The 2019 NSW Election - and Development in Ryde

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Trying to make sense of the controversy over development in Ryde - and the upcoming election.


Introduction

This article emerges from my attempt to make sense of both development around the Ryde area, but also development more generally and the record of the current state Liberal Government. So, while there's a focus on Ryde, I expect there will be a good deal of material relevant to people in NSW generally. For sure, the issues we struggle with would be shared by many throughout the rest of NSW. Indeed, Alan Jones spoke with Genia McCaffery about buildings in North Sydney and St Leonards Buildings being 10 and 12 times the height control - see here

While I ultimately do not score the NSW Liberals well, I did not want to just dismiss them out of hand without working through the details. Along the way, I'm willing to acknowledge the mistakes of the past Labor Government. And I do have mixed feelings about Victor Dominello.

For, I can't say it would be forever impossible for me to vote for the Liberal Party. Looking back, I should have voted for Dr. John Hewson because I ultimately condemned Australia to four terms of John Howard, believing the lies that Paul Keating told me at the time. Yes, John Howard ran a negative campaign. He was taking notes while Paul Keating was running his campaign against Dr. John Hewson. It is not impossible that I might realise the worth in voting Liberal again. But not at this point, as I will outline.


Ryde Development

Like many people, I'm surprised at changes around Ryde, and the controversy over development. We have lots of issues, applicable in different areas.

We have "big developments" attracting their own controversy, often with extra stories being laid on top, well past the initial application, and also the grinding increase in medium density throughout our suburban streets. Then there are extensions down the street, done using "Development Certifiers" without Council oversight.

Developers - because they develop for a living - know exactly what is going on - along with those in Government. However, it is a struggle for us to understand it. In the past we have been able to take development for granted. But that something that we can no longer do.


Origins

I've long puzzled over this issue. I've spoken to David Shoebridge on my radio show, as referenced, which has helped. Now that I'm just starting to make sense of things, he has become distracted with the election. I've long discussed issues with Penny Pedersen, a local Labor aligned Councillor, who has been friendly and approachable, if perhaps understandably busy at times. I have started to appreciate her genuine environmental interest, and her good intentions generally. Penny is strangely surrounded by a lot of awesome people who just happen to be in the Labor Party. I also spoke to an ex-councillor who while originally responsive, shut down. If I'd been a Councillor, I'd want to record "this is what I've learnt". But he no longer wanted to talk. My God, what happened to you?

Then, there's Jerome Laxale. I did my best to arrange a meeting via his office, but it somehow fell flat. I had a brief chat with him on the election trail, but in spite of his enthusiasm on the spot, I've since been unable to arrange to talk with him again. I never wanted special treatment, I should point out. I had hoped he would see what I was trying to do as worthwhile. Victor Dominello - and indeed Jordan Lane - have been much easier to arrange meetings with, so I have mixed feelings in being ultimately critical of the Liberal Party; I acknowledge some of Mr. Dominello's good intentions along the way.


Contents

  • 1. Introduction
  • 5. Factors influencing development
  • 8. Development
  • 13. Zoning issues
  • 21. Infrastructure, current issues and relating to the torrents of rocks
  • 25. Other topics
  • 28. Conclusion

    • Factors influencing development


      Pressures driving development

      Why is there so much development? Partly because the government has the goal of accommodating population growth and allows it; partly because developers find it profitable, with the prevailing interest rate, the nature of the market and their expected profit influencing their decisions. Pressures from above ( expand the city to cope with population ) by Government, and from below ( we can make a profit ) from developers. A third factor is that - unless the land is public land passed into developers - or resumed - the original owner must sell that land. The original owner and developer must be able to make a profit. But equally - say you're settled and don't want to sell - that's not going to happen. You do sometimes get small buildings sitting right between large residential or office blocks. But - if the ducks line up - the process will start.

      If you're not coercing development, you need to ensure that everyone will make a profit - which normally results from a new opportunity to development at increased density, rather than a slow financial grind finding within existing opportunities. Which, as we'll see happens when you allow duplex and "Manor House" developments where there were none before. From a Georgist perspective, we can wonder if it was fair to ever provide such "bribes" to existing residents - and once upon a time there was a "betterment tax" to capture the value of these changes. Cr. Roy Maggio has wondered whether these sort of changes would turn Ryde into a "slum", which is an interesting contrast to the notional good intentions of the department of planning. But you do wonder what he means by a "slum" - that we lose our backyards? That we lose our character? Or we're packing people in? It is a bit provocative and ill-defined. Later on, I'll get into a bit more detail than this bumper sticker summary. But, it will certainly do for the present.

      It does beg the question - what exactly is "overdevelopment"? It is much bandied about, but nobody actually seems to want to define it. I'm going to try. While we should on the one hand be welcoming of others to share in what is good and great about our suburb, I think we also have a legitimate selfishness in being concerned about the continuation about what is good and great about our suburb. I'll define "overdevelopment" as a level of growth which sets up an imbalance between the population and the ability of existing or expanded services to cope with that increased population. "Services" is defined broadly - it might be the worth in uncongested roads, for example.

      So, why is the State Government doing this? Maybe they're just responding to population pressures, the result of federal government policy. In this game, everyone wants to be the "Victim". The NSW State Government is just coping with market and population pressures as best it can. We're all on a train headed on a track to the future and there is no way we can change that. There seems to be a worship of growth, including population growth, without any attempt to "develop" ( boo-boom ) a perspective.

