18 Sep 2020

The Western Sydney Aerotropolis is a step closer to take off with the Planning Framework now in place, but will the framework support the ambitions for the 11,200 hectare global gateway?

Up to 100,000 jobs and homes for 30,000 residents are to be achieved in the initial precincts covered by the Planning Framework, supporting COVID-19 economic recovery with development prior to the opening of the airport in 2026.

While the Framework adopts an innovative planning approach incorporating an enhanced design and approval process, it both includes and omits certain elements which may lead to challenges regarding efficient delivery and desired outcomes.

Now is the time for Urbis and Western Sydney partners to ensure critical matters are addressed prior to the commencement of the SEPP on 1 October, and prior the development of precinct plans and masterplan guidelines later this year.

There are four significant innovations in this ground-breaking plan:

  1. Recognition of Country – The overarching objective of future precinct planning is to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians and provide opportunities for connecting with, designing for, and caring for Country in all stages of the Aerotropolis.
  2. Embedding of Design Excellence – Incorporating the Government Architect’s Better Placed policy in the planning rules will ensure future development has design excellence with high standards of architectural, urban, and landscape design.
  3. A landscaped led approach – Recognising the importance of blue and green infrastructure in planning and urban design, to cool and green the future city.
  4. A new approval pathway – An ability to secure approval for a proponent-initiated masterplan and complying development via an “Aerotropolis Certificate”.

While Urbis commends these innovations, we believe further guidance is required on how they will be applied.

The Planning Framework contains the Western Sydney Aerotropolis Plan (Aerotropolis Plan), State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP), Development Control Plan (DCP) Phase 1 and Finalisation Report. The Western Sydney Planning Partnership has worked hard to deliver on expectations set by Government in 2017 that land would be rezoned at a rapid pace.

The Aerotropolis Plan establishes a vision, objectives and principles in addition to identifying the intended land use planning outcomes for the 10 precincts. Whereas, the final documents include elements critical to the success of the Western Parkland City, such as cultural, landscape and environmental issues, zoning flexibility, transport connectivity, and urban development typologies.

The State Environmental Planning Policy (Western Sydney Aerotropolis) 2020 (SEPP) includes Aerotropolis Core; Northern Gateway; Wianamatta–South Creek; Badgerys Creek; and Agribusiness, which will be zoned on 1 October with a focus on agribusiness, employment and mixed use development. In addition, the SEPP controls include measures to safeguard airport operations. There are an additional four precincts: Dwyer Road; Kemps Creek; North Luddenham; and Rossmore which are yet to be zoned. These remaining precincts will be rezoned under the SEPP later.

The accelerated release of the Planning Framework may have come at the price of a completed and efficient policy. Whilst the Planning Framework represents a monumental step towards achieving development around Western Sydney Airport, there are still crucial elements missing or requiring clarity.

The SEPP provides interim guidance on the intended operation of the planning framework within the Aerotropolis. However, it is incomplete until precinct plans are released later this year.

The precinct plans will inform where certain land uses can or cannot be developed. We understand that technical, evidence-based studies will be prepared to further refine the precincts, especially regarding environment and recreation zones which have been determined by the known 1:100 flood levels. This will likely lead to the first round of amendments to the SEPP.

The SEPP introduces a new, optional master plan process that will be available to landowners with 70% ownership of a site greater than 100 hectares. Whilst, not a statutory document, it will be valid for five years, identify built form parameters, and outline complying development opportunities achieved via the issue of a new ‘Aerotropolis Certificate’ by the Planning Secretary.

The master plan guidelines are notably absent from the Planning Package but are to be released on 1 October. Without these master plan guidelines, there is limited information to understand how these align with the precinct plans and whether the mechanism is worth pursuing for development.

Design excellence is a focus within the SEPP. To ensure design excellence is achieved, the SEPP has introduced two mechanisms.

  1. A design review panel assessment, where consent can only be granted if design excellence is demonstrated. This is triggered for State Significant Development, a capital investment value (CIV) of $20 million or under certain site area, gross floor area, or height requirements.
  2. An architectural design competition is required if development is greater than 12 storeys or has a capital investment value (CIV) of $40 million.

Although we support design excellence in the Aerotropolis, Urbis questions the blanket CIV approach to determining which development is required to undertake a design competition. The CIV approach means that large scale logistics and warehousing developments could be subject to a design competition if they exceed the CIV threshold. This will have limited benefit and lead to inefficiencies and unnecessary increases to costs and delays.

Infrastructure provision is the defining element to unlocking development potential in Western Sydney. While it is understood a forthcoming Place-based Infrastructure Compact (PIC) will inform an infrastructure contributions framework, the details on the types of infrastructure, the funding mechanisms and sequencing is currently missing from the Planning Framework. The NSW Government has indicated the draft PIC will be released at the end of 2020 and until then, it is difficult to ascertain infrastructure prioritisation, delivery, and cost implications.

A Special Infrastructure Contribution (SIC) plan is being developed  to identify and fund regional infrastructure for the Aerotropolis The SIC will be complemented by the precinct plans, which will guide changes to Penrith City and Liverpool City Council’s local infrastructure contributions plans. Until the rates for both the SIC and local contributions plans are revealed, early development applications will most likely require Planning Agreements to be struck.

Provisions to identify and protect infrastructure corridors are included in the SEPP, including concurrence with Transport for NSW for development within transport corridors. The corridors identified in the mapping is based on preliminary designs, and are therefore wide, particularly at interchange locations. Evidence to justify the scale of land set aside for these corridors is sadly missing.  Nominated areas for road corridors are not separately zoned and potentially expose some land to development sterilisation on locations that may never be utilised for transport.

The realistic delivery of this growth area will require a staging and sequencing plan which supports the original intent of the Planning Framework – a planning pathway flexible enough to respond to market demands.  This plan would enable agencies and authorities to understand the immediate infrastructure priorities to unlock land for future development.

This planning package is a step forward in understanding the planning framework for the Aerotropolis. We look forward to further guidance, clarity, and precinct plan development over the coming months and urge the government to maintain a priority on finalising the PIC.

The master planning guidelines will be released on 1 October 2020, and exhibition of precinct plans, PIC (including the SIC), and Phase 2 DCP are anticipated by the end of 2020. Until these items are resolved, the ability for development to respond to demand is limited.

Urbis will continue to keep you updated as new plans and policies are released. Our expert Western Sydney team Bruce Colman, Murrary Donaldson, David Hoy, Christophe Charkos, Russell McKinnon, Adrian Villella and Grace MacDonald are available to discuss any questions you may have around the Planning Framework.

Bruce Colman View Profile
Murray Donaldson View Profile
David Hoy View Profile
Christophe Charkos View Profile
Russell McKinnon View Profile
Adrian Villella View Profile