Planners do care!

Opinion piece

In response to “Sydney will be unrecognisable now that the planners have gone” 

Sydney City


Elizabeth Farrelly (SMH 26 May 2016) raises some good points on some of the recent major projects in Sydney. However, we would like to assure your readers that the planners are alive and well, and still have their passion!

As the professional body representing the planning profession, the Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) takes exception to the suggestion that planners have left the room.

The city wants town planners to make a difference. Sydney Planners do make a difference – every day. Planners in the real world are forever advocating for improved transport and human services to match housing growth, and for those services to be provided in advance of development. The reality is that this is not always the case – and we advocate strongly for a planning system which will address this through adherence to planning frameworks which are endorsed by the communities which they serve.

There has been progress – we finally have a Federal Assistant Minister for Cities, a NSW Chief Planner whose role is to provide deeper rigour and oversight of strategic planning for the State and assessment of major projects and a Greater Sydney Commission that exists to bring best practice to Greater Sydney by integrating land use, transport and infrastructure planning and collaborating with state agencies, and local and commonwealth governments.  We are happy to see action at a state level to address significant and real needs related to population growth and to see important planned public transport investment such as the light rail projects.

Planners and politicians don’t always get it right. Sydney planners and more broadly NSW planners are facing a particularly challenging time with significant change and complex issues to manage and facilitate. PIA strongly supports and acknowledges planners in government as well as private practice who work tirelessly to aim for a balanced planning outcome in a highly political environment and who come under hefty community review and critique.

Sydney is a global city undergoing vast change to accommodate a population that will exceed five million this year and will grow by about 1.35 million by 2031. To cater for this growth increased densities are inevitable so as to avoid unsustainable and unviable urban sprawl. A denser Sydney will also lead to a more diverse city. As Sydney expands some areas will evolve markedly, others will remain as they substantially are now. New infrastructure will be essential to effectively support this growth. This poses challenges for all city makers where congestion, density conflicts, social inequities and infrastructure provision are real, existing issues.

Planning policy provides the checks and balances to put the densities where they best fit and ensure infrastructure is appropriate. There will always be differing public, professional and political opinions and reactions to any rapidly changing city. Oddly major infrastructure like WestConnex happens independently of growth and growth occurs often without supporting infrastructure.

Planning is inherently focused on facilitation and balance where both the public and many differing private interests are accommodated. This should occur without compromising good design, creation of place, amenity and liveability – this is known as the public interest.

The challenge – for planners, community, politicians and developers – is to ensure the balance is right. This balance is often achieved and good examples such as Central Park on Broadway and Green Square Town Centre show where density has been done well.

NSW planners are moving forward.  It would be untenable for our communities if we sought to do otherwise. As planners we are proud of our contribution to Sydney and its local communities.

Planning – and planners – matter!


Marjorie Ferguson

President NSW PIA

Planning Principal HillPDA PIA NSW Planning President
Planning Principal HillPDA
PIA NSW Planning President