Effectiveness of public participation in responding to the challenges of urban consolidation within the context of villages centres on Sydney’s Northern Beaches
1.1 Problem Setting
Consecutive metropolitan strategies including the most recent, The Greater Sydney Region Plan – ‘A Metropolis of Three Cities’ released in 2018, have identified urban consolidation as an important objective for successive NSW Governments. Currently, the Plan establishes a five-year housing target between 2016-2021 for Northern Beaches to support the delivery of 3,400 additional dwellings (Greater Sydney Commission 2018). This timely issue is set alongside comments made in June, 2018 from Philip Graus, Director of the Greater Sydney Commission who stated “Perhaps the most important question for planners and others involved in city shaping in Australia today is how the community can more actively participate in shaping out cities, rather than being treated as bystanders” (Planning Institute of Australia 2018).
Metropolitan strategies have at times conflicted with the traditional objectives of environmental planning instruments (EPIs) such as Local Environment Plans (LEPs) on the Northern Beaches with the aim of preserving village character, which generally refers to ‘maintaining features of an existing low-density residential neighborhood that contributes to its identity and sense of place’ (Stokes, 2007), as well as the elements that make it a desirable area to live. In the context of the suburbs surrounding local centres on the Northern Beaches, these comprise elements such as low density, built and natural heritage, open space, attractive views and high levels of solar access.
With public participation having emerged as a fundamentally dominant planning principal to manage the clashes between private property and the public interest (Stokes 2007), the present study will investigate the extent to which communicative approaches (Arnstein 1969; Forester 1989; Healey 1997; Tewdwr-Jones 1998; Allmendinger 1998; Thomas 1998; Fainstein 2000) to help understand the means of negotiation for the densification of Freshwater and Avalon Villages. Both these villages since the 12 of May 2016 have formed part of the Northern Beaches Council, which was amalgamated from the former Manly Council, Warringah Council and Pittwater Council.
As such, the methods public participation for urban management has differed between both areas. The impact of contemporary proposals such as Community Participation Plan (CPP) to reform the planning system and the creation of the new Northern Beaches Local Environment Plan will be examined to determine what effect they may have upon public participation.
1.2 Problem Statement and Research Objectives
This thesis will aim to understand the effectiveness of public participation in responding to the challenges of urban consolidation within the context of villages on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. A deeper understand on how best to engage these communities in the a comprehensive and responsive participatory planning process is explored in the main research question:
As planners, when do we ask the public to be involved?
To fully recognize the background and future potential of public participation in the planning landscape of Freshwater and Avalon, four research objectives have been explored to inform the research question:
- Assess the historical and current context of public participation within the strategic planning and development assessment processes in NSW;
- Examine whether there is a conflict between village character and urban consolidation for Freshwater and Avalon Beach villages;
- Analyzing contemporary proposals to alter the role of public participation to see whether they are likely to improve the effectiveness of planning law in managing this conflict;
- Recommend where local councils can implement changes to the role public participation in planning processes.
This thesis will reflect upon the findings of this inquiry and propose recommendations that address improving the way public participation is utilized in Sydney’s Northern Beaches. It strives to motivate the consideration of new approaches to balancing competing interests Council, the community and the property developer in the urban consolidation of village centres.
1.3 Research setting
This research was undertaken in the local government area of the Northern Beaches in New South Wales, Australia. The Council covers an area of 254km2 and extends from Manly in the south to Palm Beach in the north and Davidson and Duffys Forest in the west. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) the Northern Beaches Local Government Area (LGA) has a population of 252,878 with 31,000 businesses generating $13.33 billion gross national profit (ABS 2016). The area comprises 80km of coastline and 100km2 of natural areas which is over a third of the LGA and rare for the largest city of a country. The local government authority is Northern Beaches Council, which has a workforce of approximately 1,229 full-time equivalent positions and an annual expenditure in the vicinity of AU$434.4 million (Northern Beaches Council 2017).
Northern Beaches Council was chosen as the location for this study because of its accessibility to the researcher, and because of the organizations demonstrated commitment to public participation and community engagement including the adoption of the IAP2 Spectrum in their Community Engagement Policy (Northern Beaches Council 2016). The importance of community engagement has been a focus for recognition when in 2003 Pittwater Council was presented the A.R. Bluett Memorial Award followed by Warringah Council in 2013. * The first adoption of a community engagement policy (*historical), quote from policy referencing importance of public participation. Subsequent reviews of these policies included the most recent version that includes the updated IAP2 Public Participation Spectrum.
In 2015, Manly Council followed Warringah and Pittwater Council’s adoption of Community Strategic Plans in 2013 that had resulted as an outcome of the Local Government Amendment (Planning and Reporting) Act (2009). These documents detailed the 10-year vision and goals for the local government areas resulting from an engagement process undertaken over a three-year period. * Refer to key goal, which is followed by listing objectives. The goal and associated objectives should reflect identified community aspirations regarding engagement in planning discourse within the Northern Beaches local government area. * Community Participation Plan to be drawn from the Community Engagement Policy 2019.
Generating community interest to participate in planning of its village centres can be viewed as a marketing challenge, with local governments needing to communicate and promote the participation initiatives effectively, motivate community members to become involved, and maintain their engagement and involvement for as long as possible. The latter has similarities with the notion of relationship marketing, which focuses on relationship rather than transactions, the effectiveness of which relies on shared meaning, commitment and trust (Morgan and Hunt 1994). The necessity of meaning alignment among stakeholders is made apparent through Commitment-Trust Theory (Morgan and Hunt 1994). Morgan and Hunt (1994) demonstrated shared values, or meaning, is the key variable which impacts upon both trust and commitment, each of which contributes to the success or failure of a relationship. For this reason Commitment-Trust Theory, positioned within the context of relationship marketing, forms the theoretical framework for this investigation. By understanding the meaning assigned by community stakeholders to public participation and its alignment with the intended meaning, that of the IAP2 Public Participation Spectrum, governments will be better equipped to design appropriate planning policies such as Development Control Plans and implement marketing strategies for the achievement of meaningful engagement.
1.4 Methodological Approach
The intention of this thesis is to create recommendations for the Northern Beaches Council on methods of participation to best engage with the residents of village centers as it begins preparation on its Community Participation Plan (expected 2019) Local Strategic Planning Statements (expected 2019) and Northern Beaches Local Environment Plan (expected 2021) The information in the report is supported by a literature review of key terms and public participation by over time as well as by interviews with professionals to give a more complete understanding of the local history and background. The thesis will also explore and analyze two case studies, being Freshwater and Avalon.
