District commissioners off the Sydney planning panels and ‘Landcom’ back in vogue

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By Aaron Gadiel, Partner

The NSW Government has introduced legislation to parliament to strip the district commissioners of their recently acquired role as chairs of the Sydney planning panels.

The Government is also now implementing its March decision to divide ‘UrbanGrowth NSW’ into two separate enterprises. One enterprise will retain the ‘UrbanGrowth’ label — while the other will once again trade as ‘Landcom’.

These two measures are part of state budget legislation introduced to the parliament on 20 June 2017 (the State Revenue and Other Legislation Amendment (Budget Measures) Bill 2017). If the measures receive parliamentary backing they will come into effect on 1 July 2017.

Greater Sydney Commission

In 2015 state parliament passed laws to establish Greater Sydney Commission.  Part of the legislative package was the replacement of the Sydney East and Sydney West joint regional planning panels with new ‘Sydney planning panels’.  The new panels are based around the six ‘districts’ of Sydney.

The joint regional planning panels — and the Sydney planning panels that replace them —  deal with:

  • development applications with a capital investment value of more than $20 million; and
  • rezoning reviews.

Both types of panels comprise five members — three state members (including the chairperson) and two local council nominees.

The new Sydney planning panels started operating in November last year (seven months ago).

The defining difference between the old joint regional planning panels and the new Sydney planning panels is that the new panels are each chaired by the relevant ‘district commissioner’ (ie a serving member of the Greater Sydney Commission).

This was a significant change.

Previously the chairs of the joint regional planning panels were regarded as being independent people.  They were not thought to be representatives of any particular stakeholder interest.

However, each district commissioner has a statutory mandate to represent their district (under section 6(1)(b) of the Greater Sydney Commission Act 2015).  This does not sit well with the notion that they should act in the interests of the city-as-whole.

After some initial delay, the new Sydney planning panels — with their district commissioner chairs — were launched on 21 November 2016.

However, this very recent change is now set to be reversed.

Under the legislation (currently before state parliament):

  • Each of the district commissioners will cease to be a member of their respective Sydney planning panel when the Planning Minister appoints one of the other state members of the panel as chairperson. This could happen as soon as 1 July 2017.
  • The Local Government and Shires Association must give its concurrence to the appointment of the new chairperson (although it cannot veto more than two different candidates).
  • Once a state member has been appointed as a replacement chair, the Minister will be able to appoint an additional state member, bringing the state membership of the panel (without the district commissioner) back up to three persons (serving alongside the two nominees of the relevant local council).

The Government says that this change is necessary ‘to ensure clear roles and accountabilities’.

UrbanGrowth NSW

UrbanGrowth NSW was created by the amalgamation of the operations of the government’s developer Landcom and the Sydney Metropolitan Development Authority in 2013.

According to the budget papers (released on 20 June) an independent review of UrbanGrowth NSW was undertaken in 2016.  This review recommended separating UbranGrowth’s ‘major urban transformation projects’ from its greenfield activities.

A faltering procedural step in this direction was taken in March this year.  However, the process was not completed and has since been hanging in limbo.

However, it now seems the split is proceeding, full steam ahead.

A development corporation known as ‘UrbanGrowth NSW’ will sit within the portfolio of Premier Gladys Berejiklian.  Its chief executive will be appointed by the Premier and be accountable directly to her. The Secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet will have an oversight role in relation to UrbanGrowth NSW’s senior staff.  There will be no board of directors.

This arrangement means that the management of the ‘major urban transformation projects’ will be more closely aligned with the government.  The government seems to consider this necessary — in the light of the need for UrbanGrowth NSW to work very closely with Transport for NSW, the Department of Planning and Environment and NSW Treasury.

The budget papers describe UrbanGrowth NSW’s ‘major urban transformation projects’ as being the Bays Precinct, Parramatta North, Anzac Parade South and Central to Eveleigh projects.

However, the legislation currently before parliament will mean that (once passed) the legal mandate for UrbanGrowth NSW will actually be five ‘growth centres’ known as  The Bays,  Parramatta North, Redfern-Waterloo, Cooks Cove and Granville.  (At the time of writing, maps of ‘the Bays’ and ‘Parramatta North’ have not yet been published.)

The omission of Anzac Parade South from the legal mandate is curious.  It is also unclear why Cooks Cove and Granville will be part of UrbanGrowth’s remit even though these areas are not identified as ‘major urban transformation projects’ in the budget papers.

The UrbanGrowth staff who have been working on the renewal of Newcastle will be transferred to the Department of Planning and Environment — where they will come under the ultimate control of the Department’s Secretary, Carolyn McNally.


The balance of the UrbanGrowth NSW business will once again be known as Landcom.  It will continue to be governed by its own board of directors, with a mandate to generate an income for the NSW Government (as well as meeting social objectives).

Landcom, as a ‘state owned corporation’ will continue to be accountable, through its board, to the Planning Minister Anthony Roberts and two ‘shareholder’ ministers (the Treasurer and the Minister for Finance).

The budget papers say that separating the ‘major urban transformation projects’ from Landcom will enable it to better focus on its core business, ie ‘ greenfield development and housing affordability’.

For further information, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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