Helen Lochhead appointed chair of Sydney planning panel

Helen Lochhead. Image:  Jessica Lindsay

An architect has been made the chair of one of Sydney’s planning panels as part of a series of appointments made by the NSW government.

Helen Lochhead, an architect, landscape and urban designer and dean of the UNSW Faculty of the Built Environment since 2016, will chair the Sydney South Planning Panel. 

The independent panels assess major development proposals with a value of more than $30 million, in addition to making recommendations and providing advice on planning and development. 

Other newly appointed chairs include two former politicians in Carl Scully and Peter Debnam and planning and environmental lawyer Justin Doyle. The selection panel in total considered seventy applications.

Lochhead said that the area she will oversee in her new role – which includes the Canterbury-Bankstown, Georges River and Sutherland local government areas – will have to maintain a careful watch over liveability as the population booms.

“Sydney is considered one of the world’s most liveable cities,” she said, “but the challenge is to make sure it stays that way.”

“South-western Sydney is a significant growth area for development and will see a huge population lift in the next decade.”

Before her appointment at UNSW, Lochhead was assistant New South Wales government architect in the Government Architect’s Office (GAO) and director of strategic developments at the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority.

Sydney. Image:  Wikimedia Commons

She said that while the State Environmental Planning Policy No. 65 (SEPP 65) has gone a long way in fostering design quality, more attention needs to be paid to the way buildings relate to the street, neighbouring buildings, and the broader urban realm.

“Planners are very comfortable administering these rules and developers understand the requirements of internal layouts,” she said.  

“But the relationship to urban context and neighbours is where the gaps are. Adequate street setbacks, landscape and consideration of the public domain get less attention. There will often be buildings next door to a single-storey family house or fronting a busy road with no buffer.”

“Careful design of public space is […] crucial as more people live in high-density developments and backyards continue to disappear.”

She was the winner of the Marion Mahony Griffin Prize at the 2013 National Architecture Awards and co-curator of the 2017 National Architecture Conference.

Established in 2016 by the Greater Sydney Commission, the Sydney Planning Panels were intended to streamline previous planning processes and improve decision-making timeframes for regionally significant planning applications. 

The new chairs have been appointed because the roles of Sydney Planning Panel
Chair and District Commissioner of the Greater Sydney Commission have been separated.

Steve Murray, executive director of regions for the Department of Planning and Environment, said, “The separation of these roles will allow the district commissioners to focus on setting the strategic direction for their district through the Greater Sydney Commission’s district plans.”

“The new chairs will also be able to focus entirely on the detailed development
proposals that come before them for decision by the planning panels.”

A chair for the Sydney Central Planning Panel will be found at some point in early 2018.


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