Blue-Green Grid: A Vision and Implementation Strategy for Sydney’s Open Spaces

Sydney's Blue-Green Spaces: New Healthy City Plan and Implementation Strategy Released

We have released a plan for a Blue-Green Grid of open spaces for nature and people across Sydney.  It is a visionary plan to protect and expand Sydney’s green and blue spaces for present and future generations, as a counterbalance to the growing population and push for denser development. It also seeks to protect the remaining native bushland and endangered species, such as the Koala colony on the city’s edge. There have been quite a few plans and ad hoc green space programs over the years, but none have delivered what Sydney needs now and into the future.  

The ecological, social, health and economic benefits of a Blue Green Grid are well established and should be at the apex of urban planning policy in NSW. But how should it be delivered? Effective implementation is yet to be put in place. Our Blue-Grid Grid vision proposes a strategy for effective implementation to grow and defend Sydney’s Blue Green Grid.

Attributes and Locations of the Blue-Green Grid

The challenge is to provide an interconnected landscape with areas that are wide enough, connect with other lines and paths as a web across the city, and are characterised by either their Green, Open and/or Bushland attributes. The qualities of this Blue Green Grid changes in requirements as it moves from rural to peri-urban to urban. For example, Sydney’s Koala Green Belt is defined by the Hawkesbury-Nepean Rivers and the Georges Rivers at the peri-urban boundary. These green spaces must, at a minimum, have access to deep soil and sky above. We consider the green roofs, green walls and outdoor structures poor substitutes and do not include them in our Blue-Green Grid

Benefits of the Blue-Green Grid

The benefits of the Blue-Green Grid for health, urban cooling, climate and biodiversity are enormous. As Jeff Angel, Executive Director of Total Environment Centre, stated in our release, "Sydney should not degenerate into a concrete jungle as some developers seem to want.  New developments and governments should provide funds and land for green spaces.  It’s a basic infrastructure need”.

a table explaining the benefits of the blue-green grid vision for Sydney's open spaces

Steps required for effective implementation to grow and defend Sydney’s Blue Green Grid

1. Blue Green Grid Coordination Committee to oversee and embed implementation

This committee should report to the Ministers for Planning, Public Spaces and Environment and to the community:

a. Representation from all relevant departments including Environment, Planning, Water, Transport and Health, Councils, experts, and Community Groups. Creation of a Blue-Green Grid Commissioner would also help to stop the loss of public green space, expand and connect them. An independent voice outside of NSW Planning is essential.

b. Six monthly public reports on loss and gain in green spaces, grid connections, and tree canopy.

2. Institutions that line the landscape must be integral to the Blue Green Grid

a. Water NSW should ensure new and wider riparian spaces to setback from foreshores

Potential Negative Implementation Example: Removal of riparian zone of a corridor

The NSW government through the Cumberland Plain Conservation Plan aims to remove Koalas from the Mallaty Creek Koala Corridor (D). Rather than strengthen and restore the most direct Koala corridor from the Georges to the Nepean in Macarthur, the CPCP plans to fence Koalas out of their corridor, this is obviously at the behest of the larger developers.

Positive Implementation Example: Opening riparian zones to public

The Great West Walk: 150km walking track from Parramatta Park to Katoomba. It follows wherever possible rivers such as the Parramatta and Nepean and creeks that include Toongabbie, Breakfast, Eastern and Ropes Creek. The Great West Walk was mapped by walking volunteers and strongly supported by state government agencies, and local councils. In 2021, the department partnered with Blacktown, Penrith and Parramatta Councils, Greening Australia and Landcare NSW.

b. Transport NSW needs to provide parallel green links along major roads, so wildlife crossings and active transport are implemented systematically.

Roads are one of the most destructive elements in the habitat fragmentation process, and roads authorities should have an obligation to rectify the impacts as far as possible and avoid more damage. Unused road reserves often protect high-value remnant habitats, which can be well-placed to improve habitat connectivity.

3. Koala & Whale Blue Green Belt 

a. Our vision includes a Sydney Koala Whale Circuit: Signatory green infrastructure to connect Cumberland Plain and Hawkesbury region lands, Nepean and Georges Rivers to the Coastal Whale Walk, thus completing the world's first city circumnavigation walk

b. Establish Sydney Koala Green Belt to protect western Sydney wildlife corridors, food bowl and water supply, and contain urban sprawl.

4. Planning Department to support fine-grain Blue Green Grid

a. Continue acquisition strategies to support council Blue Green Grid policy and funding tree canopy programs.

b. Ensure every precinct development adds to green space.

c. Use Housing SEPP (we recommend a new principle such as: ''to design, establish and protect a Blue Green Grid of interconnected open and waterway spaces and tree canopy across local, council and regional areas''); or a new Blue Green Grid SEPP to entrench the Blue Green Grid into existing and future city design with improved BASIX requirements and minimum percentage deep soil requirements. 

d. Prevent loss of tree canopy on private and public lands in addition to undertaking an ongoing catalogue of all parks and green spaces within Sydney.

5. Conserve existing green and open spaces

a. Do not sell or resume public open space. If public lands are to be sold, it must be done and seen to be done at arms length. Therefore all public land should firstly be offered at no cost for green space purposes and, if not required following a public review and independent assessment, be auctioned if it is to be sold. No unsolicited proposals can apply to (potential) green space. If private land is to change from an open space zoning such as rural to a built one such as residential in the Sydney Basin, a windfall profit tax must be applied to the uplift in value that is generated by the rezoning.

b. Do not rezone land that is open space to residential or commercial. Golf courses, in particular, are subject to intense pressure to change their zoning as these institutions are often under financial burden but sitting on property worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The state government must be able to bring the properties into the park and green space regime of the city before they are lost. Other underutilised or exclusive sporting sites must also be re-imagined as new multiple-use green spaces to allow public access. The recent announcement that part of the Moore Park Golf Course will be converted to a public park for the benefit of a growing local population (ultimately 80,000 people) is commended.

c. Protect the tree canopy on public and private lands. Private property has an important role to play in providing setbacks and ensuring retention of the tree canopy. Recent regulation changes to council tree preservation rules and the Rural Boundary Clearing Code (as applied in the Sydney Basin) have made tree removal easier. This trend needs to be reversed.

6. Recognise Green Spaces' monetary value in assessments

To date, little value has been placed on the green landscape in cost-benefit analysis. This emboldens park shaving - the slow but cumulative loss of parkland to other functions. Credible tools need to be integrated into decision-making. An important consideration here is the use of offsets for lost space and trees. Total Environment Centre rejects offsets as an acceptable ‘’remediation’’ tool. Rarely is sufficient nearby land available for alternative green space (and adequate for increasing populations); and young trees are no substitute for lost mature trees. This can be mitigated by following the following steps:

a. Treasury & IPART processes and development impact reviews to integrate values into cost benefit analysis.

b. Continue to recognise non-quantifiable values and climate change response policies.

c. Avoid use of offsets to justify removal of green spaces.

Read the full vision and implementation plan on the Blue-Green Grid now. 

Join our Campaign!  Contact: [email protected]

Cover photo by Deeva Sood on Unsplash  

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