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SoE 2012 > People and the Environment > 1.1 Population, transport and noise


People and the Environment chapter 1

1.1 Population, transport and noise

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People and the Environment

1.1 Population, transport and noise

At June 2011, the population of New South Wales had reached approximately 7.21 million with an average annual growth rate of 1.1% since June 2006. For most of the last decade the use of public transport has grown faster on average than the population and much faster than private travel. Noise pollution is the second most common type of complaint call received by Environment Line.

The state's population is forecast to grow to 9.1 million by 2031, with most living in urban areas. Long-term strategies are designed to plan for the expected increases in population in a way that maximises the environmental, social and economic sustainability of NSW.

Commuter trips represent about one-in-six of all journeys in Sydney on weekdays. During 2009–10, almost 25% of trips to and from work across Sydney were on public transport, the highest proportion of any Australian capital city. The use of public transport for commuter trips to and from the Sydney CBD during peak hours stood at over 76%.

The use of motor vehicles for people movements has been relatively stable since NSW State of the Environment 2009. On an average weekday, around 25% of vehicle driver trips are short: two kilometres or less.

The number of noise incident reports to Environment Line increased by nearly 40% between 2007–08 and 2010–11, while calls requesting information about noise issues fell 21%.

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NSW indicators

Indicator and status


Information availability

Public transport use (overall and trips)



Vehicle kilometres travelled (total and per person)



Mode of transport to work (GMR key centres)



Notes: Terms and symbols used above are defined in About SoE 2012 at the front of the report.

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Demands for housing, transport, employment and infrastructure for waste disposal all increase as population grows, along with the use of water and energy. Population growth can also increase fragmentation of fragile ecosystems, especially where per capita consumption is on the rise (see People and the Environment 1.7).

Transport involves the movement of people and freight. It provides access to jobs, education, markets, leisure and other services, and thus plays a key role in the economy. However, travel has environmental impacts as it consumes significant amounts of non-renewable resources, especially fossil fuels, produces greenhouse gas emissions, and generates air pollution that has impacts on human health and the environment. Runoff from roads affects water quality, while the construction of roads in bushland areas can have an impact on biodiversity where it fragments natural ecosystems.

Unwanted sound, noise defined as offensive, and noise that unreasonably intrudes on daily activities can have a major impact on general urban amenity and is more likely to be an issue in more densely populated areas.

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Status and trends

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Population distribution and residential density

The preliminary estimated resident population of NSW in June 2011 was 7.21 million, representing just under a third of the total Australian population of 22.32 million (ABS 2012). In recent years, population growth in NSW has picked up from the relatively low growth rates of the early 2000s. NSW grew by 395,400 people between 2006 and 2011, an average annual rate of 1.1%. This was below the growth rate for Australia as a whole of 1.5%. Changes in population growth are affected by fluctuations in fertility rates and the cyclical nature of net migration (both interstate and overseas migration). As Map 1.1 shows, NSW population growth is not evenly distributed with most centred on Sydney and this has regional implications for the environmental impacts of ongoing population increases.

Map 1.1: Regional variations in population change in NSW, 2010–11

Map 1.1

In the early 2000s, net migration contributed less to overall population growth in NSW than natural increase (the excess of births over deaths) (Figure 1.1). More recently, the share of net migration has risen due to significant increases in the levels of overseas migration and a reduction in losses from interstate migration (DoP 2008a; ABS 2011b). Natural increase has been a consistent underlying factor behind Sydney's growth since the 1970s. In 2009–10, it reached 46,311, the highest level in 20 years.

The demographic drivers for population change differ between Sydney and other regions in NSW. For example, Sydney is the main destination for international migrants, while coastal areas attract internal migrants from elsewhere in NSW and Australia, particularly retirees and those close to retirement.

Overall population gains from overseas migration and losses through interstate migration are long-established migration trends for NSW. Assuming that such patterns continue in the future, the state's population is projected to increase to over 9 million by 2031, with 60% of this growth due to natural increase (births minus deaths) and the remainder to migration (DoP 2008a).

Figure 1.1: Natural increase and net migration in NSW, 1971–72 to 2010–11

Figure 1.1

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Source: ABS 2011b

Notes: In some years shown on the graph, natural increase is below net migration and is indicated by a line across the relevant net migration bars.

The regional variation in annual population growth is highlighted in Table 1.1, which shows historical growth across four major regions of the state. The Greater Metropolitan Region (GMR1) encompasses only 2.2% of the total NSW landmass but has 75% of its population. This concentration of population in Sydney is expected to continue into the future. The population of the Sydney Statistical Division is projected to grow from 4.3 million in 2010 to 5.6 million in 2031 and the GMR1 population from 5.3 to 6.7 million over the same period. Growth rates in the coastal regions outside the GMR1 have declined over time while population growth in inland NSW remains at particularly low levels. Some inland regions, such as the Murrumbidgee, Murray and Central West, are expected to experience population growth to 2031, but others, including Northern and North-Western regions, are expected to experience population decline (DoP 2008a).

