November Cover – Lee Shearer

Lee Shearer, Central Coast Coordinator General for Regional Growth Plan 2036

Central Coast Coordinator General, Lee Shearer is now six months in to what is arguably the most influential and significant role our region has ever seen. She is responsible for coordinating the delivery of the Central Coast Regional Plan 2036, a plan which she calls “a bold and far-reaching blueprint for the holistic development of a region that is undergoing dynamic growth”. Her appointment to the especially created position by Minister for Planning and Housing, Anthony Roberts in April showed the Minister meant business. The decision was also a ground breaking one as it was the first time any NSW government had ever appointed someone to a role of this nature. Last month Minister Roberts reiterated his “absolute commitment” to seeing the implementation of the plan “all the way through”. It’s early days but already there are considerable runs on the board, including the release of land and rezoning of key sites for development, and the recent appointment of the NSW Government Architect to guide the redevelopment of the Gosford CBD and waterfront, with work well underway in the CBD. Ms Shearer’s initial focus is coordinating the implementation of ten priority actions set out in the Regional Plan and outlined in this story, each with a firm commitment for delivery by the end of 2018. And that’s only the beginning. The plan also outlines actions to be delivered in the short term (3-5 years), medium term (5-10 years) and long term (10+ years). It’s clear that, like the Minister, Ms Shearer also means business and that she is a doer, not a bureaucrat.

Ms Shearer’s appointment follows a long, illustrious career in policing and government leadership. After working in the private sector, she joined the police force in 1987. First assigned to Gosford Police Station followed by Terrigal, she worked her way up the ranks before deciding to specialise in the police prosecution branch, which she did for ten years. She studied practice law, returned to the field in 2000 and became the Hunter’s first female Local Area Commander in 2001. Under the mentorship and guidance of retired NSW Deputy Police Commissioner Terry Collins, Ms Shearer gained experience in various leadership roles and was appointed NSW Assistant Commissioner in charge of the Northern Region in 2008. In this role she managed a staff of 2,400 and a budget of more than $135 million. Ms Shearer retired early from that position in 2010 for health reasons and started her own consultancy practice. She was overseas when she was offered her current role.

“There had been a lot of plans, a lot of talk and they (the NSW Government) realised it was time for delivery.”

The Central Coast is undergoing major growth with the region’s population projected to swell by more than 75,000 people to 415,000 in the next 20 years. This requires the creation of 25,000 new jobs and almost 42,000 new homes. Managing that growth is fundamental to keeping the Central Coast one of the most attractive and liveable parts of NSW. The Regional Plan plays an important role in ensuring that growth is harnessed to maximise economic development and opportunities for locals while preserving our natural environment.

The plan sets out four goals for the region:

1. A prosperous Central Coast with more jobs close to home.

2. Protect the natural environment and manage the use of agricultural and resource lands.

3. Develop well-connected communities and attractive lifestyles.

4. Ensure there is a variety of housing choice to suit varying needs and lifestyles.

Ms Shearer’s role is to help drive delivery of these goals and remove the roadblocks to their implementation. “I think my ministerial appointment was symbolic of where government had come to in respect to Gosford and its investment into the catalyst projects within the CBD,” she said in reference to the $438 million Gosford Hospital redevelopment and the current construction of the Department of Finance, Services and Innovation and ATO buildings, projects that will deliver hundreds of jobs to the region. “There had been a lot of plans, a lot of talk and they (the NSW Government) realised it was time for delivery.”

“The biggest challenge is getting people out of their silos and talking to each other, but fortunately we are making much progress in this regard. This position, by the very fact that it’s a ministerial appointment, brings with it a lot of formal authority that allows us to cut through and resolve those silo issues.”

A major roadblock in the past has been a lack of cohesion between stakeholders. “They’ve all been rowing their own boats but often in different directions and usually without much regard for one another,” said Ms Shearer. She and her team work closely with the various stakeholders on a Delivery Coordination and Monitoring Committee (DCMC), comprising representatives from the Department of Premier and Cabinet, Central Coast Council, Transport NSW, TAFE NSW, Property NSW and the Office of Environment and Heritage. They meet monthly for a progress report on the current status of the various implementation programs and to formulate the next steps in order to keep the wheels in motion. Ms Shearer has also devoted much of the past six months to communicating with a broad spectrum of Central Coast locals and assessing the current ‘state of the nation’ in order to understand the strengths, opportunities and blockages.

