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Design and Place SEPP details

The proposed Design and Place State Environment Planning Policy   

The Design and Place SEPP is an opportunity to make the built environment greener and healthier for people  

  • The Design and Place State Environmental Planning Policy (DP SEPP) will combine and add to two existing policies: SEPP 65 (Design Quality of Residential Apartment Development) 2002 and 2004 BASIX SEPP (Building Sustainability Index).   
  • By combining and adding to existing SEPPs, the DP SEPP will set state-wide planning policy regarding energy, water efficiency and thermal comfort requirements for new buildings, and urban tree canopy cover and green space in new developments.   
  • Under the 2004 BASIX SEPP, which will become part of the DP SEPP, NSW already has clear standards for energy use, water efficiency and thermal comfort for all new residential buildings.   
  • The BASIX SEPP provides an important foundation but is inadequate to get NSW to net zero emissions and adapt to increasing extreme weather.i 
  • The NSW Government has a 40% tree canopy cover goal for Greater Sydney.ii However, tree retention and planting are not fully integrated into development controls. The DP SEPP can help fix this.   
  • In March 2021, Minister Stokes reportedly told a City of Sydney briefing the DP SEPP would be the planning system’s biggest lever for making buildings environmentally sustainable and helping the NSW Government reach its target of net zero emissions by 2050.iii 

A strong DP SEPP will be an important step in achieving net zero emissions from buildings and adapting to climate change  

  • The building sector will need to decarbonise to reach the government’s target of net zero emissions by 2050.  
  • Buildings account for almost a quarter of Australia’s emissions.iv Emissions come from embodied carbon in building materials and then ongoing electricity and gas use.  
  • By maximising energy efficiency and meeting remaining energy needs with renewable energy, all new buildings can achieve net zero emissions from electricity.  
  • Research indicates that net zero emissions buildings can be realistically achieved: the technology exists, it can be deployed at scale, and it is cost effective.
  • NSW is already experiencing more hot days, and climate projections show this will intensify over coming decades. The DP SEPP is an opportunity to mandate new homes and workplaces be built for future conditions.    


The Explanation of Intended Effects (EIE) for the DP SEPP, exhibited in April 2021, outlines a flexible, principles-based approach  

  • The EIE for the DP SEPP establishes five principles that cover design and sustainability aspirations for our built The principles are:  
  1. Design places with beauty and character 
  2. Design inviting public spaces 
  3. Design productive and connected places 
  4. Design sustainable and greener places  
  5. Design resilient and diverse places.  
  • These principles translate into ‘mandatory matters for consideration’ across water management, green infrastructure, resilience, emissions and resource efficiency, tree canopy and more.   
  • The DP SEPP will require developers and decision makers to considerthese matters in the development assessment and approval processes. 
  • A suite of guidance documents will accompany the SEPP, defining what the principles mean practically in different contexts. This will include an updated Apartment Design Guide and new Urban Design Guide.  


A move to flexible ‘principles-based’ regulation raises many concerns  

  • A move to ‘principles-based’ regulation could reduce the rigour of decision-making and put significant pressure on consent authorities.   
  • Consent authorities may not be appropriately resourced to assess development applications through a more subjective, less prescriptive, principles-based prism, or there may not be resources or political will to deny developers what they want.   
  • More discretionary decision making will likely lead to inconsistent decisions and more legal challenges. The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has warned discretionary decision-making in the planning system is a corruption risk.vii 
  • Decision makers and local communities may be overwhelmed by a plethora of studies (paid for by developers) ‘considering’ environmental impacts and liveability. The community and many councils won’t be able to digest and critique all this documentation and argue for better, alternative outcomes.    
  • Submissions on the EIE from local government, green building organisations, community and environmental groups all raise concerns about: 
  • the risks of a principles-based approach to regulation of the development industry, and   
  • the need for ambitious mandatory environmental performance standards, across energy, water, landscaping, tree cover, waste and materials.  
  • While full of aspirational language, nothing in the EIE gives confidence the DP SEPP will guarantee the improvements in sustainability and liveability that are urgently required. 


Outcomes will depend on the strength and level of ambition in the draft SEPP and the attached guidance documents.  

  • The Draft DP SEPP and associated guides will be publicly exhibited in late 2021. 
  • To deliver on its aspirations, the Design and Place SEPP must pass two crucial tests.  
  • Firstly, the instrument must be robust. It must provide clearly defined standards that are enforceable by consent authorities and can be upheld in court.  
  • Secondly, the level of ambition must be consistent with what the science tells us is needed to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change.  
  • The NSW Government should go beyond the planned 2022 updates to environmental performance standards in the National Construction Code, coordinated by the Federal Government. These updates are not ambitious enough.   

We are calling for:  

A robust SEPP that sets strong standards   


  • Non-discretionary quantitative standards for environmental performance.  

Key performance metrics should be included in the SEPP itself and strong linking language should give force to metrics in the proposed associated guidance documents.   

  • Any flexibility provisions to include clear, legally unambiguous directions that reject poor performance, avoid offsets, and aim to do better than standards. No developer loopholes.   
  • Recognition that the medium- and long-term environmental, health and financial benefits outweigh the likely small, short-term costs. 
  • A commitment to review and improve the effectiveness of the SEPP in achieving its objectives within the first five years.    


A future ready SEPP that matches the scale of the climate challenge 

  • Net zero emissions from energy for all new buildings.  

This should cover residential as well as non-residential buildings, including an eight-star NatHERs energy efficiency rating and onsite renewables requirements in BASIX.    

  • Full electrification – no new fossil fuel gas connections. 
  • Recognition of embodied carbon and setting a pathway to regulation.  

This should include comprehensive, credible and transparent reporting frameworks that show emissions from building materials, such as steel and cement, and prepare industry for future decarbonisation. 

  • Comprehensive electric vehicle charging and cycling infrastructure. 
  • Maximum mature tree and bushland retention, canopy cover and green space requirements.  

Requirements should align with the 40% tree canopy cover target, preference diverse native planting, drought tolerant plants and wildlife corridors; and ensure equitable access across the city.   

  • Urban heat-ready buildings, which realistically plan for future heat stress. 

Climate files underpinning building standards must be updated with best available future climate projections, drawing on the recently updated NSW Government NARCLiM climate modelling.   

The Design and Place SEPP is a significant opportunity for the NSW Government to show leadership, as it has in other sectors, in the race to net zero emissions and a green economy. A robust and ambitious draft SEPP should progress to exhibition later in 2021 and be fully implemented in early 2022.   

Write to your MP and ask them to support the Design & Place SEPP.