‘The culture needs to change’: Stokes targets high-rise development

Much of the high-rise development that has occurred across Sydney in recent years – for example, all development in central Parramatta – has occurred through spot rezoning applications, known as planning proposals.

“The culture needs to change,” said Mr Stokes, whose job title has been expanded to include “public spaces.”

“My ambition, and it is a way off, but my ambition is a future where spot rezoning doesn’t have a role.”

But he denied the need for significant legislative changes to put that into effect. Rather, the change could occur if councils more regularly updated their LEPs.

“To get there we need to make sure that planning is something that continues with the community … all the time,” Minister Stokes said.

“In some areas, you will review the plan and say nothing much has changed here, we can leave it the same. But you review it.”

During the state election, the Opposition said it would ban developers taking rezoning applications or planning proposals to the state government if those proposals were rejected by councils.

Labor’s plan was slammed by the government and developer groups. But Mr Stokes said, in effect, that he could consider the same policy.

“Certainly the gateway could be closed,” he said of the so-called gateway system, under which the state government reviews local planning proposals.

In relation to planned precincts, which have been controversial in communities such as St Leonards and around Macquarie Park and Ryde in Sydney’s north-west, Mr Stokes said it made sense to have development concentrated near transport infrastructure, but that he wanted to collaborate with councils.

“I’m not wedded to the ideology that we need these precincts. If there are other ways to deliver it, I’m happy to look at it,” he said.

“The criticism has, for example, been raised about the borders … for example, it’s a defined area, what happens on the other side of the road. These are the sorts of things I’m happy to look at with councils.”

In relation to the medium density housing code, a policy to make it easier for people to build terraces and similar types of housing on existing blocks, Mr Stokes would not say whether he would move to put it into effect when a one year freeze on the policy expires in two months.

But he reiterated he was keen to see different types of housing. “What we need is housing stock to reflect what we actually want.”

And he said he was open to looking at the thresholds at which large projects were classified as “state significant” infrastructure, meaning they would be approved by the state government, rather than councils or council panels.

“There are things that are clearly state significant. There are things that the public would expect that are of such significance to the state that the minister would have a role,” he said.

But he added: “If there are reasonable reasons to look at changing thresholds, thresholds can always be changed.”

The state government attempted wholesale planning law reform in 2012 and 2013 under former minister Brad Hazzard, which was rejected in the Upper House. Mr Stokes indicated the government would not pursue a similar scale of legislative change, though he also said he saw the coming term as an opportunity to pursue significant reform.

Jacob Saulwick is City Editor at The Sydney Morning Herald.

Megan Gorrey is the Urban Affairs reporter at the Sydney Morning Herald.

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