The literature review, found in Chapter Two, addresses the research aim of investigating the effectiveness of varying methods to responding to the challenges of urban consolidation. It examines the relevant literature on public participation and establishes the background, context and gaps in the literature. Both International academics such as Sherry Arnstein (1969) and Australian academics such as Bishop and Davis (2002), Head (2007) and Ross, Baldwin and Carter (2016) amongst others have provided the literature in the form of books, journal articles, research papers, and other sources that are related to the topic to fully grasp different aspects of the core concepts.
To explore the application of public participation in village centres, the thesis investigates two different case studies. The rationale behind selecting Freshwater and Avalon as a case study areas is to evaluate its future status as a ‘local centre’ within ‘A Metropolis of Three Cities – the Greater Sydney Regional Plan’. Within this plan, the Greater Sydney Commission requires Councils to consider which ‘local centres’ will “accommodate additional housing as part of their housing strategy” and have suggested further medium density opportunities for “residential land around these local centres” (Greater Sydney Commission 2018 p. 40, 49). This overview will therefore specifically discuss not only the historical but current situation of urban management and planning for densification, with an emphasis on the role of Warringah and Pittwater Councils (amalgamated to form Northern Beaches Council on the 12th May, 2016) and public participation is to be investigated. While a case study area has not been selected from the former Manly Council LGA (which also amalgamated to form Northern Beaches Council), it should be noted that Freshwater being the southern-most suburb in the former Warringah Council LGA, had previously been proposed to be included in the Municipality of Manly in 1969. (Report of Local Government Boundaries Commission on Proposals involving the Municipality of Manly and the Shire of Warringah, NSWPP, 1969-70, No. 162 Government Printer, 1970, p. 25)
The In-depth interviews conducted for this thesis were used in order to gain a professional’s knowledge from their own viewpoint about a specific subject with which that they have personal, professional, or scholarly experience. For this thesis, interviews were conducted to gain two different types of knowledge from a human-to-human perspective.
The first set of interviews were used to gain a better understanding of the Northern Beaches context through professional, first hand experiences. The interviewees were from departments that deal with different levels and types of public participation, specifically Council staff from the Strategic and Place Planning Teams and Development Assessment Teams. The interview asked questions of the staff that were meant to understand the methods they used; lessons they have learned with public participation; why they see public participation as valuable and how the Council might progress offering the community a more authoritative voice in planning processes and decisions that shape its beachside villages. The second set of interviews targeted professionals and community leaders who were highly engaged in the public participation process for the selected case studies. The interviews gathered information about the method Council has utilised in the past, how well they felt the process was carried out, and what opportunities they see of Council undertaking the process differently. The in-depth interview participants are detailed in Table 1, as well as the justification for the participant’s selection.
The interviews were “semi-structured” using the Rubin and Rubin’s (2005) technique of having an outline of questions but also uses reflective listening and probing questions to allow the interviewee to expand on ideas during the interview mirroring a ‘flowing conversation’. This method was considered most appropriate for this thesis, as the goal of the interview is to gain as much knowledge as possible through talking to professionals. Undertaking all interviews face-to-face benefited from allowing interviewees to discuss in-depth and uninterrupted.
All interviews were conducting in accordance with established ethical standards. Interviewees formally consented to the recording and received questions as well as a Project Information Statement beforehand and were provided a transcript of the interview afterwards to verify personal statements.
1.5 Ethical and Political Considerations
Babbie (2001) states how research is subject to four main constraints, being scientific, administrative, ethical and political. Babbie (2001) further stresses how researchers in the execution of any research must consider ethical and political considerations. The author submitted an application to the UNSW Faculty of the Built Environment Ethics Panel for approval to conduct research for the purpose of this paper. Approval was granted on (Refer Appendix 4). The author acknowledges the ethical issues associated with conducting qualitative research and has followed standard qualitative protocol in interview scenarios.
1.6 Thesis Structure
This thesis has been divided into five chapters. Chapter One has given an introduction to the issues surrounding public participation in planning discourse for the village on the Northern Beaches. This chapter has outlined the research question and key objectives to inform the research and the methodology approaches carried out for this thesis.
Chapter Two provides an overview of key planning literature to understand the conflict between urban consolidation and village character and the varying public participation methods used to address these challenges. It also broadly explores the distinctive historical context and through evaluating more recent studies, examines a present day account of public participation in Sydney.
Chapter Three focuses on two case studies to help explore the application of ‘public participation’ identify key historical phases that shaped how local residents and community groups have interacted with local government authorities responsible for urban management. This Chapter will characterize these features through a case study of the village centres of Freshwater and Avalon Beach in the Northern Beaches, New South Wales, Australia.
Chapter Four will present the findings of four in-depth interviews that were undertaken as part of the fieldwork for this thesis. This Chapter will also provide recommendations for the future strategic direction and implementation of public participation for Local and State Governments particularly when considering village centres on the Northern Beaches. This final chapter also responds to the paper’s research question and key objectives identified here in Chapter One.
- Literature Review
The purpose of completing a literature review for this thesis is to understand the current knowledge regarding public participation in planning processes. This review will involve an examination of specialist planning academic journals; publications and articles will also be drawn from sources including the New Planner published by the Planning Institute of Australia. First, it will review the community conflict with urban consolidation and the varying terminologies used to define public participation. Next, this literature review will encompass discussions from key scholars in planning concerning the functions of rational or “top-down” approach against the collaborative or “bottom-up” approach in public participation. The literature review will then conclude with a focus on the distinctive historical context of public participation in Sydney as well as evaluating more recent studies that detail a present day account of public participation.
2.1 Community Conflict with Urban Consolidation
‘The objective is that there will be houses amongst the trees and not trees amongst the houses’ (Pittwater Development Control Plan 21 2004)
The implementation of urban consolidation policy by the NSW Government has generated fierce resistance from proponents of village character, such as local governments, local community groups and individual homeowners. Various NSW State Governments over the past forty years have tried a number of different strategies to promote urban consolidation in the face of community opposition. Since the introduction of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act (1979) ‘the issue of compatibility between low and medium density housing is probably the most frequently arising planning issue in Sydney’ (Roseth 2006). Consequently, the following analysis of the conflict between village character and urban consolidation attempts to provide a background to how public participation methods have shifted over-time.
In order to understand the relationship between urban consolidation and the preservation of village character, it should be noted that the term ‘urban consolidation’ suffers from a multitude of interpretations such that it is insufficiently defined (Michell and Wadley 2004). Tackling the plethora of definitions, Stokes (2007) stated that urban consolidation is a ‘process of densification that involves the increase of population and/or dwellings within a defined area’. While Roseth (1991) considers urban consolidation as a ‘natural manifestation of urban change’, others describe the term as a planning policy implemented in order to manage low density urban sprawl (Searle 2004) through ‘land use measures and housing initiatives that can increase residential densities’ (Commonwealth of Australia 1992, p. 84). As Maher (1997) argues, ‘most commentators have actually defined urban consolidation in terms of what it is trying to achieve, rather than the means of achieving it’ (as cited in Mitchell and Wadley 2004). The ranging definitions therefore make it difficult to establish a narrow legal definition of urban consolidation with universal application.
