NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, has elevated the power of the Greater Sydney Commission (GSC) by establishing it as an independent body with a direct reporting line to herself, rather than to the planning minister.
"We are turning the vision of Greater Sydney as a connected metropolis of three cities into a reality," Ms Berejiklian has said,
"Reporting directly to the Premier will ensure the Commission is front and centre of government decision making."
NSW President of The Australian Institute of Architects, Andrew Nimmo, has welcomed the news, saying that "the change of reporting directly to Premier is very positive."
Mr Nimmo has also suggested that the appointment should be taken further, giving the GSC the authority to approve councils' local environment plans too.
Why Sydney needs to change
Those who have driven around Sydney, will have encountered its increasing congestion. It isn’t uncommon to hear of tradespeople leaving their residences at 2-3am and then returning to sleep for a couple of hours in their car, once they have arrived at the work-site.
With concerns that population in Great Sydney is expected to grow to over 8 million people over the next 40 years, the GSC was established.
The role of the GSC is to coordinate and align the planning that will shape the future of Greater Sydney. In this, the GSC are taking a "one government" approach, to lead and guide the planning for development, transport and housing so that Greater Sydney will be a productive, liveable and sustainable city for all.
Under the ambitious plan named “A Metropolis of Three Cities” the GSC sets out to re-shape Greater Sydney into three distinct, but interconnected cities.
- The Western Parkland City
- The Central River City
- The Eastern Harbour City
In their newly appointed role, reporting directly to the Premier, the Commission will provide independent advice, strategic oversight and co-ordination across Government agencies, as well as provide assurance that positive outcomes are being delivered.
This will include a focus on delivering a more liveable Greater Sydney, through the planning of the Western Sydney City Deal and the new Aerotropolis, to be centred around the new Western Sydney Airport.
The structure is designed to reflect that of Infrastructure NSW, which oversees the delivery of major infrastructure projects across the State. Like INSW, the Commission will provide advice directly to the Premier.
“The new role of leading implementation of the plans is a natural evolution for the Commission,” Lucy Turnbull, Greater Sydney Commission Chief Commissioner, said. “By reporting to the Premier we will effectively collaborate across Government agencies and ensure the Government’s vision becomes a reality.”
Not everyone is in agreement
Despite its support, there is some concern that the influence of government could damage the commission's ability to function impartially.
In May 2018, a decision was made to delay the implementation of a fast-tracking approvals process for the low-medium development of much needed housing. In his decision, planning minister Anthony Roberts cited advice from the Lucy Turnbull-headed Greater Sydney Commission.
This citation sparked people to suggest that the decision was politically charged, rather than based upon planning. Industry groups stated that its intention was to shore up the seat of Ryde and that it could halt an already slowing housing construction sector.
Jane Fitzgerald, the Property Council of Australia's NSW executive director, said "there is no doubt that this is a political decision designed to stave off a political threat,
"What we need is to stay the course on the plans that have been released. What we need is to implement the plans."
"It is crucial the GSC remains non-partisan and independent," she continued. "It's really important that this is an aberration and not the new standard operating procedure."
Mr Roberts said he was only taking the commission's advice.
"What the GSC has done is exerted its independence and said, 'We see there is an issue with regard to infrastructure delivery for these communities and they've given their advice on that," he said. "I've taken that advice."