‘Good design’ enshrined in NSW planning law for first time

The NSW state government has introduced new “objects” to the state’s planning law that promote “good design,” “proper construction” and the “sustainable management of built heritage”.

The changes come as part of a reform bill aimed at updating and modernizing the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979, which was passed by both houses of the state parliament in November 2017.

One of several new objects introduced in the amended Act is intended to “promote good design and amenity of the built environment.”

An object sets out the underlying purpose of a piece of legislation and is intended to aid in interpreting an act.

Other objects that have been added to the act promote the “sustainable management of built and cultural heritage (including Aboriginal cultural heritage)” and “the proper construction and maintenance of buildings, including the protection of the health and safety of their occupants.”

Alison Frame, the planning and environment department’s deputy secretary for policy, strategy and government, said, “Over the decades design principles have been an afterthought. We now have the opportunity to create spaces that are functional, but also inspiring and attractive.”

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A statement issued by the planning department said that the amended act would “be complemented” by Better Placed – NSW’s first statewide built environment design policy that was released by the Government Architect NSW in August.

The government announced draft amendments to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 following the release of the draft Better Placed policy in October 2016.

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The policy defines “well-designed built environments” as healthy, responsive, integrated, equitable and resilient – establishing a “baseline of what is expected to achieve good design, across all projects in NSW.”

Joshua Morrin, NSW executive director of the Australian Institute of Architects, said, “The most far-reaching change affecting architects is the inclusion of ‘good design of the built environment’ as a new object of the Act.”

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“This now gives legislative weight to […] Better Placed, and the seven objectives that establish a policy framework for defining, assessing and achieving ‘good design.’”

Better Placed outlines seven key considerations to ensure that the state’s cities, towns, public spaces, landscapes and buildings are well designed. These include context; sustainability; inclusiveness, safety and liveability; functionality; “value adding”; and attractiveness.

The policy has been warmly received, winning a 2017 Australian Urban Design Award for Policies, Programs and Concepts – Large Scale in October.

The Act was also amended to clarify wording around “staged” development applications after a court ruling struck down the government’s approval of a new arts precinct at Walsh Bay and threatened more than $8 billion of development across the state.

The amended Act will affect only applications that were pending when it was passed into law – the Walsh Bay Arts Precinct will be unaffected by the changes.

Editor’s note (22/11/17): This article has been edited to reflect that certain parts of the Act were also amended in response to the Walsh Bay Arts Precinct decision.

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