Australia: Is sustainability really sustainable? Greater Sydney Commission draft District Plans say yes

Last Updated: 9 February 2017
Article by Jennifer Harris and Nikki Robinson

Most Read Contributor in Australia, November 2017

While the draft District Plans set out a clear vision, the devil will be in the detail when they are implemented.

The draft District Plans look to create a legacy for future generations, visualising a Green Grid, improved water quality and a proposal to make Greater Sydney a net zero carbon emissions city by 2050.

A major change in strategic planning for Greater Sydney will occur as a result of these draft District Plans. Developers, business investors, land owners and councils will be substantially impacted, so it is crucial that the draft District Plans are understood and formal submissions are finalised by 31 March 2017.

There is a lot of content in the draft District Plans. It is important that the priorities and required actions are understood because when these draft District Plans are finalised, there will be sweeping changes in the way Greater Sydney develops over the next 20 years.

The draft District Plans focus on three themes: productivity, liveability and sustainability.

Sustainability priorities for the Central District

  • Transforming the ageing Grey Grid by improving the network of pipes and existing infrastructure;
  • Updating planning controls to enhance access to the waterway and foreshores in Sydney Harbour;
  • Implementing coastal management programs particularly in Waverly Cemetery, Bondi, Coogee and Maroubra Beach;
  • Increasing access to open space, five priority Green Grid Projects have been identified;
  • Utilising opportunities for shared golf courses and open space;
  • Exploring the potential to utilise the Central District's industrial precincts to become locations for waste management facilities; and
  • Increasing the tree canopy to reduce the impact of urban heat island effect.

Sustainability priorities for the North District

  • Protecting waterways and aquatic reserves at Barrenjoey Head, Narrabeen Head, Long Reef, Cabbage Tree Bay and North Harbour at Manly;
  • Managing vulnerable coastal landscapes through coastal management programs particularly in Collaroy, Narrabeen, Mona Vale and Bilgola;
  • Managing the Metropolitan Rural Area in the North District, which includes parts of the Northern Beaches, Hornsby and Ku-ring-gai local government areas;
  • Delivering three priority Green Grid projects to enhance open space, improve foreshore access and support the recreational needs of communities;
  • Enhancing biodiversity, focusing on conservation planning and protecting the endangered Blue Gum High Forest; and
  • Implementing a new recycling and waste processing facility at Kimbriki by 2020.

Sustainability priorities for the West Central District

  • Preserving the rural areas in the north of the District as at least 13 ecological communities have been identified as under threat;
  • Planning four priority Green Grid projects to improve West Central's waterways: the Parramatta River Foreshore, Duck River Open Space Corridor, Prospect Reservoir Water Pipeline Corridor and the Western Sydney Parklands;
  • Conserving the Blue Gum High Forest which was flagged as being a vulnerable area; and
  • Requiring planning authorities to consider risk of environmental hazards, particularly the risk of flooding around the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley.

Sustainability priorities for the West District

  • Delivering a Green Grid across the District by creating new recreational opportunities at Prospect Reservoir;
  • Developing pedestrian and cycle links through priority projects such as the Penrith Lakes Parklands, South Creek and Ropes Creek;
  • Protecting the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area as a source of drinking water for the District;
  • Implementing coastal management programs, particularly around the Hawkesbury River, Colo River and the lower sections of South Creek and Cattai Creek;
  • Improving water quality and stormwater runoff in South Creek and Ropes Creek priority projects; and
  • Mitigating land use conflicts and protecting agriculture through a design-led approach to development.

Sustainability priorities for the South West District

  • Protecting landscapes such as the Scenic Hills and the Western Sydney Parklands;
  • Protecting waterways in South Creek and reducing algal blooms and bank erosion. Specifically, the water levels and quality in Thirlmere Lakes were flagged as needing to be monitored;
  • Managing the Metropolitan Rural Area which includes Picton, Tahmoor and areas of Horsley Park;
  • Delivering priority Green Grid projects including the South Creek Corridor and Kemps Creek and Kemps Creek Nature Reserve; and
  • Improving resiliency against bushfire, heatwaves and flooding. Flood hazards in the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley will be addressed through a statutory mechanism.

Sustainability priorities for the South District

  • Monitoring water quality and protecting waterways. The draft South District Plan highlighted that development controls and conditions of consent will be tailored to manage the quality of water reaching the Lake Illawarra;
  • Managing coastal hazards through coastal management programs, with beaches along Bate Bay being identified as vulnerable;
  • Conservation planning which will focus on protecting native vegetation and biodiversity close to the existing national parks including the Royal National Park;
  • Planning open space as a Green Grid, with three priority Green Grid Projects being identified;
  • Discouraging urban development in the Metropolitan Rural Area; and
  • Increasing provision of waste services due to the growing population and increased urban densities.

Consequences for developers

Sustainability priorities outlined by the Greater Sydney Commission such as creating a Green Grid and protecting waterways and biodiversity will have a substantial impact on developments and investments in property over the next 20 years.

The key points to take away:

  • There is a state of uncertainty for developers as the sustainability priorities set out in these draft District Plans are so high level it is unclear how exactly they will be implemented and what impact will have on future development applications;
  • Strategic conservation planning is a key strategy across the Districts for balancing conservation outcomes with growth and development. An objective of this planning is to reduce the cost and timeframes for development approvals, including approvals for infrastructure; and
  • Planning authorities will likely consider opportunities to support the delivery of the Green Grid across all Districts which could impact how land use zones will be applied and how new developments will have to be designed.

What next?

Understanding the key priorities for each District is integral as they will affect your properties, businesses and investments.

The draft District Plans are on public exhibition for submissions until 31 March 2017.

We can help you understand the impact of these draft District Plans and help you prepare and finalise your formal submissions.


Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this bulletin. Persons listed may not be admitted in all states and territories.

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