      Interestingly, Mark O' Connor of Sustainable Population Australia notes that our population is growing faster than any comparable developed country, and that even without population growth, we need to do maintenance/replacement of 2% of our infrastructure per year, and our population growth pushes this figure up to 4%, which means we are playing an impossible game of catch up. Even assuming we have the money to buy this amount ( which is debatable ), we are struggling with an ongoing swathe of delays through maintenance. Do too much maintenance / construction at once, metaphorically we end up "tripping over" ourselves. Population growth, feeding into development problems is its own issue, and one I do not have time for here. But you can here more in my radio discussion with Mark O' Connor here .

      To be sure, Victor Dominello and others have expressed concerns about a lack of infrastructure and population growth here - and the pause in development in Ryde was partly justified to allow infrastructure to catch up; Still, I have some cynicism about how long they've taken to work out there's a problem, and that they never looked far enough ahead to see it coming.

      It's just possible that the development lobby's wish list represents something that is good for everyone, not just the developers. Still, we should recall Adam Smith's words :

      The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order, ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.


      The Wealth Of Nations, Book IV Chapter VIII, p. 145

      There are explanations from the benign but muddle headed to the Machiavellian. If you look at the communications between the Minister for Planning and the Development lobby, he talks about the good that they do. But it's quarantined. He does not talk about buildings in conjunction with infrastructure. There's the goal of infrastructure, but it is easier for Government to focus on development, because they're routing the activity of others rather than actually doing something themselves.

      And look - I worry about whether you can even in principle dig yourself out of the pit you have dug yourself into by building infrastructure. Even so - it seems the Government has not managed to spend the money they put aside to build infrastructure - see the article here ( keep in mind smh articles will eventually get hidden behind a paywall if you access too many) - it really does seem they've been blinded by the ease with which they can approve development to cheering from developers, without wanting to spending time mucking around with the tedious issue of infrastructure provision. But, to be fair - how many of us get around to tidying up the back room or garage we really ought to? The difference is, in our case, we only inconvenience ourselves.

      Has the government checked out how things are progressing along the way? I expect not, because they already know - from their ideology - that development must be good, so they can turn their brains off. And the fact that development has gone so smoothly without generating controversy is a clear validation of that viewpoint. Um ... well, actually ... no. Suddenly, one day, the got up and looked around ...

      If there's now a crisis in Ryde - requiring a "pause" for infrastructure to "catch up" - the critical question is - why was this situation able to develop in the first place You would think that if people in the Liberal Party applied some lateral thinking while in Government - they could have seen it coming. I mean, they're supposed to be smart, responsible people. While you can always try to blame other parties, or history, the fact remains that you've been Government for several years and two terms, and have made numerous changes to the planning laws. You've made numerous changes to developments in the Ryde LGA. It does seem that the Liberal Government has been blinded by their own ideology, and sleepwalked or stumbled into the present situation without thinking things through. When you look at the promises made in conjunction with the different policy changes - they blind to what would eventuate. They created a monster without really realising it.

      According to David Shoebridge, the Government has implemented the wish list of the Property Council, with things like Priority Precincts originating with the Property Council, amongst other initiatives, rather than being something independent, as he outlines here

      I recently went to the Greater Sydney Commission listening sessions ( transcripts available here ), hearing developers claim they were struggling to implement Government policy, something they were doing for the good of us all. Indeed, developers at times seem frustrated at how the community does not realise that they are doing this for them, out of the goodness of their hearts, not to make a profit.

      So, the sentiment is perhaps more like "we're struggling to implement the policy we got you to put in place on our behalf".

      To my way of thinking, this is totally wrong. Government should set the rules, and if business can do stuff both profitably while ticking all the ethical boxes, well ... cool. And if they can't, clearly then it was never meant to be. But that's a far cry compared to the current situation, where Government and business seem to be in a macabre dance together, with business struggling to do what they got Government to tell them to do.

      There are times when I have some sympathy for Mr. Dominello, much as I think he is unfairly trying to lay the blame on Labor - you have developers accusing him and the state Government of going populist and putting all this lovely investment the developers would provide at risk, of changing the planning rules, of undermining certainty, of opening the gates of hell, and making threats about withholding all their investment - not just what people have problems with. So, here it gets more complicated. If we believe Mr. Shoebridge, the State Government adopting much of the Development lobby's agenda was still not good enough for them, and that does seem likely to me. Mr. Dominello actually seems squeezed. It is interesting to listen to the developers. They have no skin in the game. They are not facing the prospect of losing re-election. You'd imagine that the State Government would not have acted as they have on a whim, but I've seen at least one developer trying to second guess them, saying they have it all wrong and they're just dreaming if they think there's such a strong public reaction. Now, you may be good at development, but have you ever tried navigating a political party to re-election? And because they've gotten what they wanted so far, there is no gratitude or empathy for the difficult situation the Government finds itself in. Just resentment that they are not getting more of what they've had so far. I seem to recall a Roman philosopher talking about this sort of thing.


      Business motivations

      Rather than being Machiavellian, perhaps the Development Lobby believe in a self-deluded way that they are doing good ("What's good for General Motors is what's good for the Country"), and have brought the Government under their spell. Everyone has deluded themselves, because they have the time to put into developing elaborate and appealing self-serving rationalisations, and the Government has an ideological inclination to believe them. Or the Government just started out wanting to facilitate lots of business activity, with property development a part of that picture.

      A perverse option is that the Developers never expected to get all the things it wanted, and expected Government to push back on infrastructure provision, but was a bit puzzled as to what to do when things actually went its way so well. Sorta like how the barking dog behind the gate is a bit confused when the gate is actually opened. Still, I have heard developers criticise the ( paraphrased ) "messed up and below par state of NSW Planning".