Despite this, when addressing matters concerning urban consolidation, Stokes (2007) observes that the courts have recognized propriety interests in the preservation of village character and amenity as a ‘legitimate consideration is assessing development proposals since statutory planning law developed in the postwar period’. However, as Gray (2007) argues when discussing propriety interests, the need to define the social limits of property ownership, to debate the correct political balance between individual and community interests and in effect, to work out a modern civic morality of property. In an analysis of planning decisions, Stein observed that a valid planning consideration was whether a proposed development was in harmony with its surroundings (Stein 1974). As a general rule, the courts have recognized village character by insisting that there should be the greatest possible of harmony between the character of the proposed development and that of the surrounding area.
In Project Venture Developments v Pittwater Council  NSWLEC 191 Roseth SC established a planning principal on compatibility between a building and its surroundings. For a new development to be visually compatible with its context, it should contain or at least respond to, the essential elements that make up the character of the surrounding urban environment. Roseth determined that ‘the most important contributor of urban character is the relationship of built form to surrounding space, a relationship a relationship that is created by building height, setbacks and landscaping’. Stokes observed that while the erection of a residential flat building in a low density suburb in a low-density neighborhood will have an impact of the character of the area, the court acknowledged that such redevelopment is often inevitable, and it can be designed so as not to be visually offensive. In such cases, it is relevant to balance the magnitude of the impact of the proposed development on the existing streetscape against whether the proposal is ‘necessary or necessary proposal’ in the circumstances.
2.2 Public participation: How does it look?
The interest in ‘public participation’ as a means within the planning process is shown by how consistently the term appears in the academic study of planning. Writing from the perspective of a citizen activist, Sherry Arnstein (1969) who is noted for originally advancing the phrase ‘public participation’, pointed to it being “A categorical term for citizen power. It is the redistribution of power that enables the have-not citizens, presently excluded from the political and economic processes, to be deliberately included in the future” – (Arnstein, 1969 p. 216). A range of terms are however used to describe the interaction between governments and the public with relation to planning decision making. Detailed in Table 2 are definitions that illustrate the lack of a common definition to describe public participation.
In discussing its impacts, Ross, Baldwin, Carter (2016) state that ‘public participation remains essentially about the rights to participate in another party’s decisions, usually those of powerful organisations’. ‘Effective public participation’ as Davie (2007) suggested requires “that the public has access to information, a forum to express their views and an opportunity to influence but not necessarily control the ultimate decision… Governments and communities will be more successful if participation is reconceptualised in this way”.
These suggested models can be quite idealistic and it is up to Government bodies to consider such models in their forming of public participation policies, but is nevertheless achievable when compared with ‘desirable public participation’, which as Laurian (2004) suggests ‘empowers citizens to shape planning decisions and outcomes’. Whilst these approaches encourage ‘members of the community to become initiators of planning’ (Planning Institute of Australia 2018), the limitations of these definitions are that they exclude professionals engaged in the planning systems, such as planners and developers directly involved in the particular plan or project site (Carp 2004).
Public Participation vs. Community Engagement
Scholarly sources regularly attribute ‘public participation’ and ‘community engagement’ as being interchangeable terms, however it is recognized throughout literature that both are different but related concepts, with engagement being the broader concept. Local Governments in NSW including the City of Sydney (2016) state ‘community engagement’, also being called ‘public participation’ as the process of involving people in the decisions that affect their lives. The preeminent international organisation in this field, International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) also confirms that it uses the terms ‘public participation’ and ‘community engagement’ interchangeably. It defines public participation as:
A process that involves the public in problem solving or decision-making and uses public input to make decisions. It includes all aspects of identifying problems and opportunities, developing alternatives and making decisions. It uses tools and techniques that are common to a number of dispute resolution and communication fields. (IAP2 2010, p. 20).
Others portray public participation and community engagement as distinctive but related ideas. For example, Consult Australia (2015, p. 5) states ‘Engagement is a broad term that can encompass public participation, community, stakeholder or public relations, consultation, government and media relations’. While public participation originally centered on specific decisions by organisations, particularly industry and government organisations, community engagement is seen as an ongoing, two-way or multi-way process, in which relationships rather than decisions may be focal **. Consistent with the IAP2 definition, participants expect to have some influence on the decisions. Community engagement can thus be an ongoing and adaptive process for an organisation to maintain good relations, and ideally learning from and with, the specific communities and general public in which it is interested. Aslin and Brown (2004, p. 5) specifically distinguishes the differences between both terms stating:
“Engagement goes further than participation and involvement. It involves capturing people’s attention and focusing their efforts on the matter at hand – the subject means something personally to someone who is engaged and is sufficiently important to demand their attention. Engagement implies commitment to a process, which has decisions and resulting actions. So it is possible that people may be consulted, participate and even be involved, but not be engaged.”
The notion that the public can be informed or consulted but not participate or be engaged in the planning process is encapsulated with recent comments from Philip Graus, Director of the Greater Sydney Commission stating, “Consultation, at its best, occurs prior to finalization of a proposal or plan, which is shaped by feedback. Often it’s mearly a process of ‘informing’ about decisions already made” (PIA 2018). Graus refers to current planning practice falling somewhere between participation and consultation but goes onto state that in both cases “the role of the community is relatively passive, with options developed by others presented for comment” (PIA 2018).
Rational vs. Collaborative Approaches
It is a fact that urban planning is not a science, i.e. an analytical field, but a technique, i.e. an applied field, that is inextricably linked to the political sphere (Lagopoulos 2009 p.135). However, the political aspect of planning and the political role of planners have not been emphasized by the theories of the 1960s and the early 1970s, with particular regard to the systems view and the rational process of planning, in which planning was approached mainly as a technocratic procedure of urban intervention. In response to these procedural perspectives, since the mid 1970s, planning theory has viewed urban planning mainly as a political discourse. The launch of the communicative approach in the 1990s took this perspective to its extreme, tending to equate urban planning to politics and planning theory to political theory. Parallel to and highly correlated with the above transition in planning theory’s interest, was the shift from a top-down to a bottom-up approach in urban planning.
