The NSW government has finalised the Low Rise Medium Density Housing Code and Design Guide that were the subject of consultation during 2016. This code allows one and two storey dual occupancies, manor houses and terraces to be built using the complying development approval pathway. Unless the type of development is not permitted in a residential zone under a council’s Local Environment Plan (LEP) a single dwelling can be redeveloped into 2, 3 or 4 dwellings depending on the size of the block. Design guidelines will have to be met but councils will not have control on the rate of take up of this opportunity.
The code is due to take effect in July but local concerns about congestion and over-development have become so great that the government was forced to defer implementation in four council areas. The deferral is only for a year however. This applies to Ryde, Lane Cove, Canterbury Bankstown and Northern Beaches but other councils are also asking for a deferral. Many areas of Sydney are struggling to cope with recent heavy development and infrastructure is inadequate. Is the one year deferral enough time to catch up?
Some councils, like Ku-ring-gai, already have provisions in their LEP that prevent this type of development in low density residential zones. Other councils want (and need) to be able to control the location of this infill housing option and are still working on a housing strategy that would define where this new category of development could occur. These are the councils that are asking for a deferral. They have just woken up to the potential consequences.
STEP’s submissions on this new type of complying development criticised the ad hoc nature of the application of the code and the broad implications of converting low density into higher density housing. There could be a huge rush of landowners taking up the opportunity to expand the value of their property. Councils need to able to specify areas where this type of development is not suitable, for example, because it does not fit in with the topography or character of particular areas or there is insufficient transport. At least the NSW government has recognised that councils need more control.
Design Guide Improvements
The Design Guide has been developed in partnership with the Government Architect’s Office, and aims to improve design by addressing layout, landscaping, private open space, light, natural ventilation and privacy.
The Design Guide has been improved by defining minimum standards for greenery on the blocks. The government has finally taken on board the importance of trees and gardens in reducing the heat island effect and improving local amenity. The guide specifies:
- minimum landscaped areas
- retention of trees especially along a boundary except where removal is approved by council
- planting of a tree in the front yard if the street setback is 3 m or more (mature height 5 m) and in the back yard (mature height 8 m)
- minimum soil volume to support the trees
- an ongoing maintenance plan
The ongoing question will be how that can these guidelines be enforced and the gardens kept alive. Councils will have a big responsibility perhaps?
Have your say on the North District Plan and the Greater Sydney Strategy by 31 March 2017.
Increase in Number of Dwellings
The table below summarises the implied new dwelling requirements from the population growth rates adopted in the Greater Sydney Strategy.
|Council||Existing 2011||2011–16||2016–21||2021–26||2026–31||2031–36||Change 2011–36||% change 25 years|
|Hornsby||n/a as boundaries have changed|
Here is an example of how the increase in dwelling numbers could come from replacement of existing houses with higher density dwellings. If the average replacement ratio is three new dwellings for one original dwelling in Lane Cove, around 4000 existing homes (around 30% of the suburb) would be replaced by 12,000 new terraces/townhouses over 25 years.
The sheer scale of new housing and infrastructure that will be needed to accommodate the increase in population over the period 2016–36 means that the character of northern Sydney will change. That will not be the end of it. The growth is not expected to stop once 2036 is reached!
The financing for this development could create pressure for sale of public land. Alternatively it could be financed by concessions in the height and location of high-rise. Dwellings near open space (including bushland) are more valuable and provide greater capacity for ‘value capture’. We see this approach in the proposals for development in South Dural where the developer is applying for approval of six storey buildings adjoining a riparian zone.
Protection of Native Vegetation
STEP’s main area of interest is the likely impacts of extensive further development on our existing bushland and native vegetation and what the District Plans have to say about the future development and management of these areas. We are also concerned about the environment of Sydney in general with issues like:
- Will natural bushland on public and private land be maintained and improved?
- Will the green canopy cover from street trees and suburban gardens be maintained?
- Will there be sufficient wildlife corridors and preservation of habitat, eg tree hollows?
- Will the planning regulations allow developers to remove excessive amounts of vegetation?
- Will there be preparation for climate change in management of riparian zones and foreshores?
The North District Plan is a frustrating document. It makes encouraging statements but then provides little detail on how the intentions will be actioned.
It emphasises the rich natural environment of the North District located in national parks and reserves, public and private land (p131).
It states that more effective outcomes can be delivered through planning at a strategic level that:
… can consider opportunities to connect areas of biodiversity, the relationship between different areas and threats to natural features.
