Assault on our Suburbs

Though at first glance the Draft Design & Place State Environment Planning Policy incorporates all the ‘well meaning’ principles of good planning in its introduction, the detail in the objectives will lead to the destruction of the integrity of many suburbs, including Ku-ring-gai.

The principles espoused in this Draft Policy include delivering beauty and amenity through improved overall design, delivering inviting public spaces, improved sustainability and greener spaces for well-being and improved resilience to climate change.

However, the objectives in the Urban Design Guide highlight that the true purpose of this Policy is increased density across NSW, especially targeting current R2 low density residential areas.

Objective 3 aims to build ‘Compact and diverse neighbourhoods’. Critically this is to be met by targeting density levels of 30 dwellings per hectare within a 5 minute walk to neighbourhood shops and centres. The minimum density of 15 dwellings per hectare is targeted everywhere else. In areas of greater intensity or where there are excellent active and public transport networks, development should aim for a minimum density of 30 dwellings per hectare across the entire walkable neighbourhood.

The reasoning that these minimum residential targets will guarantee a more vibrant urban area has absolutely no foundation.

Objective 3 effectively ignores current LEP’s, environmental and heritage considerations and will impose a blanket density over the entire municipality that will extinguish any individual characteristics.

This objective overrides the local Council zoning plans and will destroy the character of established suburbs and LGAs, such as Ku-ring-gai. High and medium density should not be allowed within R2 Low Density Residential areas. This is completely contradictory to Objective 16 which calls for the retention of existing built heritage, landscape and other unique features, including reinstatement of historical street patterns where possible.

Within Objective 15 is the damaging recommendation to override any current zoning and reduce detached dwellings to only 30% in areas where the number of dwellings per hectare is currently 15 dwellings or greater!

The use of the term ‘compact neighbourhoods’ as a preferred outcome litters the document as the preferred planning outcome.

We believe this is another assault by the current State Government on the current character of existing suburbs and puts increased density as the key aim of this Policy. It is apparent that this policy is not about better design and quality sense of place, it is about providing developers and the property industry with greater options for increasing density in our suburbs.

In terms of the Apartment Design Guide, there appear to be few mandated minimum standards, with developers able to freely depart from the recommended provisions with the use of offsets and alternative designs.

Another area lagging behind the rhetoric is the engagement with the community as a key stakeholder in any design plans during the full process, not just in the initial information gathering phase.

FOKE does not believe that this Policy will assist in building community trust in an already flawed planning system and has made a submission to this effect.

The submission period closed on 28th February. However, it would be worthwhile to contact or email your local MP to let them know you are concerned about the impact of this Policy unless significantly altered to address these concerns. You can find the documents at Design and Place SEPP.

“A sting” in Planning Department’s Approval of Ku-ring-gai Housing Strategy

Council submitted Ku-ring-gai’s Local Housing Strategy to the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) in December 2020 with the core objective of meeting Ku-ring-gai’s housing targets to 2036, through existing capacity and existing planning controls.

On 16th July 2021, Council received confirmation from the DPIE of the approval of the Local Housing Strategy (LHS). However, the Department’s confirmation letter included 12 additional immediate further planning impositions. The full letter is available here.

The following pro-development requirements are completely inconsistent with the Housing Strategy submitted and approved which relies on utilising available capacities. These requirements are:

  • To submit planning proposals for new dwellings in Gordon, Lindfield and/or Turramurra local centres by December 2022.
  • To submit planning proposals for new dwellings within St Ives local centre by December 2022.  In the LHS this was to be part of the longer-term plan from 2031 and dependent on improved transport links.
  • To identify neighbourhood centres such as Roseville, Roseville Chase, Killara, Pymble, Wahroonga, West Gordon and North St Ives for additional medium density housing for the period 2031 to 2036, with plans delivered by December 2023.
  • Setting senior housing and medium density targets which were not previously required.

