“The Greater Sydney Commission” - Address to the Committee for Sydney - Delivered 15 December, 2014


Sydney is one of the world’s great cities and the nation’s powerhouse of enterprise, creativity and innovation.

Yet Sydney’s success has all too often been accidental.

Some of our greatest achievements, like the Opera House, happened in spite of the politics of the day.

Imagine what we could achieve if we collaborate properly.

What is the problem that we should want to solve for Sydney?


Our state government is characterised by siloed departments rarely working together, and never working towards agreed metropolitan goals.

Our local government is focussed on the micro urban issues, and all too often oblivious to the city wide issues.

A big state government, combined with small local councils, sees Sydney get lost in between.

Sydney is an orphan of public policy.

This has to change.

Imagine a dialogue across Sydney aimed at building a shared vision for Sydney.

Imagine a civic narrative that is more than just disgruntled interests shouting slogans at each other.

Great cities don’t succeed by chance.

They happen when we all coordinate our efforts to achieve agreed goals.

We’ve had glimpses of this in the past.

Premier Bill McKell, the father of modern NSW Labor, had the vision to drive the development of the County of Cumberland Planning Scheme, which has been called the most definitive expression of a public policy on the form and content of an Australian metropolitan area ever attempted.

Sydney hosted the greatest Olympics ever.

We had a clear plan and a common goal, and it we pulled it off, perfectly, while the whole world watched.

But these glimpses are few and far between.

We need a whole of government vision for Sydney.

We need the various arms of government, state and local, working to a common strategy for Sydney.

I’ve long championed the creation of a single authority to plan the sustainable growth of Sydney.

A single authority to coordinate the various government agencies and departments to ensure that consideration is given to all interests and needs, balancing economic, environmental and community interests.

It would have plan-making powers and would be charged with delivering the Plan for Sydney.

The Plan that would guide the sustainable growth of this city.

The Plan that would ensure that both the benefits and the burdens of Sydney’s growth are shared equally.

And most importantly this authority would have power to implement the Plan.

Successive metropolitan strategies line the book shelves of governments, gathering dust, regularly ignored by state government departments and local councils.

What we need is joined-up government - that works as one in addressing our city’s problems and exploiting the city’s opportunities.

This joined-up government approach is completely lacking when it comes to urban affairs.

The State Government’s Transport Master Plan was released three years ago.

The Government’s Infrastructure Plan was released three weeks ago.

The Sydney Metropolitan Strategy was released yesterday!

It is just crazy that the Plan for Sydney comes last, not first.

Both sides of NSW politics support the creation of a Greater Sydney Commission.

My concern is that the version Planning Minister Pru Goward announced yesterday will deliver a pale and timid Commission, limited in its scope and ambition, under the control of Planning Department bureaucrats.

We are missing an opportunity to create a genuinely powerful body to take charge of Sydney’s future.

It should sit at the heart of government, an independent and accountable body.

The Greater Sydney Commission should develop the Metropolitan Plan for Sydney, and then government agencies should be required to align their plans to fit.

Departmental spending plans should go before the Greater Sydney Commission for review and prioritisation.

It should be a star chamber for Sydney.

A star chamber in which the interests of all Sydneysiders would be heard and find voice.

Departments should need to show what they’re planning to do for Sydney, and how they are co-ordinating this with other departments and agencies.

Nick Greiner was right to question the final plans for the WestConnex project.

Frankly, I doubt whether the WestConnex business plan would ever have passed muster by a powerful Greater Sydney Commission.

It’s a classic departmental approach to congestion, that says “let’s build a road”.

A whole of government approach, and a cross Sydney approach, would say “let’s fix congestion”.

We need proper, co-ordinated, investment in public transport.

Not simply what the Federal Government will fund, and what NSW Treasury will tolerate.

In part the Greater Sydney Commission should be about creating a credible vehicle that the national government can put its money into.

It is also about creating a credible vehicle that Sydneysiders can have faith in.

The establishment of a Greater Sydney Commission also presents an opportunity to rationalise and coordinate the plethora of agencies with responsibility for Sydney.

The State Government can’t lecture local government on amalgamations and rationalisation if it keeps spawning its own new agencies.

The Greater Sydney Commission should work to strengthen mayoral leadership, not to bypass it.

The Commission should establish a Congress of Mayors, bringing together all mayors from across Sydney’s local government areas.

And we should consider moving to the popular election of all of Sydney’s mayors, for a four year term.

The Greater Sydney Commission’s role and powers should be constituted by an Act of Parliament.

That legislation should create the Greater Sydney Commission as an independent and accountable body that reports daily to the Premier and annually to both Houses of Parliament.

I want to see a Greater Sydney Commission governed by a high level board, with a majority of its members drawn from outside government.

We should reach out to outstanding leaders who call Sydney home and ask them to contribute their skills and talents to the shaping of this city’s future.

I think of two very fine corporate leaders in Gail Kelly and Cameron Clyne.

Both have recently decided to step back from the day to day challenges of running a business with millions of customers and tens of thousands of employees.

And I think of women of the calibre of Kerry Schacht and Jennifer Westacott, both of whom have forgot more than we’ll ever know about infrastructure delivery in this city.

A growing Sydney can and should be a model of environmental responsibility.

I think of Ian Kiernan and Jeff Angel, who’ve both challenged and inspired us, over decades, to treasure what nature has bequeathed us.

We should be begging some of these high achievers to come on board and help shape the future of Sydney.

And we will need local government to be partners in the strategic planning of Sydney’s future.

The Lord Mayors of Sydney and Parramatta should sit on the board of the Greater Sydney Commission.

I would like to see the Greater Sydney Commission initially concentrate on three priority projects.

First, a town centres strategy, focused on reviving the central business districts of Penrith, Liverpool, Campbelltown and Gosford.