“The biggest challenge is getting people out of their silos and talking to each other, but fortunately we are making much progress in this regard,” said Ms Shearer. “This position, by the very fact that it’s a ministerial appointment, brings with it a lot of formal authority that allows us to cut through and resolve those silo issues. I believe we have the right people on board with the will to work through these challenges and the right structures in place with which to overcome them to realise a brilliant future for the Central Coast.”

Some recent examples of successful deliverables include:

• A gateway determination for a planning proposal for currently under-utilised public land at Peat Island and Mooney Mooney that has the potential to create, 268 new houses, tourism opportunities, a new neighbourhood centre and jobs in a prime area that serves as the gateway to the Central Coast.

• The rezoning of a 1.8-hectare site to enable the expansion of Somersby Business Park, which offers the potential to create almost 100 additional ongoing jobs.

• The rezoning of the Beachcomber Hotel site in Toukley to Mixed Use to enable development of residential and commercial use developments, including the potential for up to 150 apartments.

• The ratification of the Biodiversity Conservation Act, which has unleashed a crucial tool for a greatly streamlined biodiversity assessment process for areas marked for development at the strategic planning stage.

• Development of the University of Newcastle Central Coast Medical School and Medical Research Institute as part of the new Health and Wellbeing Precinct at Gosford Hospital, including a commitment by the University for a fresh intake of 30 of its existing medical places to be seconded to the Gosford Medical School every year for the next five years.

“We really have done enough planning. It’s now time for action. The citizens of the Central Coast have waited long enough for the full potential of this beautiful region to be realised.”

Ten priority actions have been outlined in the Plan with a commitment for delivery by the end of 2018.

1. Establish the Northern and Southern Growth Corridors.

2. Address land use needs west of the M1.

3. Review development contributions in the North Wyong Shire Structure Plan Area.

4. Prepare a sequencing plan for release of land in growth corridors and Warnervale-Wadalba release area (including greenfield sites for the development of new housing estates to encourage more young families to move here).

5. Work with Central Coast Council and Darkinjung Local Aboriginal Land Council (DLALC) to assess its landholdings, identify priority sites and create a pipeline of potential projects.

6. Incorporate the assessment of DLALC landholdings into a revised North Wyong Shire Structure Plan.

7. Monitor land and housing supply through an urban development program.

8. Monitor the supply of employment land and infrastructure servicing status via an Employment Land Development Monitor.

9. Develop a local planning toolkit to assist councils in implementing the plan.

10. Implement the Gosford City Urban Development Implementation Framework (UDIF) to revitalise Gosford CBD and the waterfront.

These initiatives represent projects that progress economic and jobs growth, housing choice, infrastructure delivery and the protection of natural areas. Of the tenth initiative, which was recently added to the original nine by Minister Roberts as one of his top priorities, Ms Shearer said, “Downtown Gosford has enormous potential to be the jewel in the glittering Central Coast crown. The vision is of a vibrant regional capital. The revitalisation of the CBD has already commenced. Stage One – the large catalyst investments – is well progressed and we are now moving into Stage Two where we must build on the momentum gained via those Stage One investments.

In August we engaged the services of the NSW Government Architect to develop an Urban Design Implementation Framework which will guide our priorities and next steps as part of Stage Two of delivering a dynamic, vibrant and lively Gosford city centre that links seamlessly to a revamped waterfront.” The Government Architect is due to present a final report detailing the work needed to deliver a revived Gosford city centre early in the New Year.

With the inaugural Central Coast Council recently sworn in, Ms Shearer said she looks forward to working closely with Mayor Jane Smith, Deputy Mayor Chris Holstein and all councilors and is not at all concerned that any new roadblocks will be created as the new Council settles in. “My job is to get everyone on board and pulling together, to start delivering the vision laid out in the Regional Plan,” she said. “We really have done enough planning. It’s now time for action. The citizens of the Central Coast have waited long enough for the full potential of this beautiful region to be realised. So, despite only being at the beginning of a long journey there’s plenty of progress afoot. To paraphrase Malcolm Turnbull, there has never been a more exciting time to be on the Central Coast.”