By Peter Strudwick | 23 Nov 2016

The Greater Sydney Commission (GSC) has released the long-awaited draft District Plans for Sydney. They are on public exhibition for the next three months.

The Plans provide the potential framework for a new era of multi-agency collaboration to deliver aligned, integrated and effective land use planning and planning and delivery of transport and infrastructure across the Greater Sydney metropolitan area.

Urbis supports this approach to efficient, effective planning. We see great value in clear priorities for growth and sustainability, founded in evidence-based studies and research.

Here we address key questions arising from the draft District Plans. 

1. What is the purpose of the draft District Plans?

The draft District Plans:

  • Set out the opportunities, priorities and actions for land use planning and infrastructure delivery.
  • Link metropolitan and local level planning.
  • Inform Council land use planning and strategies

They are required by NSW Planning legislation and give effect to the Greater Sydney regional plan, A Plan for Growing Sydney (released in 2014).

2. Are they relevant to rezonings and development applications?

Even as draft plans they need to be considered as part of the justification and merit assessment for any planning proposal and gateway review process. In some cases they could be relevant to the assessment of development applications.

3. Do they change the metropolitan-wide strategy?

Much of what is in the draft District Plans is based on existing urban planning directions and programmed infrastructure projects. However, what now stands out in the draft District Plans is aligning these existing plans with a new vision for Sydney, based on a polycentric city model.

Towards Our Greater Sydney 2056 (Sydney 2056) is a draft 40-year vision underpinning each of the draft District Plans.  It presents a shift away from thinking of Sydney anchored by a single central business district. Sydney 2056 is an update of A Plan for Growing Sydney.

Sydney 2056 identifies three cities based around Eastern City (CBD) Central City (Parramatta) and Western City (focussed around the Western Sydney Airport) and embeds the notion of a ‘30 minute’ city. Underpinning the strategic vision for each of the six districts is a metropolitan wide objective for Sydney to be a productive, liveable and sustainable city. 

These objectives are derived from the four goals of A Plan for Growing Sydney which are further evolved in Sydney 2056:

Sydney 2056 is an amendment to A Plan for Growing Sydney (also on exhibition) and will inform the review of A Plan for Growing Sydney during 2017. It does not at this time replace the legal status of A Plan for Growing Sydney as the current regional plan.

4. What is Urbis’ view on this new vision?

We believe the new vision is a positive change that will ensure Sydney remains a viable and resilient city under continuing pressure of growth. However, we believe the key to success of the vision will be a commitment to funding of new infrastructure and creation of fine grain connectivity between and within the three cities. 

We recognise and support the importance of the concurrent review of the State Infrastructure Strategy (Infrastructure NSW) and development of a Future Transport Strategy (Transport for NSW).

5. What is Urbis’ view of the Housing and Jobs targets?

Housing targets for the Central and West Districts are broadly in line with their current share of population.

The strongest growth in housing delivery is targeted for the West Central and South West Districts which are expected to deliver close to half of the new housing across metropolitan Sydney over the next 20 years. 

In contrast, the North and South Districts are expected to deliver a disproportionately lower share of new housing if assessed relative to their current share of population. They account for 35% of the Sydney population but are only expected to deliver a much lower 25% of new housing over the next 20 years.

In terms of housing targets by Local Government Area (LGA), the highest targets are set for Sydney, Ryde, Canterbury Bankstown, Cumberland and Parramatta LGAs. These targets are laudable as they will leverage the strong access of these LGAs to jobs, amenities and public transport.  This represents an efficient means for Sydney to grow. 

However, the relatively modest housing targets set for the Inner West, Sutherland and Willoughby LGAs are quite disappointing as these LGAs have some of the strongest access to jobs, amenities and public transport. 

The focus on centres in setting job targets is commendable as this strategy will further leverage the infrastructure and amenities already found in most centres.  This strategy will also facilitate economic agglomeration benefits that will strengthen the efficiency and effectiveness of centres in future.  

The highest job targets have been set for Central Sydney, Greater Parramatta and Western Sydney Airport. This is consistent with the focus of Sydney 2056 to deliver three great cities.

6. Draft District Plans in more detail: What do they tell us?

The draft District Plans provide a series of priorities across all districts as well as key district only priorities and actions. We’ve created handy summaries of some of the key new messages across all districts:


  • Recognise a Centre Hierarchy of Strategic, District and Local Centres
  • Reinforce and promote office and retail activity in strategic centres and some district centres (via B3 zones)
  • Provide 20 year Job targets for Strategic and District centres
  • Identify health and education super precincts that create significant opportunity to drive economic activity
  • Manage employment and urban services land by taking a precautionary approach to conversion of that land and to step away from the previous industrial lands checklist in A Plan for Growing Sydney
  • Recognise the importance of freight access and movement
  • Discourage urban development in the Metropolitan rural land


  • Provide 5 year housing targets for councils
  • Provide 20 year District housing targets
  • Require Councils to undertake Housing Studies to inform the 20 year targets
  • Introduce affordable rental housing at a rate of 5 -10% to apply to land within new urban renewal or land release areas identified via a local or district housing strategy
  • Increase social housing provision
  • Support innovative school planning and provision


  • Deliver a ‘Green Grid’ of open space for Sydney
  • Manage a ‘Blue Grid’ of waterways and catchments to support biodiversity
  • Plan a resource efficient and resilient city

Collaboration areas

  • Identify Collaboration Areas where a significant productivity, liveability or sustainability outcome is achieved through the collaboration of different levels of government and the private sector

Value sharing

  • Recognise the need for value sharing mechanisms that are equitable while also being efficient in terms of their operation and compliance
  • Identify the need for a consistent approach to capturing value for public benefit, complementary with other existing mechanisms

7. Why has the GSC moved to evidence-based planning?

Urbis commends the GSC move towards evidence-based planning.  Using evidence in setting planning policies promotes informed decision-making and supports achieving significant, sustainable change as a result of an intervention.

Urbis was integral in developing three evidence-based studies which inform the draft District Plans:

  • Sydney Strategic Centres Barriers to Growth
  • Evidence and Analysis: Accessibility and Investment Reports for each of the six districts
  • The Industrial Land Detailed Audit and Suitability Assessment.

We are pleased to see our recommendations and findings informing the draft District Plans such as the jobs targets focused on building on the strengths of centres; jobs, amenities and services within a 30-minute commute; and the need for additional work to explore and verify the precautionary approach to land rezoning.

Urbis also support the GSC’s development of a Greater Sydney Dashboard that will monitor each district’s progress towards meeting jobs and housing targets which is the next crucial step towards implementing evidence based planning.

8. What happens next?

Urbis is working hard to review the content in each draft District Plan to both assist with our projects and partners and to develop a view on the direction and outcomes. 

We will review the draft District Plans in detail, evaluate comments and opinions from industry and clients and establish a considered position regarding the implications and impacts, which we will share with you in early 2017.

The GSC is calling for submissions to inform the refinement and strengthening of the draft District Plans. Urbis will be preparing a submission on each of the draft District Plans.

9. Who can help?

We will keep you posted on any future client event planned to present the findings of our evaluations. If you would be interested in attending submit your details here. 

Sydney District Plans – expression of interest

Sign me up, I want to know more.

In the meantime, please feel free to discuss the draft District Plans with us. We have a team District Planning ‘champions’ and Property Economists, listed below. 

10. Where can I access the draft District Plans?

You can see the draft District Plans on the Greater Sydney Commission website.