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Australian Rural Planning
A View From The Edge
Issues in Rural and Metropolitan Fringe Planning

Ian Sinclair,
Principal Consultant, Edge Land Planning
Rural and Environmental Planning Consultants

As published in New Planner, The Magazine of the Planning Profession in NSW
Number 39, June 1999
Horizontal and Vertical Growth Management
This is what Planning is all about - managing the growth of towns and cities. It is just as important for a metropolitan area like Sydney as it is for a regional centre or country town. It is the size of the area that is different - the principle is the same.
Growth of urban areas can go in two directions: outwards or upwards. Outward growth is called urban sprawl and upward growth is called urban consolidation. The basic fact is if we can achieve more vertical growth, there will be less need for horizontal growth. It is the balance between the vertical and horizontal which is what we strive for as planners.
Horizontal growth is also called urban sprawl. First we must ask ourselves, what is urban sprawl. We can describe it as a never-ending mass of urban housing extending to the horizon. Initially, there are minimal trees and the dominant colour is a mixture of red and brown with a smattering of green roofs as well as the black and white of the roads and footpaths / driveways. It invariably is constructed on once productive farmland and or indigenous bushland and it can be described as aesthetic vandalism of the countryside.
The productive farmland and indigenous bushland have both landscape and habitat values as well as many others (there is not sufficient room here to describe all of the issues). The landscape value of rural land (both farmland and bushland) is something that we take for granted as always being there. It provides a sense of peace and wellbeing - something to admire and escape to from the hustle and bustle of city life. The habitat value of the rural land is important for two reasons: firstly, the areas of indigenous vegetation provide habitat for our plants and animals, which are needed for biodiversity conservation. Secondly, it provides a habitat for our food and fibre production.
Vertical growth also has its drawbacks, some justified and some, in my view unjustified. Higher density development is not wanted in all parts of an urban area, but should be planned for in those areas which have the capability for them - close to public transport, in areas where there is sewerage and water capacity and so on. The redevelopment of former industrial sites (called brownfield sites) is an example of this, which is occurring in Sydney.
I know that some people in the inner and middle ring areas of Sydney are opposed to increasing the density of their areas. But consider the alternative. Housing stretching in one amorphous mass (or mess) from the Coast to the Blue Mountains and Newcastle to Kiama and Goulburn! I doubt if these people want this also. They will loose the ability to have a drive in the country 1 hour from the centre of Sydney, which has its own tourist and other economic benefits in addition to the landscape, and habitat ones mentioned above.
A review of the various Metropolitan Strategies has revealed that this desire to stop the horizontal growth has been around since the County of Cumberland Plan. It was not implemented however and we know how the Green Belt was eroded. The issue of managing the growth has only been explicit in the more recent strategies. The latest one, Shaping our Cities and its companion Shaping Western Sydney are a good policy statement which needs to be implemented. You could say that the current one resembles the County of Cumberland Planning Scheme - only the green belt has move out. I think that we have a chance of keeping this green belt because of the topographical constraints as well as the productive agricultural land that is being actively protected by both the State Government (through the Metropolitan Strategy and the Strategic Plan for Sustainable Agriculture - Sydney Region) and Local Government (through the work of Wollondilly, Hawkesbury, Hornsby, Shellharbour, Camden and Penrith Councils who either have or are preparing Strategies, LEP's and DCP's to preserve the agricultural land.)
We also need to be aware of the other strategies and plans and areas that both are impactors and impactees of the Strategies for growth management of Sydney. These include the Sydney to Canberra Corridor Strategy, the Hunter REP, the Illawarra REP and Central Coast Strategy (currently in preparation). I also think that we should set a physical limit to the growth of Sydney's sprawl. The Hawkesbury Nepean River system is a good boundary. This has been recognised in Shaping Western Sydney. Beyond this we need to adopt a growth management strategy that looks at growth on the existing towns and villages. This has been recognised in the Sydney to Canberra Corridor Strategy and the recently adopted Wollondilly Growth Management Strategy.
Provided these Strategies are implemented and we can achieve the right balance between horizontal and vertical growth management, I believe that we can have a sustainable development pattern for Sydney, which is what we are all striving for.
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