Between them these four centres service well over a million people, but they have failed to provide the employment their locals need.

These four centres should all be recognised as vital to metropolitan-wide economic growth and prosperity.

The Commission should review measures and proposals to attract private investment to property, infrastructure and employment initiatives.

I am particularly concerned about the south-west of Sydney.

South-west Sydney has the greatest imbalance between population and jobs in all of Sydney, with far more people living in the region than there are jobs.

The population of south-west Sydney is forecast to grow by almost half a million by 2031, when it will be home to 1.3 million people.

I want to see Campbelltown and Liverpool in a position to attract the full range of business, government, health, retail, cultural, entertainment and recreational activities.

Let us strive to emulate the success of Parramatta.

Parramatta is a compelling model of town centre renewal, with new commercial and residential activity, accompanied by improved amenity.

Let us prioritise the revival of the central business districts of our regional cities of Liverpool and Campbelltown, and the capital of the outer west, Penrith.

Then move on to the major centres of Bankstown, Blacktown and Castle Hill.

The Planning Department draws a distinction between metropolitan Sydney and greater Sydney.

The latter includes the Central Coast region.

Gosford should be on the radar of any Greater Sydney Commission.

Second, the Commission should drive better planning for schools.

If we look forward sixteen years, we can expect 347 000 more school children in NSW in 2031 than there were in 2011.

88 per cent of that increase will be in metropolitan Sydney.

School enrolments are expected to grow by one-third by 2031.

We need to plan for over 300 000 more students in Sydney’s schools in 2031.

25 000 more school places will be needed in the Blacktown local government area alone.

At the same time demand for school places in Sydney’s inner and middle ring suburbs will continue to increase.

For example, 16 000 more school places will be needed for children living in the City of Sydney local government area.

And over 6 000 in the Auburn local government area.

Yet schools are absent from the Planning Department’s strategic planning.

Search all of the projections and data on their website, and you will learn a great deal.

But you will not come across anything that identifies the need to plan for hundreds of thousands of new school places.

I cannot find a single reference to students or schools.

Schools warrant a much higher priority in all metropolitan and regional strategic planning.

We’ve had over thirty years of urban consolidation plans but only now has the Government started looking for a new school site in the inner city.

Thirty years too late and we are now paying the price.

Currently, the differing demands of 41 local councils frustrate schools authorities and delay decisions on where to expand existing schools and where to locate new schools.

Non-government schools are often hit with unreasonable infrastructure demands by local councils and state owned utilities.

We must empower the Greater Sydney Commission to properly plan for the schooling of future generations of children.

To develop a 20 year demand map for school places, that factors in residential growth projections, to inform future schools planning across the public, Catholic and independent sectors.

To identify suitable sites for new schools and accompanying infrastructure such as playing fields.

To engage both the government and non-government schools sectors at the start of greenfield planning to enable purchase of suitable sites for new schools before the land is rezoned for other uses.

A uniform schools planning code is overdue.

And while we’re at it, let’s address the provision of out of school hours childcare in the planning and design of all new schools and all planned extensions to existing schools.

Third, the Greater Sydney Commission must focus on driving jobs growth throughout the suburbs of Sydney.

Let’s plan the growth of our health and education sectors.

We need to identify the land use requirements of the significant health and education precincts throughout Sydney – in suburbs such as Camperdown, Randwick, Westmead, Rydalmere, St Leonards, Macquarie Park, Frenchs Forest, Campbelltown and Penrith.

We need to plan the expansion of these precincts, so that the education and health industries can grow, and provide both high quality services to millions and smart jobs to our kids.

And the growth of these precincts should be accompanied by complementary new business activity, improved public transport connections and more residential dwellings close to well paid jobs.

Creating several hundred thousand new jobs in western Sydney over the next 20 years is perhaps the most important single thing that can help all of Sydney manage growth sustainably.

Forcing people to travel from west to east for work, and then back again to get home, is a threat to Sydney’s liveability and a drain on our productivity.

The most recent population, housing and dwelling projections target a population increase in western Sydney of close to one million people by 2031.

60 per cent of Sydney’s additional population of 1.6 million will live in greater western Sydney.

When it comes to employment growth, the metropolitan strategy targets 50 per cent of new jobs for western Sydney.

Without a serious plan to achieve this it is an empty target.

Professor Phil O’Neil from the University of Western Sydney has pointed out that Western Sydney will need to add the equivalent of 24,000 additional jobs every 18 months - equivalent to the entire jobs target for Barangaroo on completion – in order to meet this modest target.

In fact, we will need to do even better than this, or the jobs deficit in western Sydney – currently around 200 000 - will grow further.

And the impact on our roads and on our train and bus systems will be extreme.

The congested pipes that funnel workers into the inner core of Sydney can be widened.

But the M2, M4, M5 and the railway lines will never be wide enough to accommodate the population tsunami that is expected for Western Sydney.

I have been influenced by the work of the American academic Dr John Kasarda, and his concept of the aerotropolis.

Kasarda argues that airports will shape business location and urban development in the 21st century as much as highways did in the 20th century, railroads in the 19th and seaports in the 18th.

An aerotropolis is a type of urban form comprising aviation intense business and related enterprises. An aerotropolis has an airport as its core and is surrounded by clusters of aviation related enterprise.

The Greater Sydney Commission should drive the development of western Sydney’s greatest jobs generator, the Badgerys Creek Airport.

Land use planning for commercial and industrial activities linked to the airport is required.

We need to identify the corridors for future rail lines and roads, including a South West Rail Link Extension and the Outer Sydney Orbital.

Developing western Sydney’s airport to its full potential will be about so much more than laying down a runway.

I cannot think of a more important single task for the Greater Sydney Commission.