Additionally, this letter states that a specific medium density complying development model for Ku-ring-gai that had been previously agreed by the Greater Sydney Commission (GSC) in the Ku-ring-gai Local Strategic Planning Statement is now refused. This is an extremely important element and an essential part of planning for Ku-ring-gai. With our built and cultural heritage elements, riparian lands, surrounding bushland, vulnerable fauna and flora and undulating typography any development must be tailored to its specific location.

Importantly, requirement number 9 is an updated implementation plan of these requirements by January 2022 This would be the first meeting of a new council, due to the postponed elections. This unnecessarily tight timing limits the ability to discuss with the DPIE the suitability of the requirements presented in this letter.

The threat from the Department is that they will accommodate developers and landowners in proponent-led proposals if council does not meet the requirements in its letter.  It is both dangerous and disappointing when developers already have too much sway in local planning outcomes!

Critically, the proposed housing targets have not been updated and are based on Pre-Covid population projections from 3 years ago. It is essential that the GSC issue updated population targets before foisting unnecessary increases in dwellings on existing infrastructure and communities.

The Government’s Centre for Population had updated its projections in December 2020.  See the Population statement 2021.

These projections show a 5% reduction in forecast population for Sydney vs pre-covid projected levels to 2026, and a 5.4% decline to 2031. This amounts to over 300,000 fewer people expected to reside in Sydney than projected in 2026 and 340,000 less by 2031.
Post Covid, Sydney population targets will be less than half the previous increases which will have a major impact on the housing requirements in our area.

The requirements in the DPIE letter of approval are inconsistent with the adopted and approved Ku-ring-gai Local Housing Strategy that provides new housing from existing capacity within Ku-ring-gai’s current planning controls until 2036. With a 5% reduction in Sydney’s projected population by 2036, all housing targets will be essentially halved.

At the 16th November Council meeting this issue was debated with the resolution to reject the DPIE conditions. Unfortunately Mayor Spencer and Councillors Ngai, Kelly and Kay agreed with the pro-development conditions of the letter.

As we embark with a new council, please contact your councillors and local Ministers, Alister Henskens and Jonathan O’Dea, to ensure that an outcome that better reflects the aim of the approved Housing Strategy is agreed with the DPIE.

Chaos in Ku-ring-gai Council Prior to Council Elections

Since the September 21st when new Mayor Cedric Spencer was installed as Mayor after a tied 5-5 vote was resolved by his name drawn from a box, no effective Council meetings have been held.

Within days of the new Mayor taking up his position, two of his supporting councillors, Christine Kay and Peter Kelly, called for an Extraordinary meeting with the sole agenda of reviewing the contract of the General Manager, Mr McKee. This is despite the fact that less than 2 months earlier his contract was renewed and his performance rated as ‘More than Satisfactory’ by ten councillors and supported by an independent consultant’s report.

This action was an unnecessary aggravation just weeks before Council was to go into caretaker mode and resulted in five councillors not attending the meeting ensuring no minimum meeting quorum, requiring 6 councillors, for a resolution was available. With the Mayor’s extra vote to break a tied vote, the General Manager’s position would have been terminated.

Mayor Spencer has been quoted acknowledging “that Saturday’s meeting is regarding McKee but has stated that council has not yet resolved to terminate McKee and is merely re-assessing his performance. Although he does acknowledge that termination may well be the outcome of this assessment.” (Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Post, 9 October 2021)

This Extraordinary meeting was then re-scheduled three times with the same result. No quorum, no resolution.
However this has now been raised to the attention of the media and the Minister for Local Government who stated in an SMH article on 27th October

“Local Government Minister Shelley Hancock said she had sought urgent advice from the Office of Local Government on how to intervene in the council, which has been stuck in limbo because it has lacked the required numbers at meetings for business to be discussed.

“In the interim, I am calling on the council to refrain from making any decision in relation to the general manager’s employment or other decisions with ramifications for the incoming council,” Mrs Hancock said on Wednesday.’ See the full link here.

