Extreme heat, floods hasn’t stopped NSW gov’t from scrapping environmental planning law

As communities along the east coast of Australia reel from the recent devastating floods, the New South Wales government has scrapped planning laws aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions during and after the construction of new apartments.

At a lunch organized by developer lobby group, Urban Taskforce Australia, on April 5, NSW planning minister Anthony Roberts announced he was scrapping the Design and Place State Environmental Planning Policy (DP SEPP).

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The NSW government then deleted the documents and media releases related to the DP SEPP on its website. The Fifth Estate held copies and re-uploaded them.

Roberts’ decision coincides with the release of the April 4 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Mitigation of Climate Change Working Group III report which emphasized it is still possible to limit global warming to 1.5° Celsius.

The report said greenhouse gas emissions from buildings made up 21% of total global emissions in 2019 and described mitigation strategies for reducing the climate change impact of the building industry.

Although it was not a radical planning reform, the DP SEPP aimed to introduce some consideration of sustainability and liveability into planning. It encouraged more communal open space, better sunlight access and natural ventilation to reduce reliance on artificial lighting and air conditioning, and the use of less carbon-intensive building materials in new apartment developments.

It also set out an urban design guide that included planning for climate changed-induced impacts such as heat waves and floods, increasing tree canopy cover and prioritising active transport, such as walking and cycling.

Developer scare campaign

Since former planning minister Rob Stokes introduced the draft legislation in last December, developer lobby groups have campaigned to scrap or heavily modify it.

Mirvac and Meriton were strongly opposed to the DP SEPP, as it may endanger their profit margins. The Property Council of Australia, which groups some of the country’s biggest developers, complained the DP SEPP would have “a detrimental impact on housing investment, affordability and job creation”. Developers also said that housing supply would be adversely affected by the new rules.

The argument by developers that planning regulations are holding back housing supply and therefore increasing house prices is a scare campaign.

Planning approvals and building completions in Sydney are at an all-time historical high. Australia produces housing faster than any Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries, and about 94% of planning applications in Sydney are approved within a few months.

The supply of housing is not the issue. Rather it is the for-profit speculative housing market geared towards investors that has ensured housing is unaffordable for the majority of people.

As Barry Calvert wrote in The Fifth Estate: “Reducing planning requirements, does not make housing more affordable, it simply kicks cost-of-living down the road for individual businesses and households to deal with, and creates more problems than it solves.”

The DP SEPP would have mandated better consideration of building in high-risk areas, such as flood-prone land, bushfire-prone land or areas exposed to extreme heat.

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