This report is largely a look at the present and future in the light of the Better Planning Network seminar I attended on 11 August in the Tramsheds Community Room. The Seminar was looking at the Amended Planning Act that was passed in March this year. It was chaired by Corinne Fisher, and the speakers were from the Environmental Defenders Office. The Amended Act requires the City to review its controls in 2021. Until then the following will apply:

Planning Controls
The current Local Environment Plan for Glebe, LEP 2012, like the two previous ones, LEP 20 (gazetted in 1981) and LEP 2000 lays down maximum height and density for new residential development. These controls mean that effectively new building will be generally similar to what already exists ( this doesn’t prevent people fighting like tigers over whether a proposal conforms to the rules or not, but this report is about the larger picture).

However, there are some exceptions. Some previously Industrial land, usually on the fringes of Glebe such as parts of the waterfront, or with previously non-residential uses, may have higher limits or even a separate LEP. Good examples are the northern end of Glebe Point Rd (501), Harold Park, and the area adjacent to Wentworth Park between Bay and Cowper Streets. Many are up to eight storeys, and some more.

There are also existing buildings of exceptional height, and in one case, the 1980 Remand Prison at the rear of Bidura, where the State Government insisted on a greater height limit.

Conservation Controls
The objectives of the Amended Act now, for the first time, include the conservation of all types of heritage.

In the past, through Glebe Society pressure, LEP 20 made most of Glebe a single Conservation Area, as classified by the National Trust, and included a schedule of Heritage Items also documented by both those organisations.

Over the years there have been changes to both. In 1991, as a result of the publication of the Glebe Main Street Study Part 2, I was able to have all the items listed as ‘essential to Glebe Point Road’ included in the schedule of Heritage Items. This was a very significant increase, and most of them remain. However, by 2012 the Study was already out of date and there were some changes in the new LEP, which also split the single Conservation Area into several parts, each with its own character description. LEP 2012 also created a new category of building, and as well as a map of Glebe identifying the Heritage Items, there is another which identifies buildings that are Contributory. Both provide some protection.

The Schedule of Heritage Items was increased by buildings and landscape items identified by the former Leichhardt Architect/Planner, Bruce Lay, and also by a succession of Conservation Studies (the Burley Griffin Incinerator and the Tramsheds are examples).

All local Government Heritage Items are now automatically listed on the State Heritage Register, and the listing includes all the information on the previous schedules.

The Future
In general the various levels of government have respected these controls and listings. However, the National Trust points out that State Significant Development trumps all controls, a situation both it and organisations like the Society deplore, and would like to see changed. We can take it for granted that developers will continue to cast greedy and longing eyes on Glebe, as they have done in the past, and we should continue our research and shore up our controls. Members should also carefully consider their options at the forthcoming State elections. A pro-environmental planning instrument has been developed by the BPN and, at this point, only the major opposition parties have committed to it.

It is available at

Affordable Housing
Despite the recent downturn in property prices, housing in Sydney continues to be very expensive. The City Council is looking to increase the supply of more affordable rental housing by requiring developers of larger multiunit residential buildings to contribute up to 10% to a fund to build more such housing, rented in perpetuity, mostly by the Inner West Housing group. About 200 such rental units are already under construction in Glebe, or soon will be.

This may not seem very many, but it is worth noting that about 20% of Glebe is already public (or social) housing, mostly houses, but including some flats and townhouses, and this is the most affordable rental housing available. In addition, when the NSW Department of Housing took over the Glebe Estate in 1984 it built 115 units specifically for seniors.

In the private sphere there are more than one hundred shop top dwellings, generally regarded as the next most affordable, and also a large sector which includes boarding house type accommodation. About 26 traditional boarding houses are registered in Glebe, and there are probably about the same number of unregistered ones.

In a bid to increase the supply of boarding house accommodation the State Government developed a policy (SEPP Affordable Rental Housing 2009) that allowed a bonus for such development, provided it also reached improved standards of amenity and safety. Unfortunately it didn’t take long for developers to exploit this opportunity to exceed I asked Scott MacDonald, Parliamentary Secretary for Planning, who was at the Seminar, if the State Government would review the policy, and he confirmed that it would.

Many, probably most, of the more recent so-called boarding house developments in Glebe appear to be designed for students, and are probably no more affordable than studio apartments. They still try to achieve the bonus, of course, and frequently fail to meet adequate standards. The City is aware of this exploitation, but it is essential for the policy to be changed to strengthen its hand to refuse such applications.

Many people have contributed to achieving better planning outcomes over the last year, and I wish to thank them all. The most extraordinary contributions have come from the Vice President, Diane Hutchinson, who has done extensive original research with a special emphasis on potential heritage items in Forest Lodge, and Chris Blair, who has made important contributions to the Orphan School Creek corridor from the waterfront to Parramatta Rd.

In my Annual Planning Report I referred to some assurances made by the Parliamentary Secretary for Planning, Scott Macdonald. Some questions he took on notice, and I have now received his replies:

2/ Will the threshold of 25 objections for a DA triggering an IPC be reconsidered? (With a view to making it lower.)

  • There is no intention to review this threshold at this time. This is because it was looked at as part of the recent updates to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (EP&A Act). During the public exhibition of the draft Bill to update the Act in January to March 2017, the Department of Planning and Environment received two submissions requesting the 25 objection referral criteria be reviewed.
  • In light of these submissions, the Legislative Updates team assessed the criteria and found that it was a transparent and reasonable basis for referring matters to the Independent Planning Commission. In addition the team found that changing the number of submissions or moving to a percentage of overall submissions would not likely change the outcome of what was referred to the IPC. On this basis it was decided to leave the current threshold in place.

4/ Further information was sought on complying development for infill and medium density. Is there a design guide? Does it consider Heritage? Is there any reference to Council’s design goals?

  • After close to three years of consultation, the Low Rise Medium Density Housing Code (Code) commenced in many council areas on 6 July 2018. For councils that have requested additional time, a temporary deferral has been granted.
  • The Code allows for well-designed low rise housing to be carried out under the complying development approval pathway.
  • The Code permits dual occupancies, manor houses and terraces in the R1, R2, R3 and RU5 zones, only where a council already permits medium density housing under their Local Environmental Plan (LEP) and provided the proposal complies with all of the development standards in the Code and the supporting Low Rise Medium Density Design Guide for complying development (Design Guide).
  • In relation to heritage, general exclusions in the State Policy mean that an applicant cannot undertake complying development on land that is heritage listed or is a draft heritage item, or that is in a heritage conservation area or draft heritage conservation area.