As Patchy Healey indicates (1996), two main tendencies have marked the history of town and country planning over the past 50 years. On the one hand there has been a tendency towards centralism and de-politicizing decision-making as well as increasing the role and power of technical experts. On the other hand there have been demands for more participation in decision-making, a call for more accountability on the part of local politicians and officials and increasing criticism of technical expertise. These two tendencies, which are very much at odds with one another, have been labeled as the top-down and bottom-up approaches to planning (Murray et al., 2009 p. 444).
The essence of the ‘top-down’ or ‘rational model’ approach of planning is well illustrated by Patsy Healey, Glen McDougall and Michael Thomas (1982 p. 8). According to these scholars, the process of rational action involves the systematic analysis and definitions of the problems, the identification of goals, the logical production of alternative plans/policies, the evaluation of the latter and the implementation and monitoring of the chosen plan. Mohammadi (2010) describes this model, which dictated the planning practice until the 1990s, as a process where the public typically are not engaged and in ‘exceptional circumstances, the public will only have the chance to take part in the lower levels of the participation ladder’.
As identified in Sherry Arnstein’s (1969) “A Ladder of Citizen Participation”, the metaphor of a ladder is used to describe graduations of citizen’s participation in urban programs and development decisions that affect their lives. With a top-down planning approach whereby decisions are made by a small group of people including planners, mayors, local authorities and politicians, ‘the ladder rules out the possibility that activities such as consultation can influence the decisions; it thereby prejudices the outcome of such interaction’ (Cameron and Grant-Smith 2014 p. 98). Frameworks that built upon Arnstein’s Ladder of Citizen Participation include The Public Participation Ladder by Wiedemann and Femers (1993) use the ladder formation to illustrate public participation within government obligations. The Public Participation Ladder (Figure X) has a focus on active public participation. The lowest level of the ladder depicts the public’s right to know, while the highest level is active participation in final decision making. Models of participation and engagement have evolved, partly to overcome the linearity of popular ‘ ladder’ images to encapsulate other notions. Wheels of engagement based on Davidson’s (1998) ‘wheel of empowerment’ (also labeled participation) relate different approaches to the main entries on IAP2’s spectrum, without substantial elaboration of the key ideas.
The second model supports the ‘bottom-up’ approach and is based on a significant body of political theory arguing for ‘collaborative planning’. Urban planning theorists argued that hierarchical decision making alone was an insufficient tool to resolve urban problems and attention towards an ‘interactive process’ was required rather than only an ‘outcome’ (Healey, 1997). Healey drew upon the structuration theory of Anthony Giddens (1984) that provided a way of establishing the work of active citizens participating in governance processes. John Forester (1989) in Planning in the Face of Power further broadens Healey’s discussion through identifying that ‘information is an important source of a planner’s power in the planning process and used strategically can be a means of empowering citizens’.
The shift towards recognising increased public involvement in planning decision-making relates to what Hindess (1997) cited in Bishop and Davis (2002) labels as the ‘democratic deficit’. The ‘top-down’ approach drew attention to the ‘declining trust in public institutions’, ‘new expectations on service quality’ from elected officials (Bishop and Davis 2002), ‘inherent elitism of professional bureaucracies’ (Head 2007) and urged recognition of the gap or ‘deficit’ between democratic ideals and managerial realities. Whilst the ‘top-down’ and elitist versions of planning decision-making has been dominant in all democratic countries, it is noteworthy that there have been significant shifts away from this model in recent decades (Head 2007). In Australia, this is evident with protected areas including the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which originated from public concern and campaigning in the 1960s. Current campaigns concerning the export of coal, expansion of ports and dredging to the Great Barrier Reef, have shown how the locus of decision-making can shift from the corporate driven and regulatory process, to public ability to stymie developments through political and financial suasion, particularly mobilising through social media and influencing investors (Ross, Baldwin and Carter 2016).
Critical evaluation of Rational and Collaborative Approaches
In critiquing increased public participation in decision-making, theorists such as Tewdwr-Jones (1998), Allmendinger (1998), Thomas (1998), and Fainstein (2000) consider that collaborative planning theory fails to incorporate adequately the political and legal structures that exist in planning practice. Criticizing communicative theorists such as Healey, Fainstein (2000) contrasts its approach to legal and medical theory, stating that by making the role of the planner the fundamental element of discussion, it fades away the ‘outcome’ of what should be done to cities and regions in planning. Further critiquing on a collaborative approach close to Healey’s in the U.K., Tewdwr-Jones and Thomas (1998) concluded that constraints within planning systems “often mitigate against translating discourses into policy development and can lead to public frustration” (Tewdwr-Jones and Thomas 1998, p.127). Ross et al. (2016, p. 126) relayed these concerns stating “high levels of community involvement can come at a cost (as well as benefits) to those at the forefront of the responsibility and role”. This sentiment is further strengthened by Fainstein (2000), who when drawing on her experiences in South Africa, expressing the disillusionment of participants leading from time-consuming participatory processes. Despite this Head (2007) agues that the rational approach where representative government are seen no longer as sufficient, through highlighting the demand emerging for shared responsibility for resolving complex issues.
The shift back towards to a ‘top-down’ approach is perhaps no more prominent, when in 2005 the New South Wales Government announced the commencement of new planning reforms that resulted in some of the most extensive changes to the NSW land use planning system. These reforms included a new provision under Part 3A of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 whereby the assessment and approval of all major projects and critical infrastructure would be subject to the Minister of Planning thereby avoiding local government involvement in assessing such projects. Using the Sydney Desalination proposal as a case example, Davie (2007) implies that public consultation was affected under Part 3A due to the Minister being afforded a high level of discretionary power and that the involvement of the public in the original decision-making process is uncertain. Ratcliff (2006) also expressed the belief that under Part 3A the NSW Government was neglecting the fact that the public had an interest in planning outcomes decision makers can make wrong decisions and that environmental outcomes are subordinate to the economic growth of the State. The State Government’s intervention in Council’s decision-making role was described by Nino (2008) as an appearance of the undermining of Council’s position as well as a demonstration of the concept that ‘Government knows best’.
2.3 How Sydneysiders have participated in the past
‘good planning outcomes have come from the contestation of official policies’ (Robert Freestone, 2011)
The planning process within Australia, be it at a local, state or a federal level f government, is essentially a decisional procedure whereby citizens elect representatives who are responsible for to make decisions, advance policies and represent the interests of the people on their behalf (Cameron and Grant-Smith, 2014). However, Bishop and Davis (2002) asset us to the idea that citizens feel the need that direct democracy must be transferred from the Government to the people in order for meaningful participation to occur (Bishop and Davis 2002). Thompson (2008) supports this notion commenting on how public involvement is imperative to ensure the full implementation of a democratic society. As identified by Bell and Jayne (2004) the emergence of public participation within the planning process may be a consequence of the social divisions that have said to characterise Sydney’s residential structure since its establishment as a convict settlement in early 1788. With the growing case for establishing opportunities for all citizens to contribute in the progressively complex planning decision making process, there has been a shift in the two governing models when it comes to public participation.
