Home Insights NSW draft Greener Places Design Guide now published

NSW draft Greener Places Design Guide now published

In line with the NSW State Government’s announcement of the new Design and Place State and Environmental Planning Policy (DP SEPP), the Government Architect of NSW has recently published the Draft Greener Places Design Guide (Draft Guide).  

Similar to the ‘Apartment Design Guide’, the Draft Guide will be included into the statutory planning framework by its incorporation into the DP SEPP.  

The Draft Guide focuses on the following three areas:

  • open space for recreation;
  • urban tree canopy, which aims on maintaining and increasing trees on public and private land in urban areas; and
  • connecting bushland and waterways for people and habitat and to support biodiversity.

Open space for recreation

The Draft Guide replaces spatial standards or percentages with a performance-based approach. This aims to accommodate various types of outdoor recreation. The performance based approach considers the following strategies:

  • improving the provision, quality and variety of open space;
  • understanding the limits of current open space;
  • connecting people to nature through open space;
  • establishing pedestrian and cycle paths;
  • creating open space that is multifunctional and adaptable; and
  • considering life-cycle, maintenance and management costs of open space.

The following performance indicators assess accessibility and connectivity, distribution and size and shape of open recreation space:



Size & Shape


  • High density (more than 60 dwellings per hectare)


2-3 minute walk or 200 metres walking distance to a local park.


0.15-0.5 hectares of public open space 200 metres from most houses. Open space 400 metres from schools and workplaces.


Minimum size of a local park is 3,000m² with road frontage and visibility.

  • Medium Density (less than 60 dwellings per hectare)

5 minute walk or 400 metres walking distance to a local park.

0.3-2 hectares of public open space 400 metres from most houses.

Minimum size of a local park is s 5,000m² -7,000m² with road frontage and visibility.


25 minute walk or 2 kilometres proximity to a district park.

2-5 hectares of public open space within 2 kilometres from most houses.



Up to 30 minutes travel time on public transport or by vehicle to regional open space.

More than 5 hectares of public open space within 5-10 kilometres from most houses.


There are also performance indicators for quantity, quality and diversity of open space for recreation.

Urban tree canopy

The Draft Guide proposes the following aims:

  • protect, maintain and enhance the existing urban tree canopy;
  • create an interconnected canopy to utilise benefits to the environment, urban design and communities; and
  • increasing knowledge and awareness of urban tree canopy in local and state government.

These aims can be achieved by State and local governments implementing the proposed strategies. They include establishing urban canopy tree targets, amending State policy, Local Environmental Plans (LEPs) and Development Control Plans (DCPs) to include urban tree canopy provisions and minimum tree replenishment and also creating community programs for tree planting.

The indicative target for the Greater Sydney Region is to have 40% urban tree canopy by 2056, which is broken down as follows:



CBD Areas

Greater than 15%

Medium-High Density Residential and Light Commercial Areas

Greater than 25%

Low Density Suburban Areas

Greater than 40%

Bushland and Waterways

The Draft Guide notes strategic urban biodiversity frameworks (SUBFs) may replace existing local government biodiversity strategies. SUBFs could adopt a holistic approach to conserve urban habitat and biodiversity to direct strategic planning and management of urban bushland and waterways. The Draft Guide outlines the following strategies for urban bushland and waterways:

  • conserving ecological values;
  • restoring disturbed and create new ecosystems;
  • connecting people to nature; and
  • connecting urban habitats.

These strategies can be achieved by investing in green infrastructure projects and implementing strategic urban biodiversity frameworks into LEPs and DCPs. A more detailed list of recommendations is also included that could assist with achieving each of these strategies.

The Draft Guide outlines the planning considerations for improving urban habitat and connectivity, including natural characteristics of land, urban and landscape design, community engagement, priority projects in the Greater Sydney Region and funding from federal, state or local governments.

The Draft Guide is currently on exhibition until 7 August 2020. Submissions can be made online here.

Design and Place SEPP

The DP SEPP is in its early stages, with key stakeholders currently being consulted.

NSW Minister for Planning and Public Places, Rob Stokes intends to utilise design to “create an Australian vernacular” and “uniquely Australian streetscapes”.  The design aspects in the existing State Environmental Planning Policies will be incorporated into the DP SEPP.  

The DP SEPP will be based on principles that projects can work from, rather than imposing prescriptive controls, with the aim for design to continually improve over time.  

A design review panel is also likely to be included for evaluation to ensure ‘good design’ is achieved. The different components of place, including ‘urban structure’ (which includes neighbourhoods and precincts), individual buildings and the space between them will be addressed.

By the end of 2020, an explanation of the intended effect of the DP SEPP will be published for public consultation.


The aspirations of the Draft Guide are undoubtedly admirable. Implementation of the objectives of the Draft Guide via the DP SEPP will likely be quite challenging in some respects as developers juggle competing objectives, such as:

  • delivering affordable housing, while incorporating ‘green rooves’ which are often considered to be expensive to maintain, vertical gardens and other landscaping.  In this respect, maintenance of such green spaces can be more expensive than in other jurisdictions internationally where climatic conditions are more favourable and water supply issues do not arise; and
  • delivering objectives relating to waterways and catchment programs, creation of new ecosystems, habitat corridors and new habitats, such as ponds and wetlands, that may require collaboration between a number of different land owners and appropriate maintenance funding and arrangements.

There will also need to be flexibility in the application of performance criteria, such as those relating to the creation of recreation areas, to deal with the many and varied contexts in which such spaces will be provided.  

Strict compliance with such performance criteria may be simply unachievable in certain contexts. For example, the strict application of the design criteria in the ‘Apartment Design Guide’ and ‘State Environmental Planning Policy No. 65’ (SEPP 65) by certain consent authorities in certain contexts has proved problematic. Particularly where strict compliance is not feasible, such as solar access controls in a high-rise CBD context.

It is also understood that a number of State Environmental Planning Policies will now be merged into the new DP SEPP, including potentially SEPP 65 and the Exempt and Complying Development Codes SEPP. This means the proposed SEPP is likely to become quite a significant planning policy.

We will provide more information following the release of the draft DP SEPP in due course.


Dr Louise Camenzuli

Head of Environment and Planning


Environment and Planning Government Real Estate

This publication is introductory in nature. Its content is current at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. You should always obtain legal advice based on your specific circumstances before taking any action relating to matters covered by this publication. Some information may have been obtained from external sources, and we cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such information.