However this issue of the General Manager’s position has persisted and extended into the Ordinary Council Meetings, effectively ensuring that no meetings have been held since September and no Council business conducted.

Additionally there have been more unpleasant manoeuvrings within council chambers that have resulted in Mayor Spencer being banned from speaking to staff.

Mr McKee wrote ‘“It is not appropriate for staff to be subjected to explicit or implicit threats of dismissal by a mayor. It is not appropriate for a mayor to threaten disciplinary or other retributory action towards staff, explicitly or implicitly.” For the full article click here.

We hope that this saga which has brought our Council into disrepute will soon come to an end as the council enters caretaker mode.

Heritage Act Reforms

In May 2021, the NSW Government announced a major review of the Heritage Act, 1977 which would contribute to its legislative reform.

The NSW Heritage Act is the single most important instrument in our state that identifies, protects and conserves our heritage and we believe should only be strengthened.

FOKE participated in a National Trust Forum on the Government’s Discussion Paper on the 9th May with 277 experts, heritage organisations and other participants.

We believe the current Heritage Act is very robust and working well and needs only minor updating.

The stated intention of the review is to make heritage ownership easier, more affordable and maximising a heritage item’s economic value.  

Our main concern is that the discussion paper intends to water down the current Heritage Act’s conservation and protection measures. Under the rationale for the review, the prescriptive controls which have helped conserve and protect heritage items are cited as outdated, with no real comment as to best practice improvements or any strengthening of the Act.

Rather the paper recommends a ‘nuanced’ approach to heritage controls, which will only lead to individual interpretations resulting in legal battles among residents, developers and local and state planning controls. Prescriptive controls have proven to be successful in other countries such as the UK.

The key areas supported in our submission relate to the need to address Aboriginal Heritage, the ability to issue penalty infringement notices for non-compliance or wilful deterioration of a heritage item, and financial incentives for funding conservation.

The issues raised that are not supported are streamlining the delisting process, and extending the levels of heritage protection into four categories.

However, the Act would benefit by excluding heritage from State Significant Developments, which currently can override the provisions of the Heritage Act. As we have just seen with the removal of Willow Grove to make way for the Parramatta Powerhouse museum.

Similarly, Heritage items should have a significant conserved perimeter where no development is allowed. Most heritage is an item in a setting that adds to its value and historic validity, hence the area surrounding it needs to be similarly protected.

Why are only 4% of the 40,000 State Heritage Inventory Items actually listed on the Heritage Register?

The Heritage Council is adding fewer and fewer items each year. Without protection these items will be lost. The National Trust (NSW) have listed over 100 buildings and places that in their view warrant State Heritage listing which the Heritage Office has not registered.

Heritage assessment and relevance to local, state or national significance should be maintained. Any proposed amendments should result in better heritage outcomes rather than a weakening of heritage protections.

Council’s Quiet Divestment of Community Land

In a controversial decision in June, council resolved behind closed doors the future of ‘surplus’ parcels of ‘operational’ land for divestment.

Ratepayers deserve to know which council owned land is described as ‘surplus land’ and why it is being proposed to be divested!  

FOKE has been strongly opposed to public land being sold off particularly when that land will never be returned to community use or replaced. Now over 27 council owned properties that were ‘community classified’ and maintained under Plans of Management are now classified as ‘operational’.  Operational classification allows council to sell and allow the redevelopment of this land without ensuring a replacement. 

Processes around the disposal of public land are supposed to be fully accountable and transparent!  Whilst there are some issues around confidentiality with respect to land valuations, the community deserve openness and transparency as to which land is being divested and whether it will be replaced.

We believe that if community owned land is ‘surplus’ to Ku-ring-gai’s needs then ratepayers should be consulted prior to the land or property being considered for divestment by council!   