Having emerged from its activist roots and events such as the Green Bans of the 1970s, public participation has become an integral part of the planning process in Sydney (Cameron and Grant-Smith 2014). By the 1970s, there was a ‘growing mistrust of multi-story residential developments’ (Tanner 1976). Opponents of urban redevelopment soon organized themselves into residential action groups (Goodall 2005). These resident action groups were involved in litigation against unit developers, and forced local councils to introduce ‘flat codes’ to control the proliferation of unit buildings (Nittim 1980). In response to increasing public concerns about poor urban outcomes, the requirement for public participation in environmental decision-making emerged with the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974 (Cth) at a Federal level (Ross et. al. 2016). This was followed by the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (the Act) and Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulations 2000 (the Regulations) to explicitly recognize that the public should be involved in planning decisions and that they should be given a clear opportunity to voice their concerns. The commencement for the Local Government Act 1993 that sets out the responsibilities and powers of Council’s also identified community participation as a guiding principle of local government – 8A (3) Councils should actively engage with their local communities, through the use of the integrated planning and reporting framework and other measures (City of Sydney 2017). Councils have since been compelled to incorporate public involvement in the assessment and determination of development applications. As a result of this, planning legislation for each local government area generally includes a planning objective for public participation (Williams 2007).
Despite tensions having emerged for planning theorists around the issues of inclusion and power, each of these processes have their own potentials and limits (Mohammadi 2010). Reflecting on public participation practices in Sydney, Freestone (2011) observes, ‘much of planning is informal – bottom up as well – and good planning outcomes have come from the contestation of official policies’ (as cited in Frost and McDonald 2011, p. 2). Whilst the ‘bottom-up’ approach aims to show the ineffectiveness of the ‘top-down approach’, the challenge is taking into account the approach that best fits the situation considering the degree of complexity of the problem.
2.4 Types of Public Participation Processes
Anthony Giddens embraces what he refers to ‘experiments with democracy’; by arguing that planning policy processes should be opened to local communities and voluntary groups (Giddens 1998). Public Participation in urban planning processes to help shape the future of villages and town centers span many different forms, with varying techniques potentially available for planners. For example, Council’s may undertake surveys of local residents, consult with key community leaders, establish forums and give formal endorsement through the creation of advisory boards (Bishop and Davis, 2002, Head, 2007). By contrast, local community groups and residents may decide to initiate independent or additional actions outside the formal channels established by local Council’s, such as through lobbying, protesting and developing community action plans (OECD 1996; Bishop and Davis 2002). Innovation in electronic forms of communications technology has also provided new forms of practical access and participation through allowing the prompt distribution of documents and mechanisms for feedback and dialogue (Head 2007).
Much of the literature (Head 2007, Ross et al 2016) on forms of participation and community involvement in public issues has been summarised and usefully categorised in the work of the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2). The IAP2 ‘Spectrum’, of public participation is condensed to five main levels process: informing, consulting, involving, collaborating and empowering citizens. These constitute a sliding scale of participatory forms, from weaker to stronger forms. Each is associated with a clear objective and implicit promises or undertakings to the public, thus minimising ambiguity about the purpose and nature of the participation. Table 3 outlines the typical instruments or tools associated with each form of participation. It should be noted that the example tools on the Spectrum were removed from 2014 onwards in order to prevent practitioners selecting a tool and assuming this meant they were operating at a particular participatory level. Dr Graeme Stuart of the University of Newcastle (Stuart 2017) highlights that how a public participation tool is used is just as important, if not more so, that what tool is selected. Using an example of a citizen advisory committee, Stuart describes that ‘it is quite tokenistic and does not really play a meaningful role in decision-making then it is not operating at the Collaborate level’. Therefore, it is key to acknowledge that the goal and promise to the public are what determines the level of participation; not the tools used.
The Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government also recommends the framework for public participation created by the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) as it promotes the values and best practice associated with local government and the community coming together and working in a meaningful manner (Evolve 2015). As a result prior of Warringah, Pittwater and Manly using IAP2, the Northern Beaches Council had used the framework in its Community Enagement Policy since its amalgamation in 2016. In 2011 the former Warringah Council adapted the IAP2 Spectrum by overlaying the matrix to consider where different levels and tools may sit, taking into account the level of impact/risk and the complexity of the topic or issue (Figure 2). The majority of local governments utilise the first four categories: inform, consult, involve and collaborate. The fifth option is an ideal to work towards (and can be achieved) but it must be tempered with critical considerations such as governance and legislative responsibility (Evolve 2015). We must remember that increased public participation doesn’t necessarily lead to community empowerment as a natural consequence (Blakeley 2010).
As the articles in this issue suggest, there are many more dimensions to public participation than the explanations of these ideas usually convey. The variants go well beyond focus on particular environmental decisions or plans, or the relationships of particular organisations with their beneficiaries and critics. Whilst public participation is used in legislation and current government policy relevant to the research (Northern Beaches Council 2016), they can be formal or informal, and can be initiated by members of the public. Local governments in Australia like the Northern Beaches Council learnt the value of public participation in providing useful information and insights, and reaching greater accord with its affected communities. Practice increasingly moved from the limited statutory requirement to allow public comment on proposals immediately before a final decision, to deeper forms of involvement much earlier in the design processes, when plans could be modified with far less difficulty and expense, and proponents could more easily withdraw from the most contentious developments.
- Case Studies
Why Freshwater and Avalon Beach?
Freshwater and Avalon Beach are suburbs located within the local government area of the Northern Beaches Council. Despite each suburb having less than 10,000 residents and located approximately 21km apart at different ends of what locals refer to as “the peninsula” (Figure 3), Freshwater and Avalon have a long, shared history urban development and public participation in the planning process. Both Freshwater and Avalon Beach remained predominately settlements of isolated farms and weatherboard weekenders until the early 1900s (Gordon, 2000, Northern Beaches Council, 2018), but now consist predominantly of a residential urban fabric. For decades suburbs on the Northern Beaches have been described as “insular and quite distinct from the rest of Sydney” (Welling, 2018). It, therefore, comes as no surprise that the planning challenges, such as the need to accommodate increased density, faced by these ‘local centres’ on the Northern Beaches, has reawakened public concerns to protect the character and amenity of ‘their’ neighborhoods (Stokes 2007). In 2018, these concerns of large-scale proposals in low-density suburbs prompted former Prime Minister and local member Tony Abbott to call for a halt on all rezonings and major new developments (Patterson, 2018). The focus of this chapter is to discuss the historical situation of urban management and planning for Freshwater and Avalon Beach, with an emphasis on the role public participation had on Warringah and Pittwater Councils.