Does this mean considering cumulative impacts and wildlife corridors?
The future status of natural areas is unclear. Natural areas that are currently cared for under council plans of management need to continue to have protection as a special category of public land use. The Department of Planning has been reviewing the State Environment Planning Policy 19 that defines protection of urban bushland for well over a year. We should have this information by now so we know how it fits in with the District Plans. We understand that Tree Preservation Orders are included in this review.
The whole process is a quantum change from the past where a regulatory planning system, such as SEPPs protected our natural areas. We now have a strategic planning system which facilitates further development intensity and the strength of the regulatory protection is unclear.
The future conflicts are exemplified by the stated objectives of strategic conservation planning (p132), for example:
- Maintain and where possible improve the conservation status of threatened species and ecological communities.
- Achieve better outcomes for biodiversity conservation.
- Facilitate urban growth and development and reduce the cost and timeframes for development approvals.
- Provide an equitable model recognising and recovering the cost of biodiversity impacts from urban growth (the questionable offsets system).
Some examples of specific issues that need to be addressed in the North District include:
- Protection of Gordon Flying Fox Reserve – flying foxes are a keystone species that are essential for the cross-pollination of native trees and their ability to adapt to climate change.
- Ensuring critically endangered ecological communities including Blue Gum High Forest and other rare vegetation are protected by the classification as Nature Reserves. These reserves are isolated pockets that are encroached by housing development. Bushland buffers need to be maintained around these endangered forest areas as well measures to ensure that the trees are not damaged by urban stormwater.
- Recognition of the special environmental attributes of the northern areas with unique vegetation arising from high rainfall and Wianamatta Shale Soils.
- The need for an upgrading of the BASIX requirements to allow for more extreme rainfall events that are accelerating damage and erosion to riparian zones. This is particularly noticeable due to the high energy water flows associated with the steep catchments in the North District.
The development of the Green Grid through the Metropolitan Greenspace Program is lauded by the District Plan as an important part of promoting a healthy environment. Broadly the Sydney Green Grid program is all about improving recreational spaces and their accessibility, including access to national parks. STEP is very concerned if it includes developments like bike trails through uncleared bushland, or exploitation for tourism such as leasing public land within national parks for hotels and camping areas.
The North District Plan refers to a detailed report that outlines the conceptual approach behind the Green Grid that is on the website. On enquiry we discovered that it has still not been released. Lack of key information including the changes to SEPP 19 is unacceptable and undermines the purpose of public consultation of the North District Plans.
The Greenspace program is funded by regular grants. $3 million was provided in 2015–16 and $4 million in 2016–17. $50,000 is going towards improving bush tracks in Hornsby. There is no long-term commitment to fund the program.
The North District Plan identifies some priority projects (p137). The proposal for Lane Cove River area is a concern. The description is:
Enhancing open spaces along the Lane Cove River foreshores to create unique recreational experiences linking the Lane Cove National Park to Macquarie Park. Macquarie University, Chatswood and Epping.
Will this involve clearing national park land? Currently this area of the river provides highly diverse habitat areas for native animals. On a recent STEP walk 50 native bird species were recorded. Mountain bike trails have so far been excluded from the LCNP. The area needs protection from high recreational use.
We have an opportunity now to tell the Greater Sydney Commission what is needed to ensure that Sydney’s unique environment is not destroyed by population growth.
We've previously summarised our concerns about the application to rezone rural land to residential land. It is a relief that Hornsby Council has decided to discontinue evaluation of the proposal. But this is only until an infrastructure and funding plan is in place for this and other developments in this rural area.
Over 5,000 submissions were made opposing the development, many for reasons other than congestion along New Line Road and lack of other infrastructure. There will be more opposition to come when the developer has another go. With any luck the proposal will be deemed inconsistent with the North District Plan that aims to retain rural land.
South Dural Residents and Ratepayers Group, a developer initiated lobby group, has made numerous applications since 1990 to Hornsby Council for the rezoning of 240 ha of rural lands in south Dural for urban purposes. The latest attempt is currently under consideration. Click here for details of the history of the lobbying
In the latest attempt, consultants’ reports have been commissioned as part of the first step of the application, that is, to change the zoning from rural to various levels of residential density and recreational zoning. Submissions closed on 2 December.
