Michael Parris reporting for the Newcastle Herald
Updated June 27 2023 – 5:07pm, first published 3:13pm
Matt Endacott after being appointed to the Greater Cities Commission in September. Picture by Jonathan Carroll
The Lower Hunter representative on the high-level Greater Cities Commission has survived a restructure of planning agencies designed to speed up housing supply in NSW.
City commissioner Matt Endacott will retain his role after Premier Chris Minns announced on Tuesday that almost 350 staff from the agency and the Western Parklands Authority would be redeployed in the Department of Planning and Environment to “bolster planning delivery”.
The Newcastle Herald understands staff working on regional and city plans under the legislated GCC’s “six cities” strategy will shift roles when that work is completed this year.
Newcastle and the five other “cities” in the GCC’s remit are due to publish regional and city plans by the end of 2023 and again in 2028.
Mr Minns said the staff transfer would reduce overlap and duplication between agencies.
Hunter business, political and property industry leaders have advocated for the NSW government to spend more on enabling infrastructure for housing in the region.
They have also railed against Transport for NSW over delays in approving road works associated with residential and commercial development.
Mr Endacott said the “focus on enabling infrastructure in the Hunter will be much stronger under this government” because five of the region’s MPs were in state cabinet.
“I’m pleased that the Minns government recognises the important work of city commissioners and that it has decided to retain these roles to guide metropolitan planning in NSW,” he said.
“This keeps the Hunter front and centre in the big conversations about jobs, homes and infrastructure.”
The chief executive of advocacy group Committee for the Hunter, Alice Thompson, said it was “no surprise” the government had reviewed planning arrangements in the face of a housing crisis in its first 100 days.
“No matter what the label on the tin, we are pleased to see key GCC functions retained, including developing housing targets and the Lower Hunter City Plan, along with the Hunter city commissioner, who provides a local voice into state priorities and decisions,” she said.
Ms Thompson called for a greater role for the Hunter and Central Coast Development Corporation, which she said had “performed strongly” to unlock housing, revitalise Newcastle CBD and boost broader economic development.
“We are looking for the NSW government planning review to strengthen their role and contribution as our need for an experienced, local, government-led economic and urban developer is only increasing as the Hunter economy transitions,” she said.
Mr Minns and Planning Minister Paul Scully said in a joint statement that the planning system was not delivering enough houses.
DPE estimates NSW will need 900,000 more dwellings by 2041 but the state has a projected construction shortfall of 134,000 dwellings over the five years of the National Housing Accord.
Planning processing times have increased from 69 days on average in July 2021 to 116 days in March 2023.
“There were too many agencies operating in the NSW planning system with similar responsibilities, meaning that accountability for delivery was blurred and confusing,” Mr Scully said.
Greens MP Cate Faehrmann said the “axing” of the GCC was “another worrying sign that the Minns government is bowing to the demands of the powerful developer lobby”.
“Since the election, the developer lobby seems to be getting everything they’re asking for,” she said.
“This is incredibly concerning given the corrupting influence that developers have had over politics in this state.
“Developers are after one thing and one thing only, and that is to make a profit.
“Last week it was cutting the councils out of the approval process for higher-density developments, and now this.”
Ms Faehrmann said the GCC was formed to plan for adequate schools, health services, transportation and lifestyle opportunities “in the midst of increased housing supply”.
“More often than not what makes a liveable community will cost developers money, so we’ve seen developer interests fighting many of the measures that actually improve communities and make them more liveable.
“Just last month, the developer lobby group Urban Taskforce made its case for the axing of the Greater Cities Commission and, hey presto, it’s done.”
Urban Taskforce chief executive Tom Forrest, a former Labor staffer, condemned the GCC in a speech last month, accusing it of developing a “utopian agenda” instead of clear housing targets.