Planning controls and sustainability : PlanFirst's potential seen through a case study of Pittwater 21

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Sustainability will only be achieved if it is universally accepted and embraced by the community, rather than remaining the domain of the innovative few, or a plaything of the rich and able. Local planning instruments have a significant effect on the sustainability of the built environment, and the process by which they are made has a big effect on their content and its outcomes. In the Australian local government context, PlanFirst offered an opportunity for the process of making local plans to focus on community consultation and sustainability, using a collection of principles proven in local or international experience, and supported in the literature. While PlanFirst was never implemented as policy by government, a few councils created their local plans in response to it, providing some limited opportunity for study. Pittwater Council, on Sydney’s northern beaches, prepared a new Draft Local Environment Plan using PlanFirst as a template, which is studied in this research to test the potential of the PlanFirst principles, and to measure their predicted outcomes in the built environment. The process of writing the LEP is analysed using actor-network theory, which assists an understanding of it for future similar processes. Three ecological impact categories – greenhouse, water demand, and car dependency – are measured in residential developments approved under the old and new planning controls. Measurement tools are used to predict greenhouse emissions, mains supplied potable water demand, and motor vehicle traffic impacts on greenhouse and human amenity. The research finds that PlanFirst’s principles offer potential for improved sustainability, which is supported indicatively in the case study. Effective community consultation is found to be a vital component of the process, with a targeted education component. An effective means of delivering the relevant planning controls to the designers is also important, and a web based interrogative system is found to be an effective vehicle for this. Policy stability, and bureaucratic stability at the highest levels is also found to be critical to enabling councils and communities to make and execute long term plans.
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