      Going still further, there's the possibility of corruption. I am not going to make any suggestions or develop this further, which I leave as an exercise for the reader. For sure there was the whole Obeid thing. No denying that. Would the Liberal Party be likewise immune?


      Development


      Paths to Development

      On paper, a developer must obey the zoning strictures within a council region, and must apply to Council for permission to develop, which the Council can accept or reject based on its own thinking.

      Even assuming this were true, There's how the Councillors felt about development. If they were pro-development, things might get through - but they would be ultimately accountable to the ratepayers. Notably, Councillors are elected by residents, but people at other points in Government are somewhat removed from this, or even just plain appointed.

      But, even given this fundamental check - at least in principle - there are many ways for state government to either actively stick its oar in, obstruct, or passively bypass this council prerogative and limit the influence of parties outside of Local Government.

      These include :

      • Certified Development
      • Gateway Development
      • The imposition of development changes like "Manor Houses".
      • Population goals imposed on the LGA plan by higher levels of government

      Into this picture we have zoning, Local Environmental Plans (LEPs) and the State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP), which I'll get to ...

      While notionally controlled by local government, there is the possibility of "coercive power" being applied to reduce Council control, through :

      • Voluntary Planning Agreements

      Finally, the State Government can step in and take the local government totally out of the picture through :

      • Priority Precincts

      While potentially still having Local Government oversight, the ability of Council, community groups and individuals to influence the process can be reduced by :

      • Gaming the system through false claims and not following DA conditions
      • The subversion of "consultation" to nothing like what you'd think the word means
      • Reducing support for scrutinising agencies like the Environmental Defender's Office, and similar initiatives to reduce that influence

      Needless to say, most of these changes were put in place by the current Liberal Government. There might well be multiple issues at work, and the question is whether these initiatives above leading to "overdevelopment". I hope to demonstrate in the rest of the article, that this link is there, even if we might talk about Local Government and their policy having an impact. It's much easier to list what the NSW Liberals have done since election, as compared to "stuff the council has done". You'd expect those NSW Government changes to change the terrain. I mean, that would have been the point. In the eyes of the NSW Liberals, a change for the better. Maybe they can point to positives that have resulted from the set of changes they have made. But I'm not confident.

      There's the claim that 75% of development over past decade was initiated by council, 1/4 from part 3A. However, given all the constraints and impositions by the State Government applied on Council - it's wrong to assume council was responsible for the development. They may well have initiated it - as the result of coercive forces and incentives set up by the State Government. It really does seem that development is complicated, and hard to make sense of. And it does seem to me that the NSW Government has taken advantage of this complexity to pull the wool over our eyes about what is actually going on.

      A related is issue is - regardless of the cause of problems, has the State Government been flexible and innovative in embracing novel solutions to ad-hoc problems, where possible? I can't comment broadly, but I'll later point to an example where the answer is a clear no.


      Certified Development

      On paper, some State Government initiatives are about speeding up approvals of developments that "would have been approved anyway". However, rather than being directly approved by council, approvals are delegated to private certifiers. I see this as a distortion - it imagines that there are such developments in abundance where we could know "ahead of time" that it would in fact be approved. As a private certifier can endorse something as passing council regulations, then it must be 100% in accordance with the regulations, and therefore not require any Council oversight. What could possibly go wrong?

      Outside of Ryde, the Opal towers in Sydney Olympic Park were privately certified. You wonder if the certifiers had an incentive to approve rather than check and review properly. It seems indicative of the State Government's "open the floodgates" approach.

      It's readily distorted. Is approval something which Council does "actively", or is it something where Council notionally sets the rules and the approval process is delegated? And even in setting those rules, its independence might be limited by the State Government. A LEP would be "local" in name only. It would be applied locally, but have little content that originates locally. But it seems the State Government does not dwell on this distinction.


      Ticking the box - one Government initiative - the wild west

      Regardless of Council oversight, developers can still "tick the box" and make dodgy claims rather than genuinely engage with the approval process. Developers might claim the community will not be impacted by the extra hours they are working - but did they actually ask the neighbours? People in the local papers have shaken their head over these bland assertions. You can imagine the dialogue "Well, I suppose we could let you do this, so long as the neighbours are not going to be affected". "Oh, yes, yes, they definitely won't be". "OK, well fair enough then."

      Private certifiers will note they've told the neighbours what they're doing - which they have - but there's nothing they can actually do about it. It is starting to look like "the wild west". Selective enforcement, depending on well you can game the system, with parts of Government conveniently looking the other way.


      "Consultation" - ticking the box, again

      Over the last few decades, "consultation" became a thing. Often, however, it's a "box that is ticked" with no real meaning. Graham Quint from the National Trust talks about "community engagement" in contrast to so called "community consultation". They describe how the Government consulted with people in Penrith and Cronulla about how they felt about a development at Miller's Point - rather than nearby residents. That's somewhat removed from Ryde, but it is perfect illustration of how the promise is abused. You can hear more here ( about 16 minutes in )

      A developer might spend a great deal of time working on a proposal, and then when exhibited, there may be a window of just a week to respond. How is "consultation"? Graham Quint also notes how funding was cut to the Environmental Defender's Office - further skewing the balance to Developers. Another change, but courtesy of the NSW Liberal Party.


      Zoning issues


      Details of the LEP

      The LEP for Ryde notes various areas, and considers them to be low, medium or high density land. It notes what development is allowed, and that some need "consent". Now, that consent authority could be council ... or it could be the State Government ... or it could be a private certifier.