As an example, Council’s Havilah Lane public car park in Lindfield which provided public car spaces for 25 cars was considered by Council as surplus council land and was sold to a developer for approximately $4.6 million for 8 storey unit development several years ago!   The 25 carspaces that the Lindfield centre lost from that commercial sale and disposal have not been replaced in the provision of new parking space in the Lindfield Village Green despite the Commissioner’s Reclassification Report recommendation that the money from the sale be spent back in Lindfield.

‘Community’ classification is council owned land which should be kept for use by the general public with the use and management of community land regulated by a plan of management.

Operational land is council owned land held as a temporary asset or as an investment, land which facilitates the carrying out of Council functions or land which may not be open to the general public, such as a works depot! 

The problem that we have in Ku-ring-gai now is that the majority of council owned land is now reclassified ‘operational’.  This includes community facilities and local parks such as Bates Park in Roseville Chase.

Operational classification of land takes the control out of the community and into the control of bureaucrats and councillors in deciding future outcomes which may or may not be in the long term public interest!

This is especially important at a time of increasing population where greater avenues for open space are essential to our residents’ health and amenity.

The challenge of protecting and enhancing Ku-ring-gai’s character

Following on from December’s article on Ku-ring-gai’s Local Character Study, we now have the next iteration of these Broad Local Character statements for review as a result of comments received from residents.


In January, FOKE also made a submission to NSW Planning regarding its Local Character Overlay policy. This has provided us with further clarification of this policy approach.


Although FOKE welcomes any planning initiative to protect Ku-ring-gai’s Local Character, FOKE remains concerned that the Local Character Statements and Local Character Overlays obscure contrary objectives of increasing medium density development via the new ‘Low Rise Housing Diversity Code’ (LRHDC). This would continue to decimate Ku-ring-gai’s character, heritage and environment, if allowed.


It is apparent that the underlying objective is not preserving local character, but increases in population density. This is assumed as the starting point and cornerstone of this Local Character approach to planning, rather than adopting a more balanced and respectful approach.


The approach for these Broad Local Character Areas (BLCA) is to firstly define Ku-ring-gai’s physical characteristics. This first stage will not examine the social and cultural characteristics of our areas, which include many of the key elements of Ku-ring-gai’s core character, our cultural heritage and development.


Whilst we agree the need for Local Character Statements and Local Character Overlays in protecting areas of special Local Character, however, there are a number of red flags which arise from examining the public exhibition documents. 


In drilling down on the objectives of this planning direction, there is regular reference to promoting more medium density development via the ‘Low Rise Housing Diversity Code’ (LRHDC).  This code has been roundly criticised by councils as being able to potentially destroy vast areas of established Local Character.


These documents clearly state that with respect to seeking exemptions from the LRHDC in a Local Character Area, a Council would “need to demonstrate that without complying development, the housing needs can still be effectively met.” 


And this is at a time when we are seeing a massive drop in population growth in Sydney that will impact housing requirements for years to come.


As the Ku-ring-gai Housing Strategy approved by Council in 2020 has not yet been approved by NSW Planning, areas for ‘change’ or ‘desired future character’, essentially meaning rezoning, are not being actively sought in this process. However, the Housing Strategy is defined for a period to 2036 and thereafter additional housing will again be on the agenda.


So what to do:

Participate in the Ku-ring-gai Local Character Study which is now on public exhibition until Monday 26th April.  The link to all the information is –  Ku-ring-gai-Local-Character-Background-Study 


The video clearly outlines the detail of the approach and then you will be able to respond via the online survey or make a detailed submission. You will note the updated character statements focus on the physical characteristics of the areas.


FOKE’s view is that by segmenting the approach to these statements into physical character first, and then later the social and cultural character, will undermine the value of our heritage conservation areas (HCAs) and heritage values across our suburbs.


An essential feature of HCAs and character areas is their relationship with historic subdivision patterns and history. Severing that relationship diminishes and degrades the significance of Ku-ring-gai’s history and heritage, and so endangers the protection of its built and natural environment, and essentially degrades the local character.