Pub: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: News and Features
Sussex Street operatives set a trap for Clover Moore
Once – years ago, as a Sydney city councillor and, for my sins, member of the Central Sydney Planning Committee – I had the appalling cheek to propose an energy audit of downtown buildings. Not a cap, or a tax or anything pinko-radical like that. Just an audit, a twig-gathering, so we’d know which building types used more energy. Despite the obvious sustainability subtext, I figured my committee colleagues would embrace the idea, knowledge being power, all that.
Instead, all hell broke loose. Admittedly, we’re talking early ’90s here, with recession in the air and Reaganism in the drinking water, but from the toupee-tearing and mouth-frothing that ensued you would think I wanted to skim development profits for Third World orphanages, or something equally satanic.
The CSPC was invented in 1988 as a way of “sharing” planning powers over the tiny but lucrative city centre between state and local politicians. It was based on the 1970s South Australian model designed by the late planning visionary George Clarke and refined by the planning lawyer John Mant under the Don Dunstan administration.
All of which makes it sound like a good and democratic idea, and it would be, if it hadn’t been corrupted in translation. But that would be to reckon without the NSW ratbag mindset.
The Adelaide committee was designed for decency: it was a policy body with shared powers over mainly government developments and – this was crucial – it had equal numbers, four council members, four state members, with a casting vote to the minister. Plus, it was Adelaide, where people still expected reason in public office.
Not so Sydney. Here, the CSPC was tweaked to form a crucial plank in the 1988 gerrymander that drastically shrank the city boundaries by way of returning the reins to their rightful hands at the big end of town. That was the belt; the CSPC was the braces, in the unlikely event the big end might not get its puppet of choice as mayor.
In the CSPC, the lord mayor chairs a carefully orchestrated 4-3 government majority that decides all development over $50 million, all non-complying development and all planning policy. It has always had developer members, so if you’re a mate looking for a sympathetic hearing, you need only overestimate your budget or break some height rule, and you’re automatically in the sweet shop.
More humiliating is the council is forced to fund the CSPC, providing research, consultants, legal and members’ fees and expenses. Worse, the CSPC’s decisions are legally those of the council. So the council can find itself pursuing exorbitant court action for a planning principle it directly opposes, and paying through the nose for the privilege.
It’s like forcing someone to commit suicide, then billing their estate for the casket and finger food. Now, though, things are calmer. The CSPC has just one developer member (Brendan Crotty of GPT), balanced by the government architect, Peter Mould, and some planners and, chaired by Clover Moore, is generally agreed to be working quite well.
So it’s ironic that only now does the government call a snap review, a government, like those before it, which presided over a planning debacle, destroying hard-won heritage protections, rolling development over market gardens and encouraging the ugly strip development that now heralds every small NSW town, like a gaggle of smokers at the door.
Who is running the review? Gabrielle Kibble, who has been involved in planning in this state for three decades. Who supports the review? No one, except the ever rabid Urban Taskforce, which argues “resident groups” have too much power.
It’s as if, anticipating exclusion from the trough, the Keneally government is frantically scraping as much as possible into the doggie bag before it goes.
The expected outcome is the replacement of the CSPC by some version of a joint regional planning panel, presided over by jobbing planners, almost all of whom look to developers as clients. This, says the government, is more efficient. Democracy is always more efficient if you exclude one side. Ask Singapore.
To get away with it, the state government pretends its own, appointed experts are inherently less corruptible than the locally elected. But where’s the logic?
If being elected makes people corruptible, state politicians would surely remove the Part 3A powers designed to suck development control directly into ministerial hands. They would applaud the existing council-run independent hearing and assessment panels, then they would resign en masse.
No. This is an old-fashioned power grab. The same people who legalised shooting in national parks, who keep approving coalmines in the Hunter, who want to give Moore Park to their Sydney Cricket Ground mates for car parking, who legislated so the head of planning can be dismissed by the minister without notice or reason; these people want the city back.
Why should they have it, when they clearly can’t look after it? Moore is elected to the job, and clearly nobody’s puppet. That’s why Sussex Street has tried everything to get rid of her. This CSPC review is just their latest improvised roadside bomb. It’s a coward’s device. We should despise them for it.