Environment & Planning

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Focus: Strategic planning and the Greater Sydney Commission come to NSW

9 December 2015

In brief: The New South Wales Parliament has passed legislation to establish the Greater Sydney Commission and introduce a new strategic planning framework for NSW. The Greater Sydney Commission will be a key player in setting the strategic direction for the future development of Sydney. Partner Paul Lalich and Senior Associate Naomi Bergman (view CV) report.


How does it affect you?

  • The Greater Sydney Commission's holistic approach to metropolitan planning is likely to be a positive for developers, cutting across council opposition to large scale residential and employment-generating developments.
  • Developers should monitor the development of district plans, as these will inform changes to local environmental plans, which may affect the assessment of future development proposals.


In June 2014, Premier Mike Baird announced the Government's plans to establish a Greater Sydney Commission (GSC), a metropolitan planning body intended to bring a coordinated, holistic approach to planning for Sydney.

On 12 November 2015, the NSW Parliament passed the Greater Sydney Commission Bill 2015, which establishes the framework for the GSC and introduces other significant changes to strategic planning in New South Wales. The Bill received assent on 19 November 2015.

The Greater Sydney Commission Act 2015 (the Act) has not yet come into force. The Minister for Planning is currently considering potential appointments to the GSC. As the GSC is constituted automatically upon the Act's commencement, it is likely that the Act will be declared to commence upon the appointment of the first commissioners, which is expected to occur in the first quarter of 2016.

Greater Sydney Commission: composition

The GSC will comprise 13 members, including:

  • four Greater Sydney Commissioners, including a Chief Commissioner, Environment Commissioner, Social Commissioner and Economic Commissioner;
  • six District Commissioners; and
  • the Secretaries of the Departments of Planning and Environment, Transport and Treasury.

While all members of the GSC will be appointed by the Minister for Planning, other than the departmental secretaries, the Minister is required to seek the advice of local councils before appointing the District Commissioners, who will act as their local representatives.

A number of specialist committees will be established within the GSC, including:

  • Sydney Planning Panels, which will take the place of joint regional planning panels (JRPPs) in conducting rezoning reviews and determining development applications;
  • Infrastructure Delivery Committee, which will coordinate infrastructure and land use decisions;
  • Finance and Governance Committee, which will lead strategic decision-making; and
  • Strategic Planning Committee, which will prepare draft strategic plans and report on the implementation of strategic plans.

Greater Sydney Commission: functions

The principal objectives of the GSC are set out in section 9 of the Act and include:

  • leading metropolitan planning for the Greater Sydney Region;
  • promoting orderly development and housing supply;
  • integrating government infrastructure decision-making with land use planning;
  • encouraging development that is resilient; and
  • providing increased opportunity for public involvement and participation in environmental planning and assessment.

The GSC will be tasked with preparing strategic plans, monitoring and reviewing local environmental plans (LEPs), determining planning proposals and advising on matters of strategic planning as requested by the Minister. The Minister for Planning has foreshadowed that regulations will be introduced setting out in detail the processes and procedures for the GSC.

The GSC's powers and responsibilities will be limited to the Greater Sydney Region, which extends to the Hawkesbury local government area to the north, Blue Mountains local government area to the west, and Wollondilly local government area to the south (Schedule 1 of the Act). The Greater Sydney Region may be extended or reduced by way of regulation.

Sydney Planning Panels

The GSC will be a consent authority under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (the EP&A Act), assuming the role previously performed by JRPPs with respect to development proposals in the Greater Sydney Region through the Sydney Planning Panels and determining any other development for which it is declared to be the consent authority by a relevant environmental planning instrument.

The Sydney Planning Panels will comprise five members: three appointed by the Minister as State members and two 'council nominees' who may be councilors or members of council staff. One of the State members must be a District Commissioner, who will be the chairperson of the panel. Once a Sydney Planning Panel is established for an area, the previous joint regional planning panel for that area is deemed to be abolished under the Act (s18(6)).

Strategic planning and the new Part 3B

While the title of the Act may suggest that its sole function is to establish the GSC, the Act in fact goes much further, introducing significant changes to strategic planning in NSW. The Act inserts a new Part 3B into the EP&A Act, which establishes a new hierarchy of strategic plans for NSW as follows.

  • Regional plans will set the basis for strategic planning for a region, and must contain a vision statement, objectives, and strategies and actions for achieving those objectives. The Act declares A Plan for Growing Sydney to be the first regional plan for the Greater Sydney Region. Future regional plans will be prepared by the GSC and adopted by the Minister. The Minister may also declare other regions outside Sydney and make regional plans for those regions.
  • District plans will set the basis for strategic planning within a district and will contain planning priorities consistent with the objectives, strategies and actions in the regional plan, and actions for achieving those priorities. The Minister may declare districts under the Act and has foreshadowed the declaration of six districts within the Greater Sydney Region, which are expected to reflect the six subregions identified in A Plan for Growing Sydney. The GSC will make district plans for the Greater Sydney Region, while the Minister may make district plans in other regions.
  • Local environmental plans will continue to play the same role; however, councils will be required to review and prepare planning proposals to update their LEPs as soon as practicable after a relevant district plan is adopted, to give effect to the district plan. The GSC will replace the Minister as the authority empowered power to make LEPs for the Greater Sydney Region, although the Minister will retain the ability to give s117 directions and thereby influence the content of LEPs.

Consent authorities will not be required to take regional and district plans into account when assessing development proposals, as was proposed with respect to state and regionally significant development in earlier versions of the failed Planning Bill 2013. Accordingly, the effectiveness of regional and district plans will depend on how well their objectives are incorporated into LEPs.

The Act requires regional and district plans to be publically exhibited for a period of 45 days before adoption. District plans must be exhibited within 12 months after the declaration of a district. Developers should monitor the preparation of district plans and take the opportunity to make submissions where relevant, since district plans may inform significant changes to LEPs that could affect the assessment of future development applications.


Concerns have been expressed regarding the extent of powers invested in the GSC and, in particular, the ability of the GSC to override council priorities through the making of LEPs. However, this power is consistent with the need to bring on development that may be locally unpopular but essential to meet the needs of a growing Sydney, including large scale residential and employment-generating developments. In this respect, the GSC is likely to play a significant role in ensuring that the Government's target of 664,000 new homes by 2031 is met.

There were also concerns following early announcements with respect to the GSC that it would merely add another layer of bureaucracy and increase red tape. While the formation of the GSC will introduce another planning body into the already crowded mix of state and local authorities, the proposed coordination of state and local planning through regional and district plans has the potential to improve planning outcomes and promote development.

Having said that, Part 3B does not make any changes to the existing development assessment process and, despite the goal of integrating decision-making horizontally between government departments and agencies, there is no streamlining of the process for approving integrated development.

Ultimately the success of the GSC and the new strategic planning framework will largely depend on those appointed as commissioners. Stakeholders will keenly await the announcement of those individuals early next year.

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