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Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment (Housing and Productivity Contributions) Bill

I contribute to the debate on the Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment (Housing and Productivity Contributions) Bill 2023. As a former mayor of one of the State's biggest councils for 15 years, I am acutely aware that the regional infrastructure contribution system needs to be reformed. 

This bill comes after many years of work by the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, the Productivity Commission, and various Ministers and MPs on both sides of the House, as well as engagement from impacted stakeholders. We need a system to raise revenue for regional infrastructure to support growth. To date, we have not seen the infrastructure matched to where growth is. The member for Wollondilly, also known as the member for the Picton bypass, who spoke so passionately this morning, knows this all too well. Indeed, MPs on both sides today have complained about the lack of infrastructure in their electorates and that it has not been keeping up with growth.

I acknowledge that this bill is an improvement on the previous Government's Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment (Infrastructure Contributions) Bill 2021, which had a similar purpose. But being better than the previous iteration should not be the benchmark. We must also consider the bill on its merits. I have concerns with the bill. I encourage the Opposition, who supported such a contribution when in government, to work with the crossbench and the Government to make the bill better, rather than lazily opposing it. The current and previous systems mentioned are all failures and did not work effectively. That was acknowledged by the former Government and the current Government. In July 2021 the then Minister for Planning and Public Spaces, my friend Rob Stokes, said this at the Legislative Council's inquiry into the infrastructure contributions bill:

The system, in summary, was broken and is broken. So we thought that the best way to solve this, knowing how difficult it was, was to set out a process where we used the new New South Wales Productivity Commissioner as an honest broker in the process, to go out and talk to people, to come up with a more certain and efficient system, to talk to all the stakeholders, to come up with a program of reform, a suite of things, if you like, that all holds together to have a much more principles-based system and much more certain and efficient system.

They reported those findings back in November last year. The Government responded in March this year. A big part of the 29 recommendations hinged on some legislative reforms.

Rob Stokes also said:

This is not in any sense designed as any partisan initiative. Frankly, I am just trying to develop an architecture for collecting developer contributions that is fair and certain for whoever is in government at the time it is implemented.

He went on to say:

It is an important point for me to raise here that this is not a tax.

Rob Stokes, the former member for Pittwater, and former planning Minister, clearly said that it was an important point for him to raise that this was not a tax. I continue the quote:

As a point of law, this is not a taxation statute, the planning Act, so it has to be directed toward paying for the infrastructure required to support an upzoning.

In his final comments at the inquiry, he said:

This is where, frankly, the current settings do not allow us to raise the right money at the right time using the right mechanisms to pay for the infrastructure we need to unlock opportunities for development in the right areas.

I am concerned about the implications of this bill for existing approved 7.23 determinations, known as special infrastructure contributions [SICs]. I am also concerned about the status of those SICs that have been proposed but not signed off. A lot of time and resources have gone into developing those plans and they should be preserved.

I am particularly concerned about the Frenchs Forest SIC in my electorate. It was signed off on 7 December 2021 after being worked on collaboratively between the Northern Beaches Council and the department. It was developed to support the planned growth in Frenchs Forest, with 6,000 new homes planned and equivalent commercial and retail uplifts. In schedule 2 to the Frenchs Forest SIC determination there is a list of infrastructure priorities and funding amounts for the special infrastructure contributions raised to be put towards—approximately $37 million. Those priorities include additional primary and secondary school facilities, the Forest Way additional right turn lane from the southern Forest Way leg into Naree Road—the land and the works—and the signalised intersection at Frenchs Forest Road West and Sylvia Place. In public transport there was supporting infrastructure for rapid bus services via Warringah Road between Dee Why and Chatswood. In active transport there was the southern gateway new stairway access to the pedestrian bridge over Warringah Road, west of Hilmer Street, the Manly Dam regional connection and the Warringah Road Green Bridge investigation.

I support the member for Wollondilly's amendment, which creates a duty for the Minister to consider existing SICs in prioritising the spending of housing and productivity [HAP] funds. I thank the member for Wollondilly and her staff for their work on this. I appreciate the Government working with crossbench members to develop this amendment, which will recognise those legacy SICs—including the Frenchs Forest SIC. I am looking for a commitment from the Minister today to honour the existing SIC determinations, in particular those for Frenchs Forest. This should be an absolute baseline for the growth associated with the redevelopment of Frenchs Forest. In reality, our regional infrastructure needs go far beyond the infrastructure listed in the Frenchs Forest SIC, and I acknowledge that this bill, in particular, is attempting to take us there and make up for mistakes of the past.

I draw the Minister's attention to three regional infrastructure priorities that would improve the lives of people, not just of Wakehurst and the northern beaches but of surrounding districts, by meeting current needs as well as supporting planned growth: the grade separation of the intersection of Warringah Road and Pittwater Roads, one of the five most congested roads in Sydney and a genuine barrier to affordable housing growth locally; the relocation and rebuilding of Frenchs Forest High School to allow the Frenchs Forest town centre to progress and, I agree, more housing in terms of affordable housing; and the development of regionally significant sporting facilities on and around the Balgowlah golf course—a component of the proposed Northern Beaches Tunnel project, but which should proceed regardless of the tunnel given the current and future critical needs of our community and our neighbours. Women's sport is a huge and continues to grow at huge rates, and its positive growth and the positive impact of that particular project serves a number of districts locally. I would love to see that addressed and picked up. This bill is designed to pick up infrastructure for this and other regions within Sydney.

I note that this bill will be subject to an inquiry in the other place. I welcome the additional scrutiny of the bill. A matter of continuing concern is the relationship between where funds are raised and where they are spent. There should be consideration of how the HAP funds are prioritised and allocated. At the very least there should be transparency around the geographic distribution of funds relative to the areas where the funds are raised. I will follow the outcome of the inquiry with interest.

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