Planning for the future
The times certainly are a-changin' on the Nonhem Beaches. Ultra-modern apartment towers are springing up at a rate of knots. Retail complexes are expanding.
Proposed car parks are cauldrons of controvetsy, and a state-of-the-art new hospital is somehow a bad thing.
Meanwhile, Pittwater residents' collective passion for renovating, rebuilding and extending our homes is showing no signs of diminishing with a frenzy of carports, second-storey additions and decks for al fresco dining keeping local tradies busy.
And what do all of these things have in common?
From the homeowner who wants to build a garden shed to the controversial Warriewood Valley and lngleside land releases underway, the power to 'green-light’ development projects in this area rests with urban planners at Pittwater Council.
But while arguably most Pittwater residents will need to deal with council’s planning department at some stage, many of us still aren't clear on what they actually do. So here's a look at the role of the urban planner.
What planners do
In the simplest terms, an urban planner assesses development applications, from small-scale alterations and additions to a residential property to larger scale commercial, residential and mixed-use developments.
In reality, however, the job is inﬁnitely more complex -particularly in Pittwater, where meeting the needs of a growing and changing population while maintaining the area's heritage and natural environment is a constant challenge.
There are in fact three types of urban planner in Pittwater, says Andrew Piggott, Pittwater Council’s manager of planning and Assessment: development assessment, strategic and land release specialists.
"Development assessment planners assess development applications (DAs) from swimming pools up to multi-million dollar commercial and industrial developments, while strategic planners look after longer term projects like the Community Based Heritage Study or Pittwater Waterway Review,” Mr Piggott explains.
"Our land release team is focused on managing and planning for the Warriewood Valley and Ingleside land release areas."
Together, these urban planners effectively shape the look and feel of Pittwater; in essence, deciding where things will go and what they will look like, while also ensuring the area's character and environment are protected.
"We need to ensure that growth is managed in a sustainable manner [while] having regard for environmental, social, economic and governance factors," he says.
"There is an ever-increasing tension between the need to provide for suitable growth and the need to preserve the elements that make an area special. We try and strike the right balance, but it is challenging.”
You don't have to look far to find someone with a planning ’horror story’- perhaps their own DA was refused, or a neighbour was given the go-ahead to construct perceived eyesore.
But these planning gripes aren't limited to Pittwater.
"One of the most difficult things is to talk to residents and help them to understand why this thing can go where it's going and why [the applicant] is allowed to do what they're asking to do," says David Kerr, Group manager of Development and Compliance Services at neighbouring Warringah Council. "People tend to like what they have already, and so something like a neighbour's swimming pool can feel like the worst thing in the world because they fear there will be noise, or they don't like the idea that people will be in swimming costumes and their property will overlook that.
" He adds: "Amenity is the key issue. Planners have to ensure that a proposal has an acceptable level of impact on its surroundings, from neighbours and the environment to traffic and even stormwater."
With that in mind, Pittwater Council is committed to keeping all interested parties informed of the progress of a DA via its online Application Tracking Tool (available at http://www. pit twater.nsw.gov.au/prope rty/bu ild i ng _concept/a pplication_ tracking).
Perhaps surprisingly, it's often the apparently minor projects that cause the most angst.
"We have clear controls that set out to all interested parties exactly what we will be assessing applications against," Andrew says. "It's important to balance the rights of people to develop against the planning controls the community helped prepare."
There's no denying the unique look and feet of Pittwater is a key part of the area's appeal, and planners play a crucial role in preserving it.
The Pittwater local government area (LGA) is home to 130 heritage' listed items. Heritage items can include individual places, buildings, trees, relics, works or objects. In addition, there are six Heritage Conservation Areas in the WA Barrenjoey Headland, Currawong, Florida Road, Ocean Road, Ruskin Rowe and Sunrise Hill.
Heritage Conservation Areas are recognised for the collective nature of the buildings and other components that are deemed worth protecting. These may include historical subdivision pattern, consistency of building style, sitting and scale, materials or common age of building stock and landscaping elements that reflect a particular period in the history and growth of the area.
Protecting these items and areas of heritage significance is also a major focus for the council's planners, says Andrew Piggott.
"It's very important. Our community place significant value on the natural beauty of our area and this is reflected in the planning controls that apply when we are considering development applications," he says. That's also why Pittwater will never see the scale of high-density housing developments that have led some critics to compare Manly and Warringah to Queensland's teeming Surfers Paradise. "Our planning controls don't allow for high rise development right on the beach so we are confident we can defend any applications," says Andrew.