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Bike-friendly, green space, working from home: New planning blueprint for life after COVID-19

He said the new regulatory instrument, which will set ambitious standards that developers must consider for major precincts, state significant developments, residential blocks, and other projects, was about the government stepping in to ensure good design.

NSW Government Architect Abbie Galvin said the Australian Museum was an excellent example of a public building evolving over time “with many generations of dignified architectural additions”.

Cycleways should be designed into new precincts, the planning policy says.

Cycleways should be designed into new precincts, the planning policy says. Credit:Rhett Wyman

The policy aims to temper demand for driving and car parking by aligning development with public and other transport options, and have precincts designed with limited block sizes, continuous bike paths and end-of-trip facilities, in what Mr Stokes said would “force a lot more of the thinking and conversation about these things”.

“If we start with the right subdivision patterns, that’s where we can enforce the connections for cycleways at a local level,” he said.

University of NSW urban design expert Mike Harris said the effectiveness of the requirements still came down to how they would be delivered, saying the “devil is in the detail” and even decisions on where to locate bicycle parking could influence behavioural change “in a big way”.

Dr Harris said creating open space within a five-minute walk from home would be difficult to achieve, but a focus on the quality of streets to walk on and socialise was more achievable and “more powerful”.

Architecture firm Bates Smart’s concept of what Circular Quay could look like.

Architecture firm Bates Smart’s concept of what Circular Quay could look like.Credit:Bates Smart

“Any of the things that happen in an open space, like in a small park or plaza, there’s no reason why it can’t happen in a street,” he said.

The policy document comes as the NSW government steps up its rhetoric around city-shaping, with an emphasis on active transport, reviving underused areas such as Macquarie Street, and creating and protecting accessible open spaces.

In a speech earlier this month, NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet – who last year stirred debate about the removal of the White Bay power station – urged Sydneysiders to shun mediocrity and questioned why everyone put up with “eyesores” like the Cahill Expressway running alongside Circular Quay.

Mr Stokes said that, under the new planning policy, he couldn’t see the Cahill “ever being approved”, although he did say a possibility for its future was a New York ‘Highline’-style raised garden and community space.

A scene from Sydney’s nightlife, at Jacobys Tiki Bar in Enmore.

A scene from Sydney’s nightlife, at Jacobys Tiki Bar in Enmore.Credit:Dean Sewell

Architecture firm Bates Smart’s concept of what Circular Quay could look like if the Cahill was removed and the station moved beneath nearby Bridge Street was last month commended at the Architecture Australia awards for unbuilt work by a judging panel that included NSW Government Architect Abbie Galvin.

Following the government’s pledge to reinvent Sydney’s 24-hour economy, the policy document said residential buildings should be designed in ways to safeguard “vibrant” late-night trading areas, live music and festivals in licensed premises and parks.

Ms Galvin said residential developments and entertainment precincts had to be allowed to co-exist in a “respectful manner”.

“We want good night-time economies, and we want thriving local economies, and we need public spaces to be activated and used,” Ms Galvin said.

The planning policy will also incorporate a revision of the state’s apartment design guide to take into account the experiences of COVID-19 in setting criteria for bedroom sizes, increasing the depth of private open spaces such as balconies, and designing communal spaces to reflect occupancy rather than site area.

Mr Stokes said there had been push-back from developers regarding minimum apartment sizes but the government was holding its ground: “The smaller they become the more that says about the level of civilisation we’re prepared to accept as a society.”

A centrepiece of the policy is the emphasis on Country, Indigenous Australians’ relationship to and history with the environment, as a foundation for creating new buildings and public spaces, and will aim to protect cultural heritage as well as incorporate Aboriginal values and input in building new precincts.

Mr Stokes said understanding Country was not only critical to good place design, but “part of the healing of the nation.”

Artist, Alison Page, and Government Architect, Dillon Kombumerri, are part of the government initiative to design with Indigenous values and input.

Artist, Alison Page, and Government Architect, Dillon Kombumerri, are part of the government initiative to design with Indigenous values and input.Credit:Janie Barrett

“This is a transformative opportunity to actually recognise that we’re not about importing a society anymore,” he said.

Ms Galvin said the concept of Country wasn’t something that could be easily put into planning law and the government was at the “tip of the process” in understanding how to implement it.

“This is the beginning of a kind of a journey and an exploration with understanding our land, understanding it from the people who have been here for thousands and thousands of years,” she said.

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Property Council NSW executive director Jane Fitzgerald congratulated the government on listening to industry feedback and said that if the final policy was able to be flexibly applied, “based more on principles rather than box-ticking … a great leap forward will have been achieved”.

However, Stephen McMahon, president of the NSW branch of the Urban Development Institute of Australia, said the methodology and some detailed design requirements in the new policy could increase bureaucracy and lead to increased costs and delays.

“This will reduce affordability for everyone and, if we are not careful, this new SEPP could be self-defeating. This is particularly important now, when we need the development sector to help us build the economic recovery from the pandemic,” Mr McMahon said.

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