With its beaches, bushland and blue-ribbon Liberal electorates, Sydney’s northern suburbs seem like an ideal place to retire.
But a trio of suburban mayors is leading a revolt against NSW government seniors housing policies, which they argue encourage the development of retirement villages and aged care facilities in unsuitable locations.
Michael Regan, the mayor of the Northern Beaches Council, said the state government should give back power to councils to ensure developments are in line with the local character, infrastructure and future plans for an area.
“Councils are best placed to make local planning decisions – not state government bureaucrats who don’t live here and have no apparent appreciation for what their policies mean on the ground,” he said.
Cr Regan has previously criticised the seniors housing policy, which he said could lead to the “de-facto rezoning” of rural areas for medium density retirement villages.
The Sydney North Planning Panel last month rejected an $84 million proposal to build a retirement village housing 95 apartments on the Bayview golf course, which it said was “an overdevelopment of the site”.
Cr Regan said certificates issued by the NSW Department of Planning and Environment had led to costly battles with developers over seniors housing proposed for Terrey Hills as well as the Bayview Golf Club.
“Site compatibility certificates are yet another example of the state government applying unworkable, blanket planning policies that often result in inappropriate development,” he said. “Recent examples have wasted time and money and caused great angst to the local community.”
Cr Regan’s concerns are echoed by the Liberal mayor of The Hills Shire, Michelle Byrne, whose council has adopted a formal policy objecting to the issue of SCC’s for seniors housing on rural land until proper planning has been completed.
Cr Byrne said seniors housing developments were prohibited in rural zones under the state government’s planning rules unless a site compatibility certificate was issued.
“This allows the developer to then lodge a development application with council,” she said. “But site compatibility certificates shouldn’t be issued without regards to environmental constraints, the appropriate bushfire protection measures being put in place and having adequate access to services and essential infrastructure like roads, parks and public transport. The site also needs to be able to handle future growth.”
Cr Byrne said retirement villages and aged care facilities were being used to extend the urban footprint into rural areas.
A number of housing developments for seniors have been proposed for Dural, including a proposal for a 72-bed residential aged care facility and 102 self-care dwellings that was rejected by the Land and Environment Court earlier this year.
“The scale of seniors housing developments that are being proposed in rural locations far exceeds the capacity of the local neighbourhood centres that will support them and they aren’t working within the existing character of the area,” she said.
Philip Ruddock, the Liberal mayor of Hornsby Shire, said the council had no objection to seniors accommodation that was “appropriate”.
But he said: “If developers come in with a seniors development under a SEPP [State Environment Planning Policy] they can avoid the other planning controls that anybody else would have to meet.”
Cr Ruddock expressed concern in March about the development of seniors housing in the rural areas, which he said was “not consistent with the values of the rural area, results in ad-hoc development and exceeds the capacity of regional roads in the South Dural area”.
A $113 million proposal for a seniors living development in Dural comprising 146 units and 74 residential aged care beds was lodged with Hornsby Council in July. The DA includes a certificate issued by the DPE that the site is suitable for “intensive development” and an aged care facility is compatible with the neighbourhood.
Seniors housing developments have also met opposition from residents in Sydney’s southern suburbs too.
A DPE spokeswoman said there was a growing need for seniors housing, with 20 per cent of northern Sydney expected to be aged 65 or over by 2036.
“To obtain a SCC, a developer must prove its site is compatible with the surrounding area, has adequate access to existing services and any environmental and community impacts can be managed or mitigated. The department also consults with the council as part of the assessment process,” she said.
“To meet the concerns raised by councils and local residents, the department recently exhibited changes to the SEPP that will prevent developers from increasing the size of their developments by applying for additional certificates.”
- Andrew Taylor is a Senior Reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.