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State government has used its powers to undercut and override the wishes of local communities by drastically reducing levels of transparency and consultation – that was the message to emerge out of a public meeting held at Balmain Town Hall on Tuesday evening.

The meeting was organised by the Port Jackson Greens Group, and saw a presentation from NSW Greens MP and Spokesperson for Planning, Sylvia Hale MLC. She argued that in addition to the trend towards viewing property as investment, there had been huge pressure on governments to withdraw from their regulatory role, which combined with donations from the property industry, had significantly undermined proper planning procedures and controls. “In NSW, we’ve seen a dismantling of the planning system,” she said.

The meeting included a discussion of the role of the controversial ‘Part 3A’ amendment to the planning laws introduced in 2005. This piece of legislation allows the Planning Minister to ‘call in’ developments and override environmental and heritage protections in the case of critical infrastructure, major infrastructure and major projects. “It ultimately comes down to the Minister’s discretion whether the project is accepted or not,” Ms Hale said.

Discussion was also made of strategies employed by developers to increase the permissible density of development, including lobbying ministers to plan for potential ‘high-growth’ scenarios, against the advice of their own departments. “The whole justification for this is population rise – the notion that we need to have much more intense development,” said Ms Hale.

Leichhardt Greens Councillor Alan Cinis echoed the sentiments of Ms Hale. “There is obviously the Metro situation, where these people (businessowners) want to work there, keeping the buildings’ heritage, but the state government doesn’t want to know,” he said. “There’s been no real consultation or willingness to work with the local government, who are the caretakers of the area. It’s one of the frustrations of local government – it’s being undercut and democracy is being stripped away.”