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September 26, 2021

Government cancels in-person Northern Rivers housing crisis meetings

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The state government’s regional housing taskforce meetings due to happen in Ballina next week have been shortened and shifted online.

The meetings were scheduled for Tuesday 17 and Wednesday 18 August in Ballina but have now been abandoned in favour of an online meeting from 3.30 – 5pm Tuesday 17 August only, with the government citing COVID-19 restrictions as the reason.

The news came as a pandemic lockdown on much of the Northern Rivers was due to end on 17 August.

The twenty-year vision for addressing a crisis: NSW Housing 2041

The NSW government’s regional housing taskforce was launched this year after Minister for Water, Property and Housing Melinda Pavey announced the Housing 2041 Strategy in early May.

As part of her announcement, Ms Pavey mentioned the establishment of a ‘cross-sector Expert Housing Advisory Panel to guide delivery of Housing 2041 and increase collaboration across government and the housing sector’.

Expert town planner to chair regional housing taskforce

More than two months later, as house prices continued to increase and rental vacancies decreased on the Northern Rivers, Deputy Premier and state Nationals leader John Barilaro announced a regional housing taskforce with Newcastle-based independent planning expert Garry Fielding as Chair.

‘Mr Fielding is a qualified town planner with more than 40 years’ experience in state and local government and the private sector,’ Mr Barilaro said via a media release last month.

‘He has worked at senior executive levels with the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment and also as head planner with Newcastle, Woollahra and Maitland Councils,’ Mr Barilaro said.

The media release also said Mr Fielding was a former NSW President of the Planning Institute of Australia and Chair of the Western Regional Planning Panel, a government-appointed position.

‘Senior experts from the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment and Department of Regional NSW’ would also be on the new regional housing taskforce, the media release said.

Government still focused on supply and planning as housing crisis intensifies

Mr Barilaro said the new taskforce would provide ‘independent’ advice to deliver more housing throughout the state.

Meanwhile, Minister for Planning and Public Spaces Rob Stokes said Mr Fielding would consult with public and key stakeholders to identify housing constraints in terms of supply, diversity and affordability in the regions, with a report due to the government in September.

Mr Stokes said the government had asked Mr Fielding to examine ‘obstacles in the planning system preventing new housing being brought to market in the regions’, and to focus on boosting housing supply.

The government focus on planning regulations and housing supply appeared to skirt issues local government representatives and housing crisis frontline workers have repeatedly identified, such as developer land-banking, impacts of short-term holiday letting and a lack of government investment in social housing.

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