Greenwich, City of Sydney councillors urge NSW Govt to withdraw Infrastructure Contributions Bill

Member for Sydney Alex Greenwich. Photo: Alex Greenwich/Facebook.

By PETER HACKNEY

Alex Greenwich, Member for Sydney in the NSW Parliament, has urged the Berejiklian Government to withdraw the Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment (Infrastructure Contributions) Bill 2021 – a controversial document which aims to implement sweeping reforms to the state’s infrastructure contributions framework.

Speaking to the Sentinel, Mr Greenwich said the Bill could rob local councils of vital funds by redirecting developers’ contributions away from local government bodies to the state government.

“The Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment (Infrastructure Contributions) Bill … could hamstring the funds councils rely on to ensure residents in new developments have access to necessary services and infrastructure, without draining on existing facilities,” Mr Greenwich said. 

“Extraordinarily, the Bill was inappropriately attached to the budget appropriation bills without any notice or opportunity for assessment or consultation,” he said. 

Mr Greenwich said he had raised the issue with parliamentary colleagues, telling the Sentinel: “I have informed the government that I do not support this bill and will continue to push for its withdrawal.”

‘Total disregard for local government’

The Member for Sydney’s comments follow this week’s City of Sydney Council meeting, at which Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore officially requested the Bill’s withdrawal.

“I have written to the Minister for Planning and Public Space, and the Premier to request that the Bill is withdrawn,” said Ms Moore in a Lord Mayoral Minute on Monday night.

“The way in which the NSW Government has introduced this legislative change without proper consultation and transparency shows total disregard for the important work of local government,” she said. 

“This was confirmed by the Parliamentary Inquiry report that was released on 10 August, 2021, which recommended Parliament not proceed with the Bill until the detailed regulations were developed and consulted on, and the [Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal] inquiries were finalised.” 

Under the Bill, the NSW Government would take up to half of the developers’ contributions councils collect for new roads, parks and other infrastructure, and divert the funds to state government coffers – “with no guarantee that money will be spent in the area where the development is occurring”, said Ms Moore.

‘They want us to take the heat’: Vithoulkas

Councillor Angela Vithoulkas from the Small Business Party, told the Sentinel the Bill was an “outrageous” act, which equated to “robbing” councils of vital funds.

“What the state government is effectively saying is ‘I’m going to need 50 per cent of your allowance because things are tough right now. And to make up the shortfall, you can raise your rates,’” she said. 

“Every council relies on developers’ contributions to conduct their essential business and provide infrastructure.

“Taking money from us and expecting us to raise our rates to cover the shortfall … means they want us to take the heat for their decisions.”

Ms Vithoulkas – who is running for a third term as a City of Sydney councillor at the NSW local government elections in December – said residents and businesses could not be burdened with further costs, citing the ongoing economic impacts of the Covid-19 lockdown, as well as rising land taxes.

Land tax, which is calculated on property values, was spiralling out of control due to the ongoing boom in property prices, she said.

City of Sydney Councillor Angela Vithoulkas. Photo: Ann-Marie Calilhanna.

Customer service win

In related news, all ten City of Sydney councillors unanimously supported Ms Vithoulkas’ Notice of Motion (NoM) at the meeting, which called on City of Sydney CEO Monica Barone to write to the Office of Local Government and Local Government NSW “as soon as possible”, to encourage all NSW councils to implement a consistent approach to customer complaint handling. 

Ms Vithoulkas’s NoM urged the City to adopt the NSW Complaint Handling Improvement Program (CHIP), which includes six commitments to customers: respectful treatment, information and accessibility, good communication, taking ownership, timeliness and transparency. 

The CEO was requested to investigate and review the City’s customer complaints, as well as feedback policies and procedures “and update where required”, among other measures. 

The Small Business Party founder and leader told the Sentinel there were numerous issues with the current documents relating to customer service, including the fact that the ‘complaints and feedback procedures’ form on the City’s website was an editable Word document instead of a secure PDF.

“As a small business owner with a customer service background, I feel the City needs to ensure its residents and ratepayers – who are effectively our customers – be treated with the utmost respect and level of professionalism,” she said.

Peter Hackney is the editor-in-chief of the Sydney Sentinel.