      Interestingly, the LEP does not specify a maximum density in a street or an area. Yes, it specifies the maximum space allocated to housing in a block, but not the number of medium density developments in a street. For example, we might say that there can only be one flat per street, or one flat per 1 square km, in order to allow some medium density, but to limit its impact. From a resident's point of view, that would be reasonable. However, if someone puts up their hand to build something, it is not clear if it can be knocked back based on there already being too much development nearby. Development may only be limited by financial and construction constraints, with whoever puts their hand up with the money being able to build something - so long as it follows the rules, and regardless of what is going on nearby. Certainly, Mr. Shoebridge does talk about "cumulative effect".

      And all this sits in the shadow of density targets - the target is just that - a target. It does not specify how uniformly the density increase should be spread, or that it should ideally take place where it does not impact on infrastructure. It just says that - over the whole of ryde - the number of dwellings should increase. Nothing about the distribution.

      Further, we have claim in local papers that "the roads are already congested". You could have a contingent allowance, that units are only allowed when the traffic is below a specific threshold. In a sense, this is captured in the sentiment of the "pause", but not in the way the LEP is itself applied.

      There is talk of "To enable other land uses that provide facilities or services to meet the day to day needs of residents." in the LEP. Now, this seems mostly related to providing shops and parks and similar, but we could talk about his meaning that roads should be used effectively, and not be congested. I wonder ...

      Council sometimes objects something that would "undermine the character of an area". A private certifier might well check floorspace rations and the letter of the law, but I cannot see how a private certifier could deal with this concern effectively. How can this sort of function be effectively taken away from Council?


      Impositions from above : SEPP / Manor Houses, housing targets

      While the LEP is set by Local Government, there's the SEPP, or State Environmental Planning Policy. The SEPP over-rides the LEP. It just depends on how obvious the State Government can be about playing its hand. Ryde Council talks about the SEPP implemented by the NSW Government
      here Some more details are listed here

      Now, if you read Mr. Laxale's description, the story behind medium zoning is that while you can have medium density, there are still limits to how that can be achieved. I'd imagine you could buy a few properties and clump the land together and build some units. That's one part of the picture. However, a major source of increased density - one sought by the State Government - is to increase the number of blocks which can have multiple dwellings built on them. On the original plan, there were some constraints about how much frontage you needed to have before you could built a pair of dwellings ( duplex ) on a block. Note how it talks about the frontage for duplexes being 12m rather than the existing 20m.

      And then you have "Manor Houses" which are a new thing, where you can have 4 dwellings on a single block. Prior to the SEPP, Ryde LEP did not allow Manor Houses at all. So, when the Department of Planning said that Manor Houses would only be allowed in zones where medium density was currently allowed, this was true but misleading. There was a crucial change - 4 dwelling developments which were not previously allowed - were now allowed. These developments could be expected to be certified developments - you could build them without council approval. You could have a street with 15 Manor Houses in a row up and down on side.

      However, there was then a pause - supposedly to allow infrastructure to "catch up". But, as I note elsewhere, this is a pretty naff idea, that we'll ever be able to reduce the level of traffic congestion. Still, it is nice to have an exemption, I guess ...

      But in any case - these changes allowing so much more duplex development do seem significant, dramatic and substantial - regardless of where you implement them. And the idea that infrastructure needs to "catch up" - how did they ever let things slide to the degree that there was a need for "catching up"? Why wasn't the infrastructure made in parallel with past development? It seems pretty dodgy however you slice it. And it would a long bow to lay the blame on the previous Government - the NSW Liberals had several years to come to grips with the problem. Or were their brains in neutral, gripped by their ideology?

      The question remains, however - what about the future? Even with all that infrastructure ... The future does not beckon.


      Dwelling targets

      The Greater Sydney Commission ( see here ) has the Ryde LGA 0-5 year housing supply target of an increase of dwellings between 2016 and 2021 of 7,600.

      Here, again Council's hands are tied. If pursuing these targets means a lot of amenity, will ratepayers wrongly blame Council? In fact, these targets are a given. It is as though nobody is really to blame, there is a situation imposed on us that we must all just put up with. But, unless we challenge these approaches, that's how they will come upon us.


      Gateway Developments

      If a Council prohibits a development, the developer can appeal to a State Government body. More details are here Note, especially, how in "New Rezoning Review", you can apply for a review if council rejects your project - so, control is effectively taken away from council, and the VPAs mean that a gun is effectively pointed at the head of council.


      Voluntary Planning Agreements

      With so called "Voluntary" Planning Agreements, where the Council changes its height limits, or whatever they might be, in exchange for a cash bonus. But there's a legal gun pointed at Council's head if they refuse to cooperate, with the threat of legal challenge in the background.

      So, when people complain about Local Government "passing" something, in fact they are passing something under coercion, trying to find the least worst option in a difficult situation. To call this "something the local council has permitted" is a definite distortion. Nevertheless, I've heard developers at the listening sessions endorse it as a way to get cash into councils, as the same time as Councillors talk about the discomfort they've felt in agreeing to these conditions. But a better way would have been via a proportionate levy without any need to modify current limits.

      It does beg the question of why there are limits in the first place if they are so readily bypassed? They were there for a reason - like to prevent overshadowing - so why is overshadowing suddenly not as important as it was before? Personally, I think this whole area of legislation should be cut through with a Gordian Knot. But this is the enlightened approach that was implemented by the Liberal Government.


