Neoliberal inspired infrastructure governance and planning reform: the case of the development contributions plan in NSW
Despite a significant body of research exploring neoliberalism, its impact on infrastructure governance and planning remains unclear particularly in relation to (un)certainty and flexibility, which have emerged as two key concepts under neoliberal inspired planning reform. This thesis uses these three research themes (neoliberalism, (un)certainty and flexibility) and three different sections of a Development Contributions Plan to investigate infrastructure governance and planning reform in NSW, Australia, as a case study. Specifically, it addresses the vague definitions of neoliberalism, (un)certainty and flexibility, and develops an analytical framework for each, thereby revealing how they have influenced the development and implementation of plans and policies. The Development Contributions Plan – which defines the contributions to infrastructure to be made by developers – is one of a number of options available to local and state governments in NSW for funding infrastructure. The purpose of the plan is to enable consent authorities to collect contributions, including monetary payments or works-in-kind, to fund the provision of infrastructure and public amenities to meet the needs of new communities. The thesis specifically focusses on Part 7 of the Development Contributions Plan entitled ‘Infrastructure Contributions and Finance’ in the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, which includes three sections that allow the collection of infrastructure contributions: s7.11, s7.12 and s7.4 (or Planning Agreements).
The study explores the complexities and challenges of implementing the Development Contributions Plan in NSW, focussing on the Macquarie Park Corridor in the City of Ryde as the specific site to investigate Planning Agreements. It uses three methodological tools in association with the Development Contributions Plan and the three research themes: 1) critical reviews of the literature, 2) a policy review, and 3) semi-structured interviews with key actors in the NSW planning system, including state and council officers, consultants, councillors, consultancy agencies, and developers. The analysis reveals that the implementation of neoliberal inspired planning reform results in both advantages and disadvantages for all actors. Increasing the flexibility of the contributions system under neoliberal reforms through implementing new, entrepreneurial policies, has resulted in the involvement of multiple stakeholders in complex multistage processes. While a flexible approach can lead to more appropriate contribution and development outcomes, it can simultaneously result in extra bureaucracy and excessively complicated and cumbersome administrative procedures, complex and slow approval processes, and administrative delays. Alternatively, while the rigid nature of some sections of the contributions plan can provide a level of certainty for both applicants and consent authorities, challenges arise in practice, especially where there is a mismatch between the type and level of contribution and the needs of communities and councils. The results reveal that neoliberal inspired planning reforms that implement new and entrepreneurial approaches are capable of addressing issues related to planning approval and infrastructure funding in uncertain circumstances. However, they can also increase uncertainty and negatively influence the desired outcomes. As such, there is an ongoing challenge for policymakers, who need to acknowledge the weaknesses of neoliberal inspired planning reforms, consider the implications of new policy directions, and reduce the negative side effects of new policy settings.