The Greater Sydney Commission (GSC) was established in late 2015 to oversee metropolitan planning and development in the Greater Sydney Region. The GSC functions as a partnership between the NSW Government and local governments, and has the power to make local environmental plans and prepare draft strategic plans for the Greater Sydney Region under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (EPA Act).

The GSC is to coordinate and drive the delivery of all the actions in A Plan for Growing Sydney, which sets out a strong vision for Sydney including:

  • a competitive economy with world-class services and transport
  • a city of housing choice with homes that meet our needs and lifestyles
  • a greater place to live with communities that are strong, healthy and well connected
  • a sustainable and resilient city that protects the natural environment and has a balanced approach to the use of land and resources.

The GSC is constituted by the Chief Commissioner, Economic Commissioner, Social Commissioner and Environment Commissioner, as well as six District Commissioners. In early May, former NSW Premier Morris Iemma was appointed as one of the six District Commissioners, reflecting an attempt by Planning Minister Rob Strokes to establish a bipartisan consensus around the GSC. Mr Iemma was appointed along with Sheridan Dudley, completing the appointments of District Commissioners for the GSC.

District plans in Sydney are to be prepared and finalised by the GSC which is required to ensure that the public exhibition of the district plans commences within 12 months after each district is formally declared. The plans will be the basis for strategic planning with regards to economic, social and environmental matters and will identify priority growth areas.

Since its creation, the GSC has approved 37 local environmental plan amendments. One such amendment was recently made to the Hills Local Environmental Plan 2012 (Hills LEP). The amendment inserts a clause regarding residential development yield on certain land and reflects the GSC’s apparent acceptance of the Hills Shire requiring larger unit sizes through amendments to the Hills LEP.

Under the amendment, developments that result in more than 600 dwellings in residential flat buildings are restricted in terms of the total number of studio or 1 bedroom dwellings and must have at least 10 per cent of dwellings with 3 or more bedrooms. There are also no restrictions on the number of ‘Type 3’ apartments comprised in such a development. Type 3 apartments have significantly larger internal floor areas compared to Type 1 and Type 2 apartments, which are both limited to 30 per cent of the total number of dwellings in the development.

The amendment appears to contradict the intent of State Environmental Planning Policy No 65Design Quality of Residential Apartment Development (SEPP 65) which, under clause 6A, requires that development control plans cannot be inconsistent with the Apartment Design Guide (ADG). If a development control plan contains provisions that specify requirements, standards or controls in relation to certain matters in the ADG, those provisions are of no effect.

The ADG provides design criteria and general guidance about how development proposals can achieve the design quality principles identified in SEPP 65, which include built form and scale, density and housing diversity. Relevantly, the ADG states that:

Apartment mix refers to the percentage of apartments with different numbers of bedrooms in a development. The number of bedrooms is directly related to floor area which in turn determines the yield that can be generated on the site. A mix of apartment types provides housing choice and supports equitable housing access. By accommodating a range of household types, apartment buildings support the needs of the community now and into the future. This is particularly important because apartment buildings form a significant and often long term part of the urban fabric.

It is therefore arguable that the amendment approved by the GSC to the Hills LEP, which specifies requirements as to apartment size and layout, contradicts the guidance provided by the ADG. By mandating significantly larger unit sizes, the amendment to the Hills LEP conflicts with the ADG’s design criteria and the direction to accommodate a range of apartment buildings that support the needs of the community now and into the future.

Other amendments recently approved by the GSC are:

  • an amendment to the Liverpool Local Environmental Plan 2008, including the provision of adequate accommodation for employees of existing agricultural or rural industries
  • an amendment to the Sydney Local Environment Plan 2012, including community infrastructure floor space at Green Square.

New Sydney Planning Panels for Greater Sydney have also been announced, to replace the existing Sydney East Joint Regional Planning Panel and the Sydney West Joint Regional Planning Panel. Adjudication on major planning approvals, decisions about pre-gateway reviews and regionally significant development applications valued at $20 million or more will be within the new Panels’ planning approval ambit. The new Panels will be headed up by a Greater Sydney Commission District Commissioner in the role of Chair and commence operations on 21 November 2016.