It is rare to see the editorial pages of both the major Sydney newspapers write on the same day on the same topic and essentially agree.

But that is what we saw on Tuesday 5th July, 2022.

Amid torrential rain, pending train strikes and ongoing bemusement over John Barilaro’s ill-fated Trade Commissioner appointment to New York, readers saw the Sydney Morning Herald editorial proclaim:

“… the longer term challenges highlighted by the falling home ownership [revealed by the census] in Sydney must not be ignored.

Unless there is a change to current policies that put upward pressure on property prices, especially restrictive planning rules and un-fair housing related taxation policies, home ownership rates in Sydney are likely to decline.”

Just to hammer home the point, at 2.30pm that very day, the Reserve Bank of Australia again announced an increase in interest rates of 0.5%, thus increasing the official cash rate from 0.85% to 1.35% – with worse news still to come.

The Daily Telegraph also carried both a story and an editorial featuring Professor Leslie Stein, one of the key architects behind the creation of the Greater Sydney Commission, who declared “Sydney now has the worst planning system in the world”.

The key failure is the absence of any documentation to assist developers, local councils, planners, independent panels or Courts turn the lofty strategic plans into planning controls on the ground.  The Greater Sydney Commission’s decision to abandon the housing supply space in early 2021 was a disaster which we are all paying for now, with DPE left to pick up the pieces.

We have just had a Federal election where the only policy where both parties agreed was that of housing policy.  Both parties agreed that housing supply was a major issue and needs urgent attention.

In NSW, we are caught in a political pincer grip between the former Minister for Planning, Rob Stokes (who lost the party leadership ballot 5-39 to Premier Perrottet), who simply ignored housing supply and focussed his attention primarily on matters of design; and the new Minister, Anthony Roberts, who has spent his every waking hour trying to untangle the planning mess he was left with.  Meanwhile, Rob Stokes remains in control of the Greater Cities Commission (formerly GSC) and Infrastructure NSW.

In the meantime, the editorials of the major newspapers and the economic realities have caught up with the NSW Government.  Home prices and construction costs have both risen by record amounts.

Under supply seems to have been built into the system with LGA housing targets set well below what is needed.  Even the SMH says the planning system is restrictive and needs reform.  Housing approvals remain stubbornly low – the inevitable result of:

  • a complex and restrictive planning system
  • political games in the never ending lead up to the Council elections that were delayed by Covid
  • the abrogation of responsibility for housing targets by the GSC
  • a lag in the planning and delivery of critical infrastructure
  • a collapse in new apartment approvals in a myopic attempt to win over urban communities.

The NSW Treasury used to be the driving force in state government administration arguing for the benefits of reduced red tape, reduced regulation and reduced fees, taxes and charges.  They were the advocates for the growth of the population, the housing supply and the economy.  It is no coincidence that they also pull together the NSW Intergenerational Report, which highlights the need for this growth to ensure we can pay for the increased costs associated with health care, aged care and relevant support services related to the aging demographics of our population.

A big task lies before Treasurer Matt Kean and Dr Paul Grimes, the Secretary of Treasury to work with the new Secretary of Planning and Environment, Michael Cassel, to re-establish the voice for growth across the NSW public service.  It is critical that Treasury’s place in this debate is re-asserted and proper regulatory impact assessments are undertaken with existing and proposed new rules and regulations reviewed to take into consideration the new reality of a housing supply crisis.

DPE are back on track with a clear focus on housing supply – but it is critical that like the newspapers of Sydney, the central agencies of the NSW government, all pull in the same direction on this critical subject.