      Priority Precincts

      You wonder - there were Urban Activation Precincts, which then became Priority Precincts. According to David Shoebridge, this was because whatever was going on there was something that people did not like, and so the State Government changed their name. Way back when - when all this stuff was put in place - the principle was that - through community consultation - there would be a set of rules about development that the community could all agree on. Then, once these rules were in place, the development would proceed on that basis. I can only recall thinking :

      What could possibly go wrong?

      How has the UAP concept changed since? UAPs or whatever you want to call them - were a Liberal Party invention. The new broom that would clear everything up after the Labor chaos. We could all rest easy, know these smart people with their good ideas were looking over it all. If their plan worked, development would be happening smoothly and without controversy. Exactly what we see around us, right?


      Large development


      These have generated controversy:

      There's Lachlan's Line. NSW Urban Growth have facilitated 2,700 dwellings, here, an example of the Government's Priority Precincts.

      112 Talavera Road. This what triggered a lot of the consternation. See here and here

      While there are some rocks being thrown between Mr. Dominello and Mr. Laxale, I'm willing to believe that Mr. Laxale's "support" if it were ever the case, would have been in the context of a "gun pointed at the Council's head" over VPAs, as already mentioned, an environment the Liberal Government set up.

      I've heard a Meriton representative speak forth at the listening session, and almost have some sympathy for them. They speak of the validity of the prior planning system, while my view is that it was always dodgy, it's just that - as far as the NSW Liberal Party is concerned - the chooks have come home to roost and the general population is finally starting to cotton on to what's going on. While Meriton cannot see the problematic nature of what they were engaging with, in a sense they were acting in moderately good faith and were unlucky enough to be the ones still standing when the music stopped.

      Ivanhoe estate has been similarly controversial, with the nature and scale of the project being questioned by Council, see here - Mr. Laxale's website links to a council report outlining the problems they see.

      Shepherds Bay has also been controversial, but I've not had the time to look into it properly. There are probably also other developments that had some attention, or are deserving of it.


      Infrastructure, current issues and relating to the torrents of rocks


      Our world is changing - and the infrastructure needed?

      Reading the local papers, we see there's much stress, problems with parking and traffic, crowded and insufficient schools. There's also the stress of dealing with the noise of construction and pushy real estate agents and developers. I've heard an outsider to Sydney talk about how she had seen a decline in community feeling in Sydney, and links it to the "mad development and growth" we see around us. Locally in Ryde, there have been some increases in crime. There's a provocative Daily Telegraph article behind a paywall, but according to statistics - see here , the increase is predominantly in domestic violence and in breaches of bail conditions - a problem, but I wonder about what was in the DT article. Maybe there are benefits to growth. But I really do wonder how much we could discount the growth because of the bad things that result.

      Some might claim "we only need more infrastructure". This is a dubious aspiration at best, David Shoebridge claims you have the development first, with the rest of the infrastructure at some vague time in the future - in spite of the propaganda is that planning is about also providing infrastructure, and making these changes to facilitate more development will improve infrastructure. It's not what we see. We could wonder that if "only we routed money effectively, we'd get stuff done", but that is a wrong-headed view. It is rather more complex. We can't just wave a magic wand, even assuming we have a pot of money. We're building so much infrastructure that we're tripping over ourselves. While there sure are abuses we need to identify and correct, it is not like anyone can really waltz in with a magic solution either.

      There are a few exceptions. If there's not enough classroom space in the school, but sufficient open space, we can build taller buildings - and perhaps even build more schools. We can put more buses on. But we cannot easily make the roads bigger - there's considerable cost. Supposedly development close to rail lines means people will use the railway. It's a dubious sentiment when trains are crowded and close to capacity, but regardless people have a natural inclination to use their cars. Their use of the train system is predicated on the roads being congested! In other words, if we assume something is worse than it really should be, the rest of our plan will work. Pretty sad, really.

      Victor Dominello claims to be pushing against his own Government when it comes to particular developments. But, it could be the case that is was his own Government that set up the current situation where there's a pressure for over-development. But, in any case, it does not bode well. Though - to be fair - under NSW Labor, Obeid and part 3A - they had their own problems.

      A presenter at the listening sessions, Ms. Fletcher, was critical of Mr. Dominello's claim that he "has achieved ... the building of seven schools", with Ms. Fletcher dryly observing that "Most of these are not built; most of these are building sites". I've seen the flyers from Victor Dominello, where he points to school improvements in the area. Even assuming this is true, you wonder how the rate of improvement compares to the increased demand resulting from increased population, to some degree facilitated by the Department of Planning.


      Flexibility in relating to current issues

      Separately to who is to blame and how we managed to get here, is the Government being flexible, innovative and responsive in seeking solutions to problems that have arisen, quite separately to trying to also address the overall situation?

      I know of one obvious example outside of Ryde where the answer is clearly: NO. David Shoebridge tells us about schools in Chatswood that have to run lunch hours in different shifts because of the crowding of the schools, where quite apart from that, they are pretty crowded anyway. Mr. Shoebridge has suggested a property swap where the school could access some nearby land. But according to him, the Government have refused to engage with this solution. It may not solve all our problems, but it would have been something worth doing.

      Apart from trying to blame Labor or Liberal, perhaps the demographers made a mistake in thinking that families would not live in units. Well ... they did. And look what happened. An honest mistake? Something a wise Minister could have seen coming, if they actually knew what they were doing in the portfolio? Regardless, you can make a good faith effort to deal with the situation in front of you - which the Government has not done.


