Australia is the Lucky Country but sometimes even the fortunate have to deal with Bad Luck.
This year we have been confronted with the Crowned King of Viruses – Corona, the single most challenging health and economic crisis of the last hundred years. And apart from shut down and isolation, there seems to be little we can do until we either hurtle our efforts to a vaccine, which is the dead virus or get herd immunity through the perils of the live virus. But what about our once-legendary economic growth, with our 29-year GDP growth stint? Sadly, it has all come to a tragic end. And now we shall all brace for a precipitous economic tumble in the coming months, the effects of which will far outlast any perceived or real impacts on public health. And governments the world over, are working tirelessly to both protect their citizens but have all become increasingly isolationist. It’s even state against state and city against city in Australia, like we are all no longer together as a nation…and it’s all in the interest of protecting health.
And the NSW Government has taken a number of immediate actions, in an attempt to bring flexibility into the “rigid” and antiquated NSW Planning System in its COVID-19 response. Pandemic or no pandemic, it is actually great to see that our state legislators have finally recognised the importance of the construction and urban development industry to our post-COVID economy recovery. It is definitely true that by fast-tracking many of NSW’s state-significant infrastructure projects, this will greatly hasten our climb out of the current economic abyss we now find ourselves strewn at the bottom of.
A new Planning Acceleration Program, was established by the NSW Government and announced in April this year. This is definitely good and welcome news, to anyone who truly understands the frustrating “snail’s pace” the industry has to typically endure. Of note, the program seeks to create opportunities for more than 30,000 construction jobs in the next six months; fast-track assessments of State Significant Developments, rezonings and development applications (DAs); and support councils and planning panels to fast-track local and regionally significant DAs. This certainly is good recipe for sustenance.
But remember that the NSW planning system in its current form, is starting from an incredibly low and ineffective base – it is the slowest in every single category of assessment according to the most recent report of the NSW Productivity Commissioner. So anything that can be done to speed up the arduous and onerous development application assessment times is welcome. We are just about ready to try anything.
To their credit, the Government has come to recognise the importance of prioritising shovel‑ready projects that generate employment. These of course will have many other benefits such as contributing meaningfully to housing supply, economic activity and generating taxation revenue. It is common industry knowledge, that current lead times for large projects are woefully slow. This, combined with impacts on supply chains, means that the economic benefits of such projects are often not seen until several years after they were planned. So yes – identifying and prioritising shovel‑ready projects that will create jobs, is now more critical than ever.
All of us in industry can recite instantly, examples of large projects in all parts of Sydney, where obvious economic benefit can ensue, if approval times were improved, yet the system is still bigger than the individual and old habits die hard, as we cling onto the drabs of a cloth that can longer clad anyone appropriately.
So let us make good of the bad –perhaps we can use the COVID-19 pandemic as a once in a generation opportunity to review our egregious state-based planning systems and ensure that important future developments can be delivered at pace. Because if it is not obvious to some, this will be one simple and effective way to rescue our drowning fortunes and avoid leaving mountains of public debt for the next three generations to pay.
Dr Shane Geha, Managing Director at EG Advisory
Shane is one of the leading re-zoning experts in New South Wales, his knowledge of planning and property is one of a kind. As founding Managing Director of EG Property/Urban Planning, Shane bears overall responsibility for all its projects. Shane has extensive rezoning experience and brings a combination of practical know-how and value creation skills to projects he is involved in. Shane has worked on projects and increased the land value after rezoning land at Little Bay, Riverstone, Tempe and Wonderland NSW – to name a few. His focus is working closely with clients on property uplift strategy and its implementation. Shane’s completed his PhD in Planning on “Quantifying the Rezoning Effect” at the University of NSW, 2013. He also lectures part-time at the University of Sydney in a number of Engineering Courses.
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