The Red Hill Preservation Society has defended the way in which Warringah Council is dealing with its new Local Environment Plan (LEP) following misinformed criticism from Planning Minister Andrew Refshauge.

Society Convenor Michael Paine, a member of Warringah's LEP Community Advisory Committee, said the Minister's public attack on Council was unfair and unwarranted. After extensive consultation with the community and with officers from the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning (DUAP) the Council sent the draft LEP to the Minister in May last year. After nearly a one year delay DUAP returned the document to Council requesting several crucial changes. In June Council was directed, by the Minister, to re-exhibit the LEP due to the extent of the changes. The Minister also threatened to withdraw Council's exemption from State Environmental Planning Policies 53 and 60 if the LEP was not finalised by 31 August 2000. SEPP53 led to a spate of poorly designed, out-of-character dual occupancy developments throughout Warringah in the mid 1990s.

On reading through the DUAP-modified LEP many people in Warringah were alarmed to find out that the safeguard for "Category 3" (undesirable) developments had been removed by DUAP. The original provisions treated such developments as "designated uses" and provided right of appeal for objectors. These provisions had been in the LEP from its inception and officers within DUAP had apparently not objected to them on previous occasions, including the certification for public exhibition in 1998. The reasons why DUAP changed its mind during the past twelve months are not clear and, in fact, the changes are contrary to DUAP's own "Green Paper" that discusses the planning process in New South Wales.

Following exhibition of the LEP in July this year several groups requested that a public hearing be held on the issue of Category 3 developments and several other issues. Council staff recommended to a meeting of Council on 15 August that a public hearing be held but confined to the issue of Category 3 developments. The Act provides for public hearing following exhibition of an LEP and, due to the significant changes imposed by DUAP and the public response, staff appear to have had no other option but to make this recommendation. The Society did suggest to Councillors that a public meeting could be avoided if the Category 3 provisions were restored. However, at the meeting Councillors Kevin Smith, Peter Forrest, Ruth Sutton and Phil Colman decided to accept the staff recommendation, with Dee Why added to the issues covered by a public hearing. Unfortunately a public hearing would delay the approval process by several months and make the 31 August deadline impossible.

As reported in the Manly Daily on Tuesday, Minister Refshauge sent a "terse" letter to Council on Monday saying that further delays were unacceptable and that SEPPs 53 and 60 would be imposed on Council within a matter of weeks if the LEP was not approved (this is not the same as the Minister "is poised to take full control of planning in Warringah", as stated by the Manly Daily). He also made it clear that attempts to restore the Category 3 provisions were "futile".

This heavy-handed, abusive approach by the Minister is unwarranted and unhelpful. The major reasons for the delays in approval of the LEP are:

  • DUAP taking nearly one year to return the LEP to Council, following its approval by Council in May 1999.
  • DUAP making significant changes to the Category 3 provisions of the LEP so that Council had to re-exhibit the LEP and consider subsequent requests for a public hearing on the issue.
  • The Minister should be taking DUAP to task - not Warringah Council.

    Given the innovative, pilot nature of the LEP it is essential that the Category 3 safeguards be restored. In this way Warringah will be better protected from undesirable developments and DUAP will be able to monitor whatever concerns it has about these provisions. If valid problems do occur then the LEP can be changed - it is much harder to put the Category 3 provisions back into the LEP after significant problems arise since the developers will have the upper hand.

    Perhaps DUAP's main concern about the Category 3 provisions is having dealing with complaints from a small but influential group of developers who will be faced with extra hurdles to push through their unwanted developments. It was interesting to note that, during the LEP consultation process, many local builders, architects and developers commented that it was about time that the planning rules encouraged good design and consideration of the effects on neighbours. They, like many Warringah residents, are sick of unwanted developments being forced on Warringah via the Land and Environment Court. The new LEP should provide the Court with a much clearer description of the types of development that are welcomed in Warringah.

    Finally, the Society takes issue with Minister Refshauge's comment that the LEP delays were hurting residents and businesses in Warringah. In effect, Council has been working to the new LEP for 18 months and development is not being held up by delays in finalising the LEP. Maybe the Minister should take a walk around Dee Why, Narrabeen and Manly Vale and see the unprecedented number of new units being built. Over the past year the number of dwellings approved in Warringah has been twice the target set in its residential strategy and this trend is likely to continue for several years.

    Michael Paine

    Convenor, Red Hill Preservation Society

    30 August 2000