Proposed new planning provisions which require new developments to be resilient to climate change and natural hazards must not be shelved or watered down, according to a leading climate risk expert who has called on property developer lobby groups to clarify whether or not they are lobbying against the provisions.

Climate Valuation Chief Executive Officer Dr Karl Mallon has called on the Property Council and the Urban Development Institute of Australia to clarify whether they are lobbying to prevent new provisions in the proposed Design and Place SEPP from being adopted which would require new developments to be resilient to natural hazards.

The comments came after media reports that two lobby groups were fighting against the introduction of the Design and Place State Environmental Planning Policy (DP SEPP), which was released in draft form last year and which if adopted will supersede the existing SEPP No 65 – Design Quality of Residential Apartment Development, and SEPP (Building Sustainability Index: BASIX) 2004.

Billed by Planning Minister Rob Stokes as ‘NSW’s first comprehensive design policy’ the Design and Place SEPP  is wide ranging and aims to make buildings, homes and communities more energy efficient and resilient to climate impacts.

The policy was introduced in draft form late last year.

From a resilience viewpoint, the plan requires new developments to have comprehensive hazard risk profiles for disasters including floods and bushfires.

It comes with draft changes to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation 2000 which will require development applications to be accompanied by site analysis identifying the hazards and risks of the development site.

Section 22 of the Draft SEPP says a consent authority must be satisfied that the development is resilient to natural hazards by:

(a) incorporating measures to—

(i) avoid or reduce exposure to natural hazards, and

(ii) mitigate and adapt to the risks of natural hazards, including risks of climate change and compounding risks, and

(b) mitigating the impact of expected natural hazards through the siting and design of the development.

Mallon says the importance of building resilience has been highlighted through recent weather events.

He has called on the PCA and UDIA to clarify their stance.

“We cannot have a situation where the leaders in the property industry are putting people in harm’s way by opposing measures to shield homes from extreme weather and climate risk,” Mellon said.

“We have seen this month the awful consequences of extreme flooding which is being worsened by climate change. Building resilience to these hazards into the planning system is sensible and necessary and protecting homeowners and communities should be the highest priority for all parts of the property industry.

“If we fail to consider to escalating flooding, fire and extreme heat risk in residential development without improved planning and building codes, we will simply be building the climate ghettos of the future and people will be stuck in owing money on homes where insurance is unaffordable and their very lives are at risk.

“The Property Council and Urban Development Institute of Australia need to clarify their comments. It’s hard to imagine, given the experience of this month and warnings from climate science, that anyone in a leadership position in the property industry could possibly be opposed to making homes in New South Wales resilient to intensifying hazards.”

In their respective submissions to the draft SEPP, both the Property Council and the UDIA have called for the policy to be cancelled in its current form.

In voicing their opposition, however, both groups cited concerns relating to to other parts of the policy.

Accordingly, whilst any cancellation of the policy would obviously result in cancellation of the resilience provisions, readers should note that the opposition of both groups relates to the overall policy package rather than the resilience measures in particular.

In its submission, the Property Council argued that the DP SEPP should be ‘withdrawn from public exhibition’.

Whilst it supports select elements of the proposed changes, the Council argues that it cannot support the SEPP as a package in its current form.

In particular, the Property Council is concerned about additional costs and regulatory burdens which the package overall will place on industry and consent authorities.

These will arise from the SEPP imposing 51 issues for consideration in development applications and rezoning proposals.

Pointing to the government’s own modelling, the Property Council said this will result in an additional cost burden to the industry and home buyers of $2.3 billion (although the modelling says this will be outweighed by benefits totaling $3.3 billion).

On the positive aspects of the proposed reforms, the Council argued that these should be extracted from the broader SEPP and progressed/consulted on separately.

Asked by Sourceable specifically about the resilience provisions in the SEPP, Property Council of Australia NSW Executive Director Luke Achterstraat said extensive state and local guidance and legislation was already in place to manage flooding and bushfire risk related to property development.

Specifically in regard to Clause 22, meanwhile, the Property Council in its submission does not call for the clause to be deleted or watered down should the SEPP proceed (which the PCA is obviously arguing should not happen), but calls for a change in wording.

This would replace the requirement for consent authorities to be satisfied that proposed developments are resilient to natural hazards with a need for the consent authority to ‘give adequate regard to the proposed development’s consistency’ with the measures referred to in the clause above.

Such a change, the PCA says, would recognise that there are likely to be circumstances where it is unnecessary for a development to incorporate measures to avoid or reduce exposure to natural hazards, unless this is very broadly defined.

“The NSW planning system already has extensive guidance and legislation, at both state and local level, to manage flooding and bushfire risk related to property development,” Achterstraat said. “It has had for some time, and these planning controls are strongly supported. The Design and Place SEPP does not affect these requirements.

“The Property Council has provided its support for certain aspects of the SEPP relating to sustainability, reduction of carbon emissions, management of embodied carbon and achieving net zero goals.

“Industry is highly supportive of the objectives to create great places and deliver good design outcomes, which are essential to the long-term success and sustainable growth of our cities and regional areas.

“However, as a package the DP SEPP is not currently supported as it creates more subjectivity and uncertainty in already complex planning system – at a cost of some $2.3 billion according to the government’s own modelling.

“The Australian property industry leads the world in driving sustainable building design and operation and this is a key focus now and into the future.

“We support good design and sustainable outcomes such as changes to the national construction code to increase the minimum energy standards for new housing and that’s the right place for that requirement.”

For its part, the UDIA has called in its submission for the DP SEPP to be cancelled and for the industry to work with government to deliver better design outcomes which have regard to development feasibility and its impact on housing affordability.

As with the Property Council, the UDIA’ main concerns relate to issues other than the proposed resilience requirements.

In particular, the UDIA is concerned that tighter thermal requirements will add up to $30,000 or more off the cost of building a new home.

Meanwhile, UDIA says additional provisions will add further cost and complexity to development proposals and add up to six months to the process.

These include:

  • the imposition of new standards under the Apartment Design Guide (UDG)
  • the introduction of the new Urban Design Guide (UDG) and requirement to prepare a site-specific Development Control Plan (DCP)
  • the requirement for more detailed technical information upfront for Design Review Panels (DRP); and
  • demonstrating compliance with the SEPP will increase costs and complexity of development proposals and add up to 6 months to the process

In regards to the resilience provisions specifically, the UDIA notes that little information has been released on designed for resilience and that the industry remained uncertain about the direction which government wishes to take in this area.

It calls for establishment of a working group to co-design an approach to improving resilience in the planning system.

Responding to Sourceable, a spokesperson said the UDIA and its members are supportive are supportive of a principles-based policy to improve resilience and environmental outcomes in NSW including reaching Net Zero but added that this needed to be done in a manner which had suitable regard for housing cost and affordability considerations.

The spokesperson said that a narrow approach which was adopted b the Design and Place SEPP would have ‘crushed’ housing supply across NSW and further exacerbated affordability concerns.

This would have severe social impacts including higher levels of homelessness and greater difficulty for teachers, nurses and others to afford a home.

Instead, the spokesperson said that policies were needed which delivered both environmental/resilience outcomes and required level of affordable housing which is needed.