The end of March 2017 was the date for submissions to be made on a suite of plans that will determine the shape and structure of Sydney over the next 40 years.

The city will grow from 5 million people (the size of Singapore) to 8 million people (the size of London and New York) and clearly we will see a very different city. Along with the 2056 vision is a series of six District Plans that focus on how these six parts of Sydney will grow over the next 20 years. The combination of all of these plans opens up a snap shot of just what living in Sydney will be like in 20 years’ time or in 40 years’ time.

Here are some of the key Sydney issues with some reference to the Melbourne approach:

1. The legal status of the Draft District Plans in relation to the existing Metropolitan Strategy is uncertain

There is a fully legal metropolitan plan for Greater Sydney (A Plan for Growing Sydney) in existence and under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act the draft district plans must give effect to this plan. There are, however, a number of areas where the District Plans and the draft amended metropolitan strategy (Towards our Greater Sydney 2056) take a different direction, including whether high density housing should be in centres or whether urban renewal corridors are important or not. This puts applicants of planning proposals in a confusing situation where there seem to be two different Sydney Metropolitan Strategies in operation at the same time. Approval bodies can choose which one to apply leaving the applicant in limbo land.

2. The Three-city Model is supported

The new plan for Sydney is based on having three cities – the traditional city around Circular Quay, an emerging city around Parramatta and a future city around the second airport in Western Sydney. This differs from the current plan which acknowledges a number of city centres in a similar manner to Plan Melbourne, which supports a multi-centre metropolis. There does seem to be an excessive desire to see Badgerys Creek airport become a new city at the expense of Liverpool, Penrith and Campbelltown-Macarthur. Plan Melbourne does not see Tullermarine Airport as the next city centre for Melbourne.

3. A clear vision of the built form of Greater Sydney is needed

Moving Sydney from a 5 million person city to 8 million means big changes must occur. The low rise suburbs cannot simple keep spreading outward. While the planning documents talk about broad numbers of new homes required in various parts of Sydney, there is not a clear vision of just how this will be done. There is talk of a focus on terrace and town houses but much more density will be needed; growth will be in three urban models. The first will be high rise towers around railway stations (particularly metro rail) , the second will be mid-rise apartments up to eight storeys high with the third being two-storey houses and town houses generally on the fringe. Interestingly Plan Melbourne proposes two-thirds of dwellings by 2051 in established areas with one third in greenfield areas.

4. Developers are increasingly becoming responsible for funding infrastructure and affordable housing

A growing trend seems to be toward planning authorities selling off floor space to fund infrastructure and affordable housing. The use of value capture, so-called “Voluntary Planning Agreements” and infrastructure levies means planning merit is being traded for financial contributions. Multiple government agencies and councils are all adding their own uplifts to generate funds in an uncoordinated manner.

5. Too many planning decisions are delegated to councils

Each council is asked to develop its own housing strategy to address affordable housing and this is leading to multiple approaches across Metropolitan Sydney. Clearly leadership is required by the Greater Sydney Commission (GSC) to ensure excessive taxing of development does not make projects unfeasible and therefore no project would go ahead.

6. Housing supply must be given a higher priority

The District Plans prioritise jobs over housing in Strategic and District Centres and on inner city employment lands just at the time that housing supply and affordability have reached a crisis level.

7. Community involvement must relate to the scale of impact (Local, District, Metropolitan)

While there is much discussion about involving communities in developing plans for their areas there is not a lot of clarity on how this should relate to the scale of the strategy or development. Community expectations need to be carefully managed.

8. A mixed use cosmopolitan character should be promoted

The draft District Plans seem to reinforce single use exclusionary zoning while the vibrancy of a mixture of uses is seen by most planners (including Jane Jacobs) as being preferable.

9. Affordable housing should be provided through an incentive system

The planning documents are unclear on just where levies will be raised for affordable housing and how this will relate to floor space up lift. Many councils seem committed to a levy without up lift.