Alister Henskens portrait
Alister Henskens portrait

Proposed TOD SEPP and Low and Midrise Housing SEPP

Apartment building

Proposed TOD SEPP and Low and Midrise Housing SEPP

Dear Premier and Minister,

I refer to the proposed Transport Oriented Development Program (TOD) SEPP and the Explanation of Intended Effect (EIE) to Create Low and Mid-rise Housing in anticipation of a further SEPP. 

I note that the leaders of communities all over Sydney, including Labor leaders, are opposed to these planning changes.

Firstly, it is reprehensible that the Minister has not consulted and considered submissions from the public who are impacted by the proposed changes under the TOD SEPP prior to its proposed implementation in April 2024. It is a legal requirement under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act that there be consideration given to having public consultation, and the circumstances of the proposed TOD SEPP require such public consultation.

Secondly, whilst you are seeking consultation with regards to the proposed changes to low and medium rise housing, it is unacceptable that you have released the EIE just prior to Christmas, left most of the consultation period during the Christmas and summer break, and ended it only shortly after the return of children to schools from the holiday break. This cynical attempt to bury these profound changes from public attention and scrutiny is unbefitting a party claiming to be a reasonable government.

Thirdly, it is highly regrettable that you have not agreed with my calls to delay the implementation of theses changes pending an independent judicial inquiry into the matters that I raised in Parliament with regards to the alleged use of inside information by a senior planning official concerning the TOD. 

We need a greater housing supply in NSW but these changes are not the answer and will not address in a sustainable manner the issues that have caused housing shortages and affordability problems.

In the Government’s own information document on page 7 of the EIE, it notes that building approvals have fallen since the Covid impacts of mid-2021 due to multiple factors “including shortages of construction materials and labour, limited market feasibility and rising interest rates.” None of these factors relate to the local planning controls that these new rules will override. 

Indeed, we have had the same planning laws since 1979. Whist the planning system has remained unchanged, housing supply and affordability problems have changed over time. This suggests that factors other than the planning system are more relevant to the issues of cost of housing and supply. For example, the current planning regime without these changes delivered much more affordable housing in the 1990s and, in the year to November 2018, delivered about 75,000 completed dwellings in NSW. This is the target that Premier Chris Minns says he cannot now achieve and is said to justify these planning changes.

The Government ignores the one off impact of the global Pandemic on local housing supply and affordability. Other major contributing issues to the cost and the supply of housing like newly increased state government taxes, Labor’s massively increased immigration levels, short term rentals, foreign investment, vacant properties, and decentralisation appear to have been largely ignored by the NSW Government.

No modelling or information has been produced to demonstrate the affordability improvements that these new planning changes will deliver to my electorate. In fact, by bulldozing houses to create expensive apartments, our local housing supply will decrease making house prices even higher.

What are the changes?

Both Councils in my electorate, Ku-ring-gai and Hornsby Shire, have performed an analysis of the local impacts of these changes and they have separately communicated this to the Government.  Based upon information from them and my own analysis, I submit that the proposed changes will:

  • Unacceptably override zoning, heritage (including Heritage Conservation Areas) and environmental considerations in the Local Environment Plans and Development Control Plans if they are inconsistent with the proposed new planning rules;
  • Allow dual occupancy on standard low density housing blocks in our area regardless of its location;
  • Within 800 metres of a railway station or for certain shopping centres regardless of their location (possibly including Westleigh, West Pymble, St Ives, East Wahroonga, Eastern Road, Turramurra and Fox Valley Road shops), allow two storey apartments and other multi-dwelling structures as well as dual occupancy on standard low density housing blocks. For E1 and R3 zoned housing within 400 metres of all railway stations and shopping centres, apartments can be as high as 6 or 7 storeys (8 to 9 storeys if they include affordable housing) and for the 400 to 800 metres from these stations or shopping centres 4 to 5 storeys (5 to 6 storeys if they include affordable housing);
  • Hornsby CBD will be one of only 8 accelerated precincts in Sydney and will have special rules for all houses within 1.2 kms of Hornsby Railway station. It is unclear whether the masterplan work of the Hornsby Council will be accepted as sufficient to discharge the housing obligations required of the NSW Government; and
  • On every standard low density housing block within 400 metres of Gordon, Killara, Lindfield and Roseville Stations, residential apartments can go to as high as 6 to 7 storeys (or 8 to 9 storeys if they include affordable housing).

I count 18 of the 31 proposed TODs are in greater Sydney. Of the 18 in greater Sydney, it appears that 4 or 22.2% are in the one Local Government Area of Ku-ring-gai Council. This does not appear to be an equitable or rational allocation of the new rules having regard to the 100 year old sewerage and drainage system and the 120 year old train system in this North Shore Council area which is already operating at full capacity. There are currently significant issues with the sewerage, drainage, water pressure and local road capacity without the extra 50,000 plus residents proposed by these changes to the Hornsby and Ku-ring-gai LGAs. Other areas of Sydney that have received many billions of dollars of NSW Government infrastructure expenditure in recent years are receiving less of the housing burden relatively than the century old local infrastructure in my electorate.

Impact of the changes

The proposed changes by the Minns Labor Government will irreversibly allow construction of apartments and other dwellings that will:

  • Damage the special character of our neighbourhoods;
  • Destroy tens of thousands of trees in our local area and greatly damage our local wildlife and environment (I do not have a Hornsby Shire estimate but Ku-ring-gai Council estimates up to 40,000 trees will be lost in its Council area);
  • Overcrowd our public schools which cannot take more students - more than 50% of schools already have staff vacancies;
  • Congest our local roads with traffic and parking; and
  • Overwhelm our other local infrastructure such as hospitals, trains, buses, sewerage and drainage facilities without any new infrastructure to accompany these changes.

Request of the Government

Thousands of people have already signed a petition calling on the Government to holt the implementation of these planning changes until it:

  • Consults directly with communities;
  • Works with each local Council to understand each community;
  • Protects natural and built heritage;
  • Maintains the tree canopy, wildlife, and environment; and
  • Invests in all necessary new and additional infrastructure.

These are reasonable requests.

I note that a comprehensive inquiry into your new proposed TOD SEPP will now take place by a Legislative Council Planning and Environment Committee.

A reasonable Premier and Government would await the finding of this inquiry before implementation of your proposed open slather planning policy that will have undesirable impacts on almost every neighbourhood in Sydney, the Central Coast, Newcastle, and Wollongong. 

I implore you to take steps to wind back this assault on our community, environment, and heritage.

Yours sincerely,

Alister Henskens SC MP

Member for Wahroonga.