Freshwater, formally known as Harbord (1923-2008), is a suburb located 17 kilometres north-east of the Sydney central business district and approximately four kilometres north of Manly. Once described as a ‘middle-class’ beachside suburb (Chapman and Wutze, 1997), it has transformed into an area, which might be described as an ‘emerging affluent’ class (Sheppard and Biddle, 2017). More than half of Freshwater residents are employed as professionals or managers and the median weekly personal income is currently $1,097, well above the NSW State average of $664 (ABS, 2016). The 8,866 Freshwater residents predominantly consist of family households 71 per cent where 44.3 per cent reside in detached residential housing, with 51 per cent residing in apartments (ABS, 2016). Whilst Freshwater has an approximate land area of 2km², the case study area will be focusing on properties within the commercial core, the village, located along Albert and Lawrence Streets, which
are subject to the Freshwater Village Development Control Plan (Figure 4).
Development history of Freshwater
A detailed history of Freshwater has been undertaken by the late local historian and Freshwater resident Gwen Gordon (1927-2013). The following has been summerised from Harbord, Queenscliff and South Curl Curl, 1788-2000 (3rd Ed) published by the then Warringah Council in 2000.
1790: Saltwater People and Early Settlers
Prior to the European Colonisation, the Gayamaygal clan or “Saltwater People” lived in family groups around the Manly area (Aboriginal Heritage Office 2015, 2018). Evidence of their presence has been provided by the discovery of shellfish refuse-heaps, rock engravings and stone tools on Freshwater’s headlands. In 1788, Commodore of the First Fleet, Captain Arthur Phillip leads an exploratory party through Freshwater in a search for well-watered land fit for cultivation. In 1815, the first Crown grant of land in Freshwater is issued to Thomas Bruin for fifty acres directly opposite the beach. The Manly Land Company later subdivides what is now known as ‘Freshwater Estate’ in 1884 (Figure 5). Auctioneer, George Pile, assured buyers attending the first sale that the district enjoyed big prospects: ‘communication was improving’, ‘Queenscliff footbridge was about to be built, clearing and road-making would be undertaken by the unemployed’ (Gordon, 2000). The land boom experienced by Freshwater in the mid-1880s is followed by a recession arising from the 1893 Australian Banking Crisis. Local land developer S.H. Handcock reported that “seaside and beach properties took a big tumble and for fully twenty years there was little or no business doing.” (Gordon, 2000 p.7) In 1905, land adjoining Freshwater Beach becomes a popular ‘working man’s holiday resort’ consisting of weatherboard weekenders known as ‘camps’. Coinciding with the establishment of permanent housing development, the second meeting of the Warringah Shire Council (1906) saw the foundations of a resident action group known as the ‘Queenscliff, Freshwater and Harbord Progress Association’. By 1908 shops appear in Lawrence Street with a general store opening at No. 12. Originally a residential area, Lawrence Street ultimately became the heart of the business community (later referred to as ‘The Village’). Within the following four years, mains water supply was connected as well as the post office agency, St Marks Church and Freshwater (now Harbord) Public School is established. By 1928, the land that once comprised of the working man’s weekenders was subdivided into 40 residential allotments. All remaining services including gas, electricity, and sewage were connected to the village centre. Gas lamps emerge along Lawrence Street and an electric tramline opens between Freshwater and Manly. The line goes through the Lawrence Street, which by this time has about six shops and a bank building, before the line terminated at the beach.
1936-1995: The Brick Era and urbanisation
In 1936 Warringah Council (1936), following a request from Harbord Progress Association, designated Freshwater as a “brick area”. The association also requested that Council require all buildings to be connected to the sewer and also inspect all buildings, particularly condemned buildings in Harbord to ascertain whether they fulfilled the requirements of the Local Government Act). Between 1937-1953, local resident Steven Raffo used his winnings from the recently established State Lottery to construct over 300 brick, moderately priced houses in Freshwater. The surge in the residential population led to more commercial buildings in Lawrence Street and increased traffic congestion. In 1961, the introduction of Strata Titles Legislation was seen to ‘open the floodgates to apartment construction’ in Freshwater. Following lobbying from the Queenscliff-Harbord Resident Action Group, Warringah Council introduced a ban on the building of residential apartments in the Freshwater village and basin in 1973. In 1984 a Warringah Council study proposed to slow down traffic and provide better footpaths in Freshwater Village. Work commenced in 1985, which resulted in better traffic conditions for pedestrians. In 1995 local residents protested against the installation of a mobile telephone transmitter base station adjacent to a kindergarten in Freshwater Village fearing electromagnetic radiation concerns.
2003-2018: Freshwater Village redevelopment
In 2003 the first multi-unit, shop-top development in Freshwater Village for decades, “The Caville” (Figure 6) is constructed three stories high, consisting of nine apartments and two shops. In 2009 Council improves pedestrian safety and upgrades the urban design fabric of Freshwater Village through investing in contemporary paving, outdoor dining areas and planting native tree species. In 2010, the newly formed ‘Friends of Freshwater’ lead hundreds of protesters to march against a controversial $53m mixed-used development in Freshwater Village. The following year, the Land and Environment Court NSW dismiss an appeal for the mixed-use development comprising of 91 residential units and a retail plaza with 22 shops. In response, the Freshwater Village Working Party is requested to assist Warringah Council in preparation of the Freshwater Village Development Control Plan (DCP). Warringah Council adopted the Freshwater Village DCP in 2012. Between 2014 and 2018 Freshwater Village undergoes the biggest construction phase since the 1970s with over $130 million worth of development constructed.
Phase 1: Historical Public Participation in Freshwater (1961-1973)
The first phase of the conflict between urban consolidation and lack of public participation in the planning process was identified during the post-WWII years. Government restrictions on building throughout the war had caused an acute shortage of housing (Troy 1996). Gwen Gordon (2000), a local historian, stated that during the early 1960s the ‘character’ of Freshwater began to change when a cross-section of properties that included houses, modest shops, and tennis courts were sold to home unit developers. Consequently, property developers were required to demolish two or more houses to acquire sufficient land to comply with Warringah Shire regulations. However, it was the introduction of the first Strata Titles legislation, the Conveyancing (Strata Titles) Act (1961), that Gordon suggests ‘opened the floodgates to home unit construction’. The implementation of strata schemes made it possible for property buyers to own and have a clear marketable title for a specific part of a residential building.
