Someone must pay the price for our facilities

25 February 2008

Someone must pay the price for our facilities

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Someone must pay the price for our facilities
North Shore Times, 22/02/08, General News, Page 10
Nicole Gurran, Senior lecturer, Faculty of Architecture, Design & Planning, The University of Sydney

It's easy to take public swimming pools and libraries for granted when you live in an established suburb.

Since World War II, when developers offered to help roll out the services needed for new housing, developer contributions have been an important source of revenue for infrastructure.

Now they're under threat.

Despite plans to intensify growth in existing urban areas through more apartments, villas and townhouses under the State Government's metropolitan strategy, the councils' capacity to collect developer contributions towards services will be constrained.

Presently, contributions for local facilities are collected under a long established mechanism known as Section 94 of the Environmental Planningand Assessment Act 1979.

The amount charged must be fairly apportioned and councils can recoup costs associated with big-ticket items over time, or plan ahead for future requirements that will benefit the whole community.

The reforms may undermine this long-established approach.

Although concerned to reduce housing costs, the State Government's own levies, introduced to the south and northwestern Sydney growth centres in 2005, still stand.

They've been wound back but still include contributions for railway linesand bus services, plus land for police stations, hospitals and schools.

But there's some good policy in this package. A portion of developer levies applying to newly-minted greenfield (new release) land will now be paid at the time of rezoning or at the time of sale, as a rezoning infrastructure contribution.

This is sensible, if brave. The approach pushes the cost back to the seller, which is where it should be, ultimately a deflationary move which may actually improve housing affordability, if it sticks.

Rezonings deliver huge windfalls to landowners but create new needs for local services and infrastructure.

It's critical to ensure councils can meet these needs or urban amenity around the new apartments.

Unless someone else is offering to pay for our sporting fields, laygrounds, libraries and community centres, beware of dismantling the current system. The price may be too high.