The spine of the proposed development is an area of bushland along Georges Creek and another unnamed tributary of Berowra Creek. Indeed the developer is touting the natural views and the tall forest as a feature that will allow six storey apartments to fit into an ‘eco-friendly’ community. All in all the proposal is for 2,900 dwellings that could house 9,000 people.
The bushland is of high conservation value with areas of Blue Gum High Forest (10.5 ha), Sydney Turpentine Ironbark Forest (22 ha), Blackbutt Gully Forest (30 ha) and Shale Sandstone Transition Forest (1.4 ha). The first two listed are classified as critically endangered ecological communities under the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
As the opposing residents’ group, the Galston Area Residents Association, points out there are many reasons to oppose the application, for example:
- it is inconsistent with the metropolitan plan to preserve remaining rural land
- current roads cannot cope with current traffic let alone that generated by the extra residents
- public transport is inadequate and the north west rail line is a long way away so buses will have to operate on clogged roads
- there is insufficient provision for schools, shops, recreation areas and other basic infrastructure
STEP opposes the rezoning application for three main reasons:
1. Inadequate vegetation data and mapping
The bushland area comprises about 64 ha, a quarter of the site. As large parts of the land are privately owned it has not been possible to carry out on the ground vegetation mapping. This applies in particular to the area of Blue Gum High Forest of about 10 ha. This is in the context of the total area of Blue Gum High Forest remaining in Sydney of less than 200 ha. Other areas of significant vegetation have not been sampled adequately or consistently.
It is totally unsatisfactory to be asking the public to comment on such inadequate information, especially when dealing with endangered ecological communities.
2. The proposed zoning map does not reflect the described development or the stated purpose to conserve native vegetation
The higher density six storey buildings are planned to be built closest to the bushland but they are zoned R3 (medium density). It should be zoned R4, high density residential.
There are also inconsistencies in the minimum lot sizes of 125 m2 and 225 m2 stated in different parts of the proposal documents. The prospect of lot sizes of 125 m2 is alarming! No room for trees.
Most of the riparian areas are described as having high conservation significance so should be zoned as E2. However the proposed zoning is RE1. It appears the intention is to allow a gravity feed sewer to be installed along the creek lines, hardly compatible with conservation. Construction of a sewer would need road access that would damage the natural creek line and, on past experience, create a wide band of weed invasion.
3. Large areas of the zoning proposal are deferred
The deferred areas are the main bushland strips that interface between the residential areas and the core riparian areas. They cover a significant part of the bushland. The reason given is the uncertainty of the biodiversity legislation that had not been passed when the proposal was submitted.
These deferred areas will be hard to manage because of the proximity to the housing development so government agencies will probably not want them.
An absolute tragedy would occur if they were traded for biobanking sites elsewhere as it would be impossible to find equivalent vegetation communities to be restored to offset the losses. They should become areas that are off-limits to biobanking.
The effect of this proposal on the existing vegetation will be very damaging unless very detailed precinct plans to protect it are drawn up and very active and expensive management takes place in perpetuity.
It is unsatisfactory to expect the public to comment on this proposal with incomplete and inadequate information.
Ideally STEP would like this parcel of land to remain rural, but in the event of it being rezoned for residential development STEP would like the potential impact on biodiversity reduced. Possible mechanisms for this include:
- The RE1 zoning changed to E2 to allow better management of the biodiversity values
- The deferred areas to be zoned E2
- The areas zoned E2 to be managed by the local council with the provision of funding for long-term management from the developer
- The area currently proposed for R3 (medium density) should be greatly reduced with a zoning of R2 (low density) in areas with scattered trees
- Very limited R4 (high density) set well back from the bushland
- The minimum lot size for dwelling houses and semi-detached houses increased well above 225 m2, preferably up to 500 m2
- Find an alternative to gravity-fed sewers down the creeks
- Development set further back from the areas of biodiversity constraints so that the bushland edges are not as severely impacted
- Provision of buffering by revegetation should be considered along bushland edges
In the past, councils expended significant funds in formulating local environment plans with zoning locations appropriate for different areas. The particular zoning and its extent took into account the immediate and cumulative effects on local infrastructure, services, traffic, street car parking, social services and amenities. The matching development control plans gave consideration to the local character of the area, including streetscape, topography, shared views, and soils.
It now seems that the NSW Government is trying to overwrite these local powers by proposing a major expansion of medium density housing into low density housing areas. Details are provided in a discussion paper released in November 2015 called Options for Low Rise Medium Density Housing as Complying Development.