sydney.

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