On October 14, Peter Smith spoke at the NSW Environmental Planning and Law Association NSW 2011 Conference as part of a panel of distinguished speakers discussing the interaction between Heritage and Exempt and Complying Development. Peter was joined on the panel by by Petula Saminosm Director Heritage Branch, Office of Environment and Heritage NSW, Nick Tobias, Tobias Partners and David Shoebridge MP.
Peter discussed the role of planning reform, and the need for better upfront strategic planning to provide more certainty in the community in relation to heritage conservation areas.
The planning system is generally criticised for 'too much red tape' and heritage is often considered to 'get in the way of development' or causes the approval process to slow down. The complying development codes were developed in part by the Development Assessment Forum, (DAF) a commonwealth level advisory forum on planning systems and development assessment. It identifies four streams of development assessment. Self Assessable (Exempt), Code Assessable (Complying), Impact assessment (DA) and Prohibited. The intention is to encourage the majority of development to be categorised as either self assessable (Exempt) or Code Assessable (Complying).
Under current practices there is an inherent conflict between Heritage and Self / Code assessable development, because it assumes that there are a set of generic pre-conditions that are applied across a wide area that may or may not be sensitive to the conservation of the heritage values. However there does not need to be a conflict. It depends on what the rules are, and with good early strategic planning these rules and respect the heritage values.
Currently in most heritage conservation areas a heritage impact statement is required with every development application (even for simple things such as changing a window) each HIS costs each applicant between $2-4000. Even in a modest HCA with 300 dwellings - over time this is a cost to the community of $600,000 - 1,200,000. Now you could to a cracker of a heritage study for 300 dwellings for even half this amount. Each building could be assessed on its relative contribute, and a suite of development standards or acceptable solutions could be developed. This would need to be a result of a design study of the area. Importantly this study can try to characterise what it is that is important / of value within this area / item - rather than the suite of generic conservation values that are often applied.
If the development is carried out complying with these controls then it should be complying or exempt development.
To take the process further - there may be some elements that do require a merit decision - such as a knock down rebuild of a non-contributory item. But the merit assessment could be done as a pre-approval on the part that has impact on the heritage conservation area - rather than the whole development - for example the impact on the streetscape. This can then be done between the design professionals - removing politics from the process, the remainder of the development - compliance with landscape area, floor space etc is done as complying development.