Another fix for planning

EVERY government thinks it can fix planning, and most try.

In reality, planning policy seems to trace a pendulum path, back and forth between the interests of communities and those of the development industry.

Before the present Coalition government took office in NSW, Labor had managed to turn an already controversial area into a veritable hotbed of rumour, suspicion and outright allegations of corruption. Largely thanks to the notorious ‘‘3A’’ planning laws that put the minister in charge of ‘‘major’’ developments – some of which were submitted by ALP donors – Labor made planning more disreputable than it had been for decades.

But while many sins have been committed in the name of ‘‘streamlining’’ or ‘‘fast-tracking’’ or ‘‘providing certainty’’, there are good reasons why developers and investors have sought those goals.

In the days when local government had much greater carriage of planning and development approvals, a few noisy neighbourhood organisers could condemn perfectly sound projects to an expensive limbo of uncertainty and council bureaucrats could break the hearts of developers with seemingly arbitrary requirements.

Now the Coalition is taking its turn at the wheel, trying to preserve some of Labor’s fast-tracking and streamlining while also attempting to address concerns about the inability of communities to have any say in developments in their midst.

The principle behind the proposed reforms seems sound enough. Communities will be consulted about the kinds of developments that ought to be deemed acceptable within their boundaries.

Once those general guidelines have been set, many developments will be able to simply proceed, without having to be minutely examined.

That sounds attractive, but the idea isn’t without dangers. Already enormous concerns have arisen over the private certification industry, with allegations that certifiers sometimes offer flexible, faulty or even fraudulent interpretations of planning rules to please their paymasters.

The government is right to want politics out of planning. But it must ensure that, when it sets rules, those rules are properly enforced – with meaningful sanctions for those who cheat the system.

Sounds fade away

‘‘ANTIQUE Sounds’’ was a good name for a quirky shop run by a scion of the musical Novocastrian Tyrrell family.

At the turn of last century Edward H. Tyrrell wrote patriotic songs to stir young soldiers to martial fervour. And in 1925 the famous Tyrrell’s record and music store opened in Newcastle, providing a popular service to the city until its closure in the late 1980s.

Family descendant Bruce Saunders departed Tyrrells and started Antique Sounds, first at Belmont and later in King Street, Newcastle, ultimately creating a modern incarnation of an old-fashioned ‘‘curiosity shop’’ that was a magnet for collectors from near and far.

Those collectors – and many window-shoppers – will miss this piece of retail whimsy when it closes this month.

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