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Welcome NSW planning reform…Pls add recycled water

The proposed overhaul of NSW’s 30 year old Planning system is a commendable effort.

We need an unencumbered planning blueprint that can embrace new ways of thinking, new management, ownership and investment models, and harness private sector origination.

The O’Farrell Government looks set to deliver on this.

Key reform initiatives like the inclusion of water-related infrastructure in voluntary planning agreements and the contestability of infrastructure requirement will stimulate innovation, competition and affordability.

What we can’t overlook and what is fundamental to sustainable planning - is the inclusion of all parts of the water cycle. At the moment the green paper seems only to include wastewater infrastructure and not recycled water or stormwater.

In order for a sustainable planning approach to be applied to development  - all components of the water cycle need to be included:

  • Drinking water
  • Recycled water
  • Wastewater
  • Stormwater

Failure to include only part of the water cycle will result in higher costs for individual infrastructure provisions and higher costs for those customers being served by them.

We challenge the green paper to get it right and drive a planning approach that supports sustainability through an integration of water related infrastructure.

Contestability of infrastructure is something the private water sector has been lobbying for and it’s a welcome inclusion.

There are clear examples where a private water utility offering is half the cost of public water utility/ local council offering.

There are also clear examples of a private water utility speeding up the first stages of land release by at lease 12 months.

Contestability will identify lowest costs and solutions that add the most value to the community.

What will be of interest will be how Government facilitates contestability.

  • Who will be managing the contestability?
  • Is it the Department of Infrastructure and Planning?
  • Is it the existing public water utilities?
  • Or is it as it is should be where the developer chooses the most appropriate solution and those costs are then included as works in kind within the voluntary planning agreement?

Do we also need a hierarchy of infrastructure where different approaches can work? For example:

  1. State Significant Infrastructure contestability is managed by Infrastructure and Planning/ Minister.
  2. Augmentation of existing infrastructure contestability is managed by the public water utility.
  3. New growth related infrastructure contestability is managed by the developer.

Is it worth identifying trial areas where servicing would only be provided under contestability, for example with the private sector focusing on growth areas where rezoning is on a ‘no cost to Government’ basis such as Precinct Accelerated Protocol sites or developer nominated sites.

This may provide valuable insight, refinement of contestability processes and allow support and confidence to grow.

Many questions are yet to be answered however we look forward to the evolution of these critical changes and the opportunity to contribute to the debate.

Terry Leckie is one of Australia’s leading water industry experts and a passionate advocate of water reform, championing key changes to legislation and regulation.

Terry is also Founder and CEO of Water Factory Company, Australia’s first private water utility which is creating affordable and sustainable smart water networks. More of his blogs can be found at Water Spectator.

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