The 1960s saw Freshwater’s residential population dramatically increase within in turn contributed towards a rise in activity within the village centre. However, with increased density, it appears, as highlighted by Troy (1996), that the ‘ugly realities of high-density urban living’ had not been subject to discussions with the community. Gordon states that some residents felt that unit developments had ‘gone too far, causing congestion on roads and a general feeling of overcrowding’. During a period where Sydney’s Green Bans of the 1970s had led to more extensive public participation being integrated into the planning process (Cameron and Grant-Smith 2014). Local residents through the Queenscliff-Harbord Resident Action Group subsequently persuaded the Council of the need to curb population growth by restricting the building of units (Gordon 2000). As a result, Warringah Council introduced a ‘freeze’ on unit construction in 1973 (Figure 7), which was followed by a more restricted planning approach to residential apartment buildings in Freshwater.
Phase 2: Current Public Participation in Freshwater (2010-)
The second phase of the battle between densification and the insufficiency of adequate public participation in the planning process emerged with a controversial proposal in 2010. The proposal (DA2010/0697) consisted of a mixed-use development comprised of 91 residential units and a retail plaza with 22 shops in the heart of Freshwater Village (Elliott, 2010). Planners at Warringah Council had initially recommended approval to the proposal, much to the outrage of the community who submitted over 1,900 official submissions and staged demonstrations attracting hundreds of protestors (Figure 7). At the time journalists described that local residents fear the development would ‘destroy the laid-back feel of their beachside suburb’ (Cherry, 2010). Overwhelming community opposition resulted in Mayor Michael Regan, then NSW State Member for Manly Mike Baird and Federal Member for Warringah Tony Abbott to speak out against the development describing it as “highly unsuitable” (Elliott, 2010). The development proposal highlighted what Searle (2004) in The Limits of Urban Consolidation analyses as the phenomenon of political realities in Sydney where the approval of controversial ‘high-density apartments without community consultation has caused control of the Council to change at the next election’.
Despite Council officers initially recommending that the development be approved, the proposal resulted in a unanimous decision by the former Sydney East Joint Regional Planning Panel to reject the application. The panel felt that the proposal was inconsistent with the “desired future character” of the Harbord (Freshwater) Village Locality and also stated the volume of public opposition was sufficient to conclude that it represented “the public interest” (NSW Department of Planning and Environment, 2011). The Applicant (Property Developer) subsequently made an appeal to the Land and Environment Court, where the judgment of Freshwater Village Developments Pty Ltd v Warringah Council (2011) NSWLEC 1127 ultimately saw the application refused. President of the newly incorporated ‘Friends of Freshwater’, Peter Harley, stated in response to the judgment that “It’s a fantastic win for the Freshwater community and a fantastic win for people power” (Elliot 2010).
In recognition of the need for greater community involvement in the planning process and to address the divisions between the Applicant, Council Planners and the local residents, Warringah Council established the Freshwater Village Working Party in 2010. The working party which consisted of local politicians, Council’s planning managers as well as local landowners and representatives from the Friends of Freshwater were responsible for assisting Council in creating a Development Control Plan (DCP) for the village centre (Warringah Council 2010). Warringah Council adopted the Freshwater Village DCP in 2012, which represented the first of its kind in the Local Government Area.
3.2 Avalon Beach
Avalon Beach is a suburb located 37 kilometers north-east of the Sydney central business district and approximately seven kilometres north from the nearest town centre Mona Vale. The area is also known as ‘Avalon’, with the name ‘Avalon Beach’ being assigned during a change in boundaries and names in the Pittwater region in 2012. Once an area of mostly weekenders where the people chose less pressure jobs and lower incomes (Booth, 2001), Avalon Beach has transformed into an area, with which might be described as an ‘established affluent’ class (Sheppard and Biddle, 2017). Close to half (46.7 per cent) of its residents are now employed as professionals or managers and the median weekly personal income $839 (ABS, 2016) above the NSW State average. The 9,905 residents of Avalon Beach predominantly consist of family households 79.1 per cent, where 80.8 per cent reside in detached residential housing, with only 16.3 per cent residing in apartments (ABS, 2016). Avalon Beach also has high levels of home ownership at 81.5 per cent compared to a NSW State average of 64.5 per cent. The size of Avalon Beach is approximately 5km², the case study area however will be focusing on properties within the commercial core “the village” along Old Barrenjoey Road and Avalon Parade (Figure 8), that are zoned ‘B2-Local Centre’ under the Pitt water Local Environment Plan 2014.
Development history of Avalon Beach
Avalon Beach is without an overriding source that details the village’s development history. The following therefore has been summarized from Joan Lawrence’s books Pitt water Paradise published in 1994 and Pictorial History Pitt water published in 2006, Pauline Curbs Pitt water Rising published in 2002, Pitt water Council’s Pitt water 21 Development Control Plan that has been in effect from 2004 as well as a recent Heritage Impact Statement prepared by John Oultram in 2016.
1790 – 1950 the Garigal Clan and Early Settlers
Prior to the European Colonization, the Garigal or Caregal clans (Aboriginal Heritage Office, 2015) lived in family groups and moved around the area. Evidence of their presence throughout the Pitt water area has been provided by the discovery Aboriginal sites, including middens, axe-grinding grooves, cave art sites and rock engravings. In 1788 Governor Phillip made initial soundings of the Pitt water estuary, which was followed by the non-indigenous settlement of the area that occurred around the 1810s. In 1827, the first Crown grant of land in Avalon Beach is issued to John Farrell for sixty acres of land. Attempts at farming were made in this period with grants varying in area according to the fertility of the land. Until the turn of the century, Avalon Beach remained a small settlement of isolated farms and fishermen cottages. The extension of the Sydney Tram network to Narrabeen was completed in 1913 and from there, a private bus service provided connection with Avalon Beach (12km north) for holidays and day trips.
In 1918 Real Estate Developer Arthur Small purchases 356 acres of beach fronting land to create a settlement and retreat. Small promoted this land as ‘The Ocean Beach Estate’, which comprised of 125 lots located west of Barren joey Road. The estate was marketed as a place for weekenders or an opportunity for the ever-optimistic land speculator to ‘buy cheap’. In the following three years Small built his family home on the estate and a general store (now demolished) situated at the north-east corner of the junction of Old Barren joey Road and Avalon Parade to supply provisions to holidaymakers and passing traffic. In 1927 The Sun newspaper (1927) describes the Small’s sites stating that “Modern town-planning has played an important part in this new subdivision, and generous allowance has been made for public parks and reserves”. Small who went onto become the President of the Town Planning Association of NSW is noted for calling for a ‘town planning authority’ stating, ‘Despite repeated representations… the State of NSW is still without a Town Planning Act’ (Freestone, 2009). In 1934 diagonally opposite Small’s general store, Avalon’s first post office agency is built at 47 Old Barren joey Road (Figure 9). Photos taken of the Avalon Village centre between the 1940s-1950s depicted a scene little changed from the pre war years. The area was still popular for holidaymakers and it was a common sight to see government buses on a Friday evening loaded with people and their provisions and tent intending on camping on the beach.