      Liberal vs. Labor

      Of course, look back far enough and Labor had its problems too. We can all make mistakes. We are all human. Still, it's not so much that you make mistakes, but how arrogant or humble you are along the way. I think the Libs have been presumptuous. They have assumed that nothing could go wrong, and stuck their heads in the sand when things did go wrong.

      Now, to give Labor some credit - Mr. Laxale has acknowledged that Labor was wrong to shut down Peter Board high school, and in times past in my radio discussions with Hugh McDermott he has acknowledged the mistakes of the past. I think that's a healthy thing, even if we can wonder about the persistence of demountables under Labor. A willingness to do that sort of circumspection should be encouraged. Further, Mr. Laxale has pointed to the schools that Mr. Dominello has been closing down.

      And look - some of the problems are inescapable, regardless of who is in power. Of course, the question remains - even with these unavoidable problems - are the respective parties actually making a good faith effort? It may well be that Labor helped to put things they way they are - but that's then no excuse to be lethargic. But - when you consider the large number of legislative changes to do with development by NSW Liberals - it seems a bit of a long bow to lay so much blame on Labor.

      Separately to development, I can think of many issues with what the Liberals did in State Government - which I'll mention separately. So, I think that Labor will be a better bet in Government - but regardless of who gets in, the lesson is that we can no longer take development for granted we have to carefully scrutinise what is going on, and take an interest in it. The Local Government Area we live in, the city we live in - deserves that.

      Now, I have to say that Mr. Dominello has changed is position to favour voluntary assisted dying, and he seems a pretty decent fellow. It has been much easier to arrange to meet with Mr. Dominello than it has been to meet up with Mr. Laxale. And Jordan Lane has been similarly willing to talk, as has been Penny Pedersen. And I do appreciate that willingness to talk from Mr. Lane and Dominello, much as we have our differences. I've read Mr. Dominello's his opening speech in Parliament empathise with his concerns, including "red tape". But the solution for "red tape" is not to "open the floodgates", but rather to find a deeper understanding, going beyond taking swathes with an ideological machete. The problem is, these valid concerns are subverted by Liberal Party Policy and its implementation. In fact, I'd be relaxed with him retaining the seat of Ryde. And, you do have to acknowledge that he has pushed for changes within the Liberal policy framework - to get that pause, and to at least try to engage with some of the issues around overdevelopment - much as I think he's unfairly blaming Labor and the local council. Still - even given that Ryde has had some special treatment - you do get the feeling that nobody should have special treatment, in the sense that the situation where anyone needed special treatment should never have arisen in the first place. So, in spite of some good things you can attribute to Mr. Dominello - I'm not comfortable with the Libs retaining Government - noting the need to keep an eye on Labor if they win. But the problem is, you can't vote for Mr. Dominello without potentially helping the Libs get into Government. That's the problem. For me it is a vexed issue. I know that people who are polarised and will blindly vote Labor will see no issue. For me, however, I am conflicted.

      Still - some will run the argument that "Labor is not as bad as the alternative." You know, that may in fact be true, particularly at the Commonwealth rather than the state level. But it is one helluva cop-out. Let's not ever forget that.


      Other topics


      Record of the Liberal Party

      Separately to development, I see a lot of problems with the record of the Liberal Party in NSW. But, before I go there, yes it worth reflecting on the Labor Party. In times past, there was controversy over part 3A development and Obeid. Then, you have the fact they went into Government talking about the threat to Labour laws posed by the Liberal Party, and then tried to pursue electricity privatisation once in power. Of course, the Liberal Party did this too, but for Labor it was a much more obvious bait-and-switch. Locally, as mentioned, the Labor Party did shut down Peter Board High School. I'm sure Liberal Party supporters could identify other issues, but they are the ones which stand out for me - I invite you to do your own research if you are keen.

      Still, I was impressed with Keneally because her support for the safe injection room and Ethics education in schools - see my article here Further, I was impressed with her courage - ultimately her job was not to win the election, but rather to contain the damage. I think it takes courage to embrace that sort of challenge.

      But, anyway, to the Liberal Party. I've not been impressed, but I emphasise, I tried to avoid pre-empting my conclusion. I struggle to identify good things they have done. But maybe they have - I'll leave you to do that research, and I will at least try to engage with twitter comments on this front. But - in any case:

      Privatisation and the "Poles and Wires"

      I see the privatisation of the poles and wires as a dodgy move. Effectively, a loan with different collateral, really - not "privatisation" in any meaningful sense. Not that I'd endorse privatisation - Rod Simms chair of the ACCC has recently come out critical of the way privatisation has been done - maximising money for Government at the expense of everything else. While private industry may well be more efficient than Government ( and I see that as debatable ), rather than covering costs as Government would do, private industry might charge what the market will bear and pocket the change rather than passing on the savings. In a similar way, I share my head at the privatisation of the Land Titles Office, not to mention the various items of Government owned sandstone buildings that have been sold off.

      Hidden beneficiaries of tax concessions

      Then, the Libs allowed the suppression of the details of people and corporations who benefitted from changes to taxes on the transfer of shares between private companies and trusts, business mortgages and intangible assets such as intellectual property. Now, this decision was made be a Government department - but the State Government went along with it. Maybe they never claimed they'd be transparent. Indeed. Regardless, it is not a good look. Check out the article here

      Miller's Point and the Sirius building

      Around Millers Point we've had some controversial evictions, together with the evictions around the Sirius building. In fact, till at least one resident was able to find the necessary papers, Government was willing to assume they had not title to the property they were living in and turf them out.

