With the State election in NSW over, incoming Ministers have no doubt been busying themselves with a high volume of incoming Ministerial Briefings on a range of issues across every portfolio. Undoubtedly, at the top of the list of a number of Ministerial portfolios - not just Housing and Planning - is the housing supply crisis in NSW. This issue features daily, often several times, on the pages of every major and minor newspaper throughout the State.

The crisis is reflected at a national level. The recent State of the Nation's Housing Report (Report), produced by the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation, identified a number of factors negatively impacting housing supply including community opposition to new development, long lead times for delivering housing, rising construction costs, and the availability of land serviced for residential use.

There is at least some level of control in relation to the first of these two, although both developers and authorities are unlikely to feel that they are totally 'in control' at various points of the development assessment process. For example, community opposition to new development is addressed formally through assessment processes, and in terms of development applications (but not rezonings at this point) through the courts under merit appeal processes.

On the regulatory side, while the Report singles out NSW for longer approval processes compared to Queensland and Victoria, there is at least a statutory process that can be worked with to try to achieve efficiencies. Indeed, different parts of the State are known for having different approaches (and therefore different levels of efficiency) in relation to development applications and planning proposals.

While it might not be ideal, the merit appeal process once again is an avenue for obtaining approval, although again, there is as yet no merit appeal jurisdiction in relation to planning proposals.

Some elements are not within anybody's direct control. It is not possible, for example, to place rising construction costs at the feet of any particular agency, being as they are, a complex product of a range of local and international factors, ranging from the residual impact of COVID-related issues on supply chains and the availability of imported raw and manufactured products.

Then there is the question of land supply. On this point, there are arguably more levers for government to pull. At the Sydney 2050 Summit held on 15 May 2023, Premier Minns announced that he would be directing all Ministers (again, not just Housing and Planning) to audit their portfolios to identify land which could be rezoned for residential use, either due to the land being surplus or underutilised.

This will no doubt prove to be an interesting exercise, as government identifies its portfolio of properties with the specific purpose of identifying land for potential rezoning. There are potentially a number of avenues which could be taken at that point. Some land might be held by agencies with a mandate and statutory power to develop precincts, particularly around transport hubs. In contrast, other land might have existing zonings which make it ripe for cooperative development with the private sector.

No doubt some might be wondering whether accelerated pathways for rezoning might be applied to assist in making such land available for residential uses, whether this be through administrative means or legislative amendment, and indeed, whether the opportunities which existed in the past for high capital investment value residential development to have a Ministerial approval pathway will re-emerge.

With interest rate rises and rental costs keeping a constant focus on the housing supply crisis, it will be important to see the next steps in the government's exploration of surplus land and whether the release of such land for housing will be accompanied by legal and regulatory changes or incentives to stimulate residential development.

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