1967-1985: Urbanization and the emergence of the Avalon Preservation Trust
With the rise of the private motor vehicle in the 1950s and 1960s, permanent housing developments began emerging and in 1967 the Avalon Preservation Trust (now Avalon Preservation Association) is founded in reaction to Warringah Shire Council’s ‘Amended Warringah Scheme’ to allow the zoning of 90 acres (36.5 hectares) for apartments in Avalon. In 1979 this is followed by the Avalon Preservation Trust opposing work proposed by the Metropolitan Water and Sewerage Board, especially in regard to the path taken by the sewer line through Angophora Reserve. The Trust Committee did not agree that ‘environmental destruction was the price we would have to pay for sewerage’. In 1985 the Pitt water Palms a 129-unit retirement village at 82 Avalon Parade is approved by Warringah Shire Council, despite the public concerns raised by local residents and the Avalon Preservation Trust concerning of the loss of endemic trees.
2000-2018 Fringe development of Avalon Village
During the early 2000s, shop-top housing begin to emerge along Old Barrenjoey Road and more seniors living development are built along Avalon Parade (Figure 10). In 2007 10 seniors housing apartments are approved and subsequently sold at 85-87 Avalon Parade, which once consisted of three family homes. Between 2017 and 2018 Development Applications are lodged for major developments on the fringes of Avalon Village. In 2017 a 72-place childcare centre development application attracted some 292 submissions objected the proposal that was subsequently refused. This was followed by a 12 Unit Seniors Living development that was refused at 69 Central Road, Avalon where 20 submissions objecting to the application were received.
Phase 1: Historical Public Participation in Avalon Beach (1967-1985)
The first phase of the conflict between urban consolidation and the lack of public participation in the planning process was identified around 1966 when a petition against residential flat buildings in Avalon Village were tabled at a Warringah Shire Council meeting (Warringah Shire Council, 1966). The petition appears to have fallen on deaf ears, as the following year in 1967 the Avalon Preservation Trust (APT) (now referred to as the Avalon Preservation Association) was formed in response to the then Warringah Shire Council approval for 90 acres of apartments, part of which were actually built on Dunbar Park, a public park, which was arbitrarily rezoned by the Council (APA, 2018). The public tensions between environmental preservation and urban development continued throughout the 1970s, with the Avalon Preservation Trust along with other local associations blocking the proposal for an airport at Duffy’s Forest as well as stopping attempts to establish a hovercraft pad and proposals to clear and establish major development in the Careel Bay mangroves (APA, 2018).
In 1979 the APT was successful in blocking proposed work Metropolitan Water, and Sewerage Board (now Sydney Water), in regard to the path taken by the sewer line through Angophora Reserve. The APT Committee did not agree that ‘environmental destruction was the price we would have to pay for sewerage’. While sewer lines were installed through parts of the reserve on two occasions in 1984 and 1991, through the instance of Council and the Management Committee, pipers were installed using special machinery and by doing much of the work by hand, to ensure minimal environmental disturbance and was subsequently followed by bush regeneration works (Pitt water Council, 2002). The Heritage Commission considered that the area has a national significance providing an important refuge and protected movement corridor for fauna, particularly Sydney’s diminishing urban koala colony. The areas value in terms of flora such as the Spotted Gum communities, including the Giant Angophora (believed to be the largest of its species) and one of the most significant Aboriginal sites in the Sydney region. As a result of ongoing community campaigns, Angophora Reserve was listed on the National Estate Register in 1989 (Pitt water Council 2002).
In 1985, the Pitt water Palms a $20 million 129-unit retirement village at 82 Avalon Parade reignited community concerns of over development in an environmentally sensitive area. Despite the APT raising concerns of the trees, the development that is located less than 400m from the village centre was given planning permission by the then Warringah Shire Council. Community anger ensued when it was found that the developer’s builders had admitted to some trees being bulldozed “accidently” and led to the State Member for Pitt water Max Smith describing the area as a disaster area and that he was “thoroughly disgusted by the whole thing” (Huffer 1982) (Figure 11). In an attempt to address the situation, Warringah’s then chief town planner Lawrence Winnacott arranged a meeting with Council, the developer and residents to determine whether any trees not in the planning consent had been cut down (Huffer 1982). Warringah Council’s approval of the development application was seen as the “straw which broke the koalas backs” as it severed the corridor necessary for their transit from the grey gums (their food trees of choice) in Angophora Reserve to those in Stapleton Park (APA, 2018).
Phase 2: Current Public Participation in Avalon Beach (2000-)
The second phase of the battle between urban consolidation and public participation in the planning process re-emerged in the mid-2000s with controversial proposals for shop-top developments along Old Barren joey Road and Seniors Living developments along 64-87 Avalon Parade (neighboring the Pitt water Palms retirement village. In 2000, the then Pitt water Council refused a shop-top housing development at 42-44 Old Barren joey Road on account of failing to meeting landscaping, height, car parking, streets cape and commercial floor space requirements. In response to the property developer lodging an appeal to the Land and Environment Court, the Avalon Preservation Trust raised additional concerns regarding the proposal’s “overbearing effect on the streets cape”, stating that the facade would “give the building the appearance of an industrial complex unsuited to Avalon Village” (Avalon Preservation Trust, 2000).
Within the following decade, numerous Development Application were submitted for proposals in the periphery of Avalon Village. In 2016 a $2 million, 72-place childcare centre was proposed at 47 Central Road. The Development Application (N0542/16) attracted some 292 submissions and even saw local residents spending around $10,000 to engage expert consultants to prepare reports showing why the proposal should be not be approved (Swain 2016). The council subsequently refused the application in 2017. This was followed in 2018 by a 12 Unit Seniors Living development that was refused at 69 Central Road, Avalon Beach where 20 submissions objecting to the application were received. Refusals of the proposals were on the basis of ‘noncompliances with Council’s built form planning controls’, ‘inadequate landscaping’, ‘incompatibility with the surrounding developments’ and particularly on the ‘unacceptable impact upon the existing natural environment including significant trees to be removed and/or impacted upon’ (Northern Beaches Council 2018). The Assessment Reports of these most recent Development Applications demonstrated a noticeable shift in not only how Council Planners consider the desired future character of the Avalon Beach locality, but more importantly how concerns raised by local residents are considered when compared to how practices in the past.