      Windsor Bridge

      The Libs have continued the replacement of Windsor Bridge, in spite of some considered thoughts from Ray on alternatives. The Libs may not have started it - but they could have taken a fresh look at it, rather than continuing on with their brains in neutral. I interviewed Ray from CAWB, which you can hear about
      here ( about 16 minutes in ).

      West Connex

      Then there's West Connex - even the RMS is fonder of orbital rather than spoke roads, which will just move the congestion elsewhere.

      Eastern Suburbs light rail

      Then there's the new light rail into the Eastern Suburbs. Now, look I'm in favour of light rail broadly speaking, and would otherwise congratulate the Libs on their approach. But they have made a complete mess of it. The first is to go with a foreign rather than a local firm. Anyone with a bit of nous will tell you not to go with the cheapest quote just because it is the cheapest quote. An Australian firm would have had to sell something else to an Australian firm or Government next year - and while they'd look after their interests, they'd also have much more of an incentive to actively avoid misunderstandings. To the extent the contracting firm is to blame - much of the blame must go to Government for choosing that firm in the first place. Too clever for their own good. Further, rather than taking alternate routes, in many cases, they ended up controversially cutting down trees. Trees are a scarcity in Sydney, and every bit of greenspace we lose, every tree we lose, is not coming back. But this is what they've done. Yes, trams look nice on city streets but ultimately, it might have been better to build tunnels closer to the inner city - you'd have had less disruption, and the disruption to business is a cost that needed to be identified. Further, the foundations for the line are ridiculously thick. Maybe that's acceptable if you have savings to maintenance and the operator has paid for it, but if it's just Government doing this, the private operator can pocket the change. Further - if you were short of money to do things properly - like build more tunnels and avoid the need to chop down so many trees - you could have made the foundations less thick. Further, it seems unlikely you will be able to replace all buses during peak hours, which reduces the resulting benefit. All in all, we are talking about a dog's breakfast, to the extent there's an improvement, there will be an equal tragedy in the wasted opportunity - much as I would otherwise endorse light rail expansion.

      Sydney Metro / Rouse Hill Rail Link

      I have mixed feelings about the Rouse Hill rail link. It is nowhere near as problematic as the light rail into the Eastern suburbs, and may work acceptably well, but we've lost the capability to for future expansion.

      First, the way they have rolled it out is a lot more disruptive than it needs to be. They could have had station changes between the old and new - particularly when they extend towards Bankstown. Further, you can't take bicycles on the Macquarie Rail link buses, and I expect that will be the case wherever they end up doing this.

      Yes, it will take load off other lines and provide more reach of public transport out towards Rouse Hill. But, it is not interoperable with the current system. Supposedly single deck trains can more easily cope with the gradients going under the harbour - but you can get around that using zig-zag tunnels or even spirals. The problem is, however, that even though you can put more trains on the line to accommodate additional passengers, single deck trains have a much lower ratio of seats to standing passengers. When full, you are talking about a lot more people who will have to stand all the way from Rouse Hill into the city ( and there would be similar situation for Bankstown). At first, if you have spare capacity on most carriages, you'll have people entering the carriages at Rouse Hill having a seat all the way to the city. Those getting into the carriages later will not have a seat, but they will not be travelling as far. So it sorta works out. But it will be pot luck going out of the city. However, once you get to capacity, the only way you could ever have had more seated passengers was with regular double decker carriages. So, I can see problems. But ... well, it will work, in a kludgey, half-arsed sort of way - I'll give it that - while it will saturate sooner as demand increases.

      Moving the Power House Museum to Parramatta

      You have the push to move the Power House museum to Parramatta, with concerns that it is a ruse to give developers the site. Equally, while Daily Telegraph articles talk about people having to type in "Parramatta" for the first time - well, I have covered sites at Parramatta like the old drain, astronomical observatory, female factory and old Government House on my radio show, and have long acknowledged the links between Ryde and Parramatta - before it was called Ryde it was called "Kissing Point". And before that ... "Eastern Farms". But east with respect to what? East with respect to Parramatta. Point is, I've long had those connections to Parramatta. I believe in providing a good museum site at Parramatta - just as I believe in leaving the Power House Museum right where it is. There are plenty of good reasons for leaving it where it is ... but the NSW Liberals have steamrolled this push to move it to Parramatta.

      Selectivity around different business interests

      It is strange the different business interests and what they have been able to get away with. Projecting the Everest horse race onto the sails of the opera house - though to be sure, different elements of the Labor party were both supportive and critical. The Liberal Party backed down afterwards, saying they had "misjudged" - but you do wonder - what the hell were they thinking in the first place? They made noises about not having the right "balance" - but the fact remains they come to the table wanting to pander to business interests without having any sense of proportion or objectivity. They are blinded by the desire to "promote business" and cannot think of anything else. While on the one hand we should not ban harmful activities like gambling, it is not the government's role to encourage them either, let alone abuse a landmark. I could see that coming a mile off. Would they celebrate the opening of a factory making land mines? It would certainly generate employment.

      Smoking and late-night venues

      Providing smoking with drinks but no food facilities at eateries. What were they thinking? Shutting down Sydney's night time economy. Now, look there are issues here and I do have sympathy with locals frustrated with noise from venues. And while the cops do have to bear the brunt of alcohol related violence, the vast majority of alcoholic drinks have nothing to do with violence. I nevertheless feel the whole thing could have been handled better. Further - it does seem that the Star Casino has been treated with a slack over alcohol related violence as compared to other venues all over Sydney. It is strange - you can see a pro-business agenda at work with the NSW Liberals, but there also a strange selectivity in terms of which businesses they privilege.

