North Sydney mayor says Minns government overriding planning protections like a ‘totalitarian’ regime

<span>Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP</span>
Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP

A Sydney mayor has accused the New South Wales premier Chris Minns of forming planning laws “in the way totalitarian regimes do it”, as councils hit back at moves to override heritage protections to allow for greater housing density in the city.

On Monday morning, Minns suggested Sydney councils had been using heritage preservation listings as a tactic to hide a Nimbyist (not in my backyard) motivation against greater development, as he defended his government’s major housing policy to upzone the areas around metro and train stations for medium- and high-density housing.

Asked about the planning guidelines that upzone land either within 1,200m or 400m of 39 stations across Sydney and apply even in council-declared heritage conservation areas, Minns told ABC radio it was “not true” that the government was getting rid of heritage orders.

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“But the idea that a local council can slap a heritage order on an electricity substation that’s 60 years old, well, that’s clearly ridiculous,” he told ABC radio. “We’re seeing a whole bunch of strategies that are being pursued by some local councils to stop all development …

“They don’t have the gumption to come out and say, well, ‘We don’t want anyone else moving into our community and we certainly don’t want any uplift in development,’” Minns said.

Zoë Baker, the mayor of North Sydney council, said overriding heritage protections surrounding stations across Sydney in a uniform way failed to take into consideration where councils were already accommodating higher density.

“This seems to be planning in the way totalitarian regimes do it. It’s like Ceaușescu in Romania, that we’re going to scrub everything and just put up towers,” Baker told Guardian Australia.

“It doesn’t have to be either-or, it’s not a zero-sum game, in the one area you can have medium and high density as well as heritage – which itself isn’t always low density – and that’s already being exhibited at Crows Nest.”

Baker noted North Sydney was already one of the most dense councils in the state, and it had been “meeting and exceeding the housing density targets set by the state”. It has plans for towers up to 50 storeys surrounding the future Crows Nest metro station, where the 1,200m perimeter has been rezoned for higher-density housing.

Baker said if the government would push housing higher in certain areas, they needed to explain “what they are going to be doing to support greater sewage capacity, open space, new schools and more hospitals”.

“This divisive Nimby Yimby (yes in my back yard) thing doesn’t help, in fact it just gets in the way of us working collaboratively in accommodating more density,” Baker said.

On Monday Minns singled out the inner west as an area where a tradition of low-density housing had made it “virtually impossible” for young people to move in.

“There needs to be more density [there] and if you just say no under all circumstances and use as many different excuses as possible then we are really saying to the next generation, particularly young people, there’s no place for you,” he said.

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Later on Monday morning, Darcy Byrne, the mayor of Inner West council, announced a summit of mayors whose councils will be affected by the government’s high-density rezonings. The meeting will take place on Thursday, and the planning minister, Paul Scully, has been invited.

“Everyone knows there’s more housing density coming around transport hubs and in White Bay but extending high-density zoning into all surrounding suburbs is ludicrous and just won’t work,” Byrne said.

“We certainly won’t be considering significant zoning changes in our local suburbs until there’s a functional arterial road getting into and out of the place,” Byrne said, referring to the traffic chaos in recent weeks resulting from the opening of the Rozelle interchange.

Byrne said easing approvals for subdivision and duplexes would be better at delivering more housing “than any madcap scheme for towers”.

“Given the massive cost of purchasing a terrace in Rozelle and surrounding suburbs, high-density rezoning wouldn’t deliver much new housing at all. You’d have to find a Saudi sheik or a Russian oligarch to afford the astronomical cost of buying up blocks of homes for redevelopment,” Byrne said.