KJA Program Director and Town Planner Andrew Abbey, argues that effective communication is required, if urban development pressure is to be tackled by both the government and private sector.

One recent Saturday morning I was meandering through the local shopping centre when I chanced across a political party spruiking its wares. Whilst nothing particularly unusual about that, I did notice a largish sign posing the question “are you sick of over development?”.
As a Town Planner, this struck a chord.

You would have to be living under a rock for the last 5 or so years if you haven’t noticed Sydneysiders are in the grip of an affordability crisis - house prices increased by around 70% during this period. There is also intense debate about long term population projections for Sydney – around 1.7 million additional people projected to live in Sydney by 2036, requiring more than 725,000 new homes.

So with population pressures set to continue, housing affordability still an issue, Governments are under intense pressure to “fix” the problem. One of the simplest fixes is to increase housing supply, either in new greenfield areas on the outskirts of Sydney, or in existing urban areas commonly referred to as infill development.

In response, various Government authorities, particularly at the Commonwealth and State levels, have been implementing a range of policies to try and manage this growth. For example, the Greater Sydney Commission has “A Metropolis of Three Cities – The Greater Sydney Region Plan”, as well as District Plans covering the various areas of the City. The Department of Planning and Environment has Regional Plans, and Planned Precincts and Growth Centres. The Commonwealth Government has also weighed in with City Deals applying to Western Sydney around the proposed airport. All of these plans are part of a co-ordinated approach to tackle the growth challenges that lay ahead for Sydney.

At the same time, there has been increasing anti-development sentiment being generated in local communities responding to the seemingly endless development occurring all over Sydney. This is evidenced by media stories with headlines such as “voters fear for the character of their suburbs as Sydney grows. The State Government has acknowledged the rising community anti-growth or development sentiment, and has recently amended planning legislation, introducing mandatory communication and engagement requirements across both strategic planning and development approvals. In addition, all local councils are required to have a Community Participation Plan that embeds community consultation into its planning practices.

So where to from here?

For those who appreciate the benefit of early and strategic communication, there is a significant role to play at all levels of this debate going forward, particularly if you accept population growth and housing demand will continue. At the regional level, there is a clear need to bring communities along on the journey so they are aware of the challenges, and they have an opportunity to be part of defining the solution.

At the local level - where the rubber hits the road, there is a stronger need than ever for early, effective and meaningful communication with communities on precinct plans and local zoning plans They need to clearly understand how the local community might change, and be given an opportunity to have a say. One of the biggest challenges for communication experts involved in this space is how to get people engaged early, and not just when the apartment building is being built which is so often the case.

Given all the pressures currently being experienced in Sydney and which are set to continue, there will be an increasing emphasis on effective and meaningful strategic communication and engagement, particularly in the Urban and Regional Development space. Specialists in this space will continue to be drawn upon to assist both Governments and the private sector engage effectively with communities.

For communication experts, this creates a unique and exciting opportunity to play a part in shaping the debate on how Sydney will grow.

29th August 2018