      Greyhound racing vs. horse racing

      And then there's banning greyhound racing. It did not happen, but it is still worth reflecting on. I have mixed feelings about it. We've become aware of just how brutal the horseracing industry is, but I think that is another privileged business operation as compared to greyhound racing. Which is not to say that greyhound racing is without its problems, just that there's a strange selectivity around which business pass through without scrutiny. Dr. Arthur Chesterfield Evans has wondered if selling off the greyhound track around Glebe would have something to do with it. I guess it would have at least been a bonus.


      Property affordability

      While a bit unrelated to issues directly about development and the Labor / Liberal Party, this is a definite issue, something I've written about on this web page. Locally, we can be concerned about development. But, looked at more broadly, what is the picture with land prices? It can help to shed more light on the story I told about the financial pressures behind development earlier.

      Now, just recently, we've had a downturn in land prices. Depending on how you look at it, you could say housing prices have been in decline since January of 2018, or even July 2017 - and it remains to be seen how that will eventuate. There's been some hand-wringing over it, and I've also had a twitter exchange with Qld. economist Cameron Murray. If the Government was keen on housing affordability, you'd think they would be celebrating the downturn. Instead, it is a source of angst. Which is strange. The reality is that while new entrants to the housing market may celebrate a decline in house prices, those who have invested in housing will curse it. And it becomes clear which party the ( Federal ) Government is interested in supporting - those who have made it.

      Of course, there is a bit more to it. If you're entering the market, you want housing prices to drop while your finances hold the line. It's not much recompense if housing becomes more affordable at the same time as you loose your job. Yes. But the point is, the Government is not concerned about the price of land in conjunction with the financial health of citizens, it's concern is narrowly focused on housing prices. Of course, there's the story that the Government has - somewhat like a drug addict - been leaning on the housing market to keep the rest of the economy afloat, and now it is unravelling. But let's not go there. You can do your own research.

      Now, while we had this thing of housing prices remaining buoyant, I had a discussion with Tim Josling on my radio show. I emphasise the Georgist picture - the problems with negative gearing, and the worth of a comprehensive land value taxation package. Tim pointed out that nations like the US and Japan have had housing booms and crashes without negative gearing. Fair point. However, I'm still thinking that land value taxation can put a brake on bubbles, and that a lack of land value taxation combined with negative gearing can make a bad thing worse. Tim spoke of the lolapalooza effect, where a lot of individually small things add up to something much bigger - they multiply each other's effect rather than just adding. So, I do nevertheless emphasise the worth of these sort of reforms.

      Further, there's the concern about land banking. While developers run around wanting new releases and re-zoning, what about bringing land currently out of supply into the market? That would have an effect, but apart from the Georgist lobbyist, Government seems to ignore it - perhaps because there is no lobby group pushing for it that would make a profit from it. I talk about this in my presentation to the listening session of the GSC - see here But, here's some of the factors Tim identified:

      First, it is important to understand land prices have only gone up since the 1950s, so we're talking about a historic abberation. Prices are higher in the capitals, but they are also higher in regional centres - it is ( was ) something of a universal. Certainly, the coastal capitals are at a premium, because the weather is better and there's a concentration of jobs and services in the capitals.

      A substantial factor is population growth - in percentage terms, much higher than comparable countries, and double that in the 1960s, when we were running the "populate or perish" doctrine.

      But there's money flowing in - in nations like China, people are keen to park their money somewhere else, and look to Australian property rather than Swiss bank accounts for some reason.

      While there were crashes of 40% in the 1890s and 30% in the 1930's there is no individual or systemic memory of this, and people are used to past trends around property value increases. And then, people have a perception that land is more "secure" - "you can't go wrong investing in land" was the maxim. So, this perception makes in even more valuable in the eyes of consumers and investors - including those saving for their retirement.

      There's difficulty in development - bureaucratic hoops and zoning - all those tedious constraints I've set this whole article talking about how the NSW Liberals have been removing them. But - equally - developers hoard the land they have, and drip-feed it out to artificially inflate prices.

      Further, property is in tension with all the other places we might invest our money. So, if other forms of investment become less attractive, more money goes into property.

      Our properties have tax privileges. There's no capital gains tax or a tax on imputed rents - not to mention negative gearing ( ahem ), or other tax benefits for not owner occupied properties.

      The reserve bank also thinks housing debt is safer, and incentivises banks to lend in this area. Further, banks are effectively underwritten by the Government, which encourages them to take risks they otherwise would not have. And you have the fact that financial deregulation has meant that we can borrow a great deal from overseas.

      Now - me JA speaking again - it is interesting how on paper a lot of these effects are supposed to null themselves out in the broader market. The free operation of the market is in fact supposed to benefit us. But - as identified by Tim - freeing up our market to foreign money can cause problems if the money is coming in from a different type of economy.

      Of course, needless to say ... prices have recently taken a down turn. What are the consequences? Maybe Tim's perspective can help us here, too.


      Conclusion

      Well, here's to another long meandering article. I hope it was of interest. I hope if you were bewildered and confused, that you are now somewhat less so. Let me acknowledge - I found it overwhelming when I first tried to make sense of it. Somewhere along the way I reached a tipping point - in a good way. And even now there's still a lot of stuff I've left untouched - partly because Mr. Laxale never got back to me ( hiss !!!). But - even if you disagree with me - I think it's a good thing if we're all more familiar with the situation, and the debate around us.

      Be good!


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