Table 1.1: Average annual population increase and growth rates in NSW regions, 1981–2011


Average annual population increase (growth rate)







Sydney Statistical Division

38,400 (1.1%)

40,300 (1.1%)

41,700 (1.1%)

49,400 (1.2%)

30,700 (0.7%)

64,785 (1.5%)

Greater Metropolitan Region (GMR1)

41,400 (1.0%)

48,200 (1.1%)

47,500 (1.1%)

58,000 (1.2%)

37,400 (0.8%)

71,307 (1.4%)

Coastal regions outside GMR1

14,100 (3.2%)

17,800 (3.4%)

11,900 (2.0%)

10,400 (1.6%)

8,200 (1.2%)

4,498 (0.6%)


3,800 (0.4%)

7,500 (0.8%)

1,700 (0.2%)

5,700 (0.6%)

2,500 (0.3%)

2,940 (0.3%)

New South Wales

59,300 (1.1%)

73,400 (1.3%)

61,200 (1.0%)

74,100 (1.2%)

48,200 (0.7%)

79,076 (1.1%)

Source: ABS 2006; ABS 2012

Notes: 'GMR1' comprises all statistical local areas (SLAs)/local government areas (LGAs) in the Sydney Statistical Division (SD), Newcastle Statistical Subdivision (SSD) and Wollongong SSD.
'Coastal regions outside GMR1' comprises all SLAs/LGAs in the Richmond–Tweed SD, Mid-North Coast SD and the following LGAs: Great Lakes, Shoalhaven, Eurobodalla and Bega Valley.
'Inland' comprises all SLAs/LGAs not included in either the GMR1 or coastal regions outside GMR1.

Demographic change and household and family structure

The age distribution of the NSW population is shifting as a result of past changes in the fertility rate and increasing life expectancy, mirroring trends in other developed countries. This leads to an increase in both the number and proportion of the population in the older age groups, 65 years and over. The population pyramids in Figure 1.2 show the state's ageing population as well as the growth that has occurred in all age groups since the 1990s. Just as population growth is unevenly distributed across the state, so too is ageing. Rural and regional areas have much older age structures, often exacerbated by the movement of young people elsewhere.

Figure 1.2: Age-sex structure of the NSW population, 1996 and 2011

Figure 1.2

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Source: ABS 2011c

One effect of the ageing population in NSW is changes in household composition with older people more likely to live alone or with only one other person. This has implications for the environmental impacts caused by the need for more housing and flow-on effects from demand for housing materials and increases in energy and water consumption per capita (see People and the Environment 1.4 and People and the Environment 1.5). Preferences for different household types vary considerably by age and thus the different age profiles across the state will influence demand for housing type and size (ABS 2005a; ABS 2005b).

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Travel patterns in Sydney

The various forms of transport, such as air, car, train, bus, ferry, tram, bicycle and walking, are called 'modes'. In 2009–10, Sydney residents made 16.2 million trips each weekday across all modes. This was a slight decrease from the peak of 16.3 million trips in the previous two years. From 1999–2000 to 2009–10, total distance travelled on weekdays on all modes increased by an annual average of 0.7% and annual average vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT) grew by 0.6% (Figure 1.3). In contrast, over the same period, total public transport passenger kilometres travelled grew at nearly double the annual average rate of VKT at 1.1% per year (BTS 2011).

Figure 1.3: Trends in travel by Sydney residents on an average weekday, compared with key NSW statistics, 1999–2000 to 2009–10

Figure 1.3

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Source: BTS 2011

Notes: Year estimates are based on three years of pooled data. For example, the 2009–10 estimate uses data collected from July 2007 to June 2010 weighted to the 'Estimated Resident Population' issued by the Australian Bureau of Statistics for June 2009.

In 2009–10, Sydney residents travelled a total of 133.6 million kilometres on an average weekday. After a period of growth from 2005 to 2006 (the strongest in a decade), kilometres travelled was relatively static (and even declined) between 2007–08 and 2009–10, as did VKT (Figure 1.3). Growth in both these measures is below the 11-year trend. The distance travelled on public transport also stopped increasing between 2007–08 and 2009–10, due to a decline in distance travelled by train, offset slightly by a slight growth in distance travelled by bus (BTS 2011).

Despite a modest easing in growth around 2005–06 and 2006–07, private vehicle ownership has increased overall since 1999–2000, generally in line with rising gross state product. Both measures grew by 25% over the 11-year period. The number of vehicles per household has continued to rise and now exceeds 1.5 on average.

How people travel: The majority of people and freight movements across NSW are by road. The number of trips taken on the various modes of transport on an average weekday in Sydney has trended upwards since 1999–2000, with the notable exception of those by vehicle drivers. Between 1999–2000 and 2009–10, the number of train trips grew while bus trips fell: the percentage of trips taken on buses dropped from 6.2% of all trips to 5.8% in 2009–10, while train trips increased from 4.9% to 5.3% (BTS 2011). Walking as a form of 'transport' in Sydney now represents over 18% of average weekday trips.

While the number of trips in Sydney has been growing, the proportion of trips using private vehicles peaked in 2004–05 and is now the lowest it has been in 11 years. The proportion of vehicle-based passenger trips remained at 21–22% over the period to 2009–10. The 47% of total trips made by drivers in 2009–10 accounted for 59% of the total distance travelled on an average weekday (BTS 2011).

Trains also tend to be used for longer trips, with these trips in Sydney accounting for a larger percentage of total distance (12% for 2009–10) than total trips by all modes (5.3%). However, compared with two years earlier, a greater number of shorter train trips were being taken (BTS 2011, p.24). Walking trips, not surprisingly, comprised a much smaller proportion of distance travelled (2%) compared with their 18.5% share of total trips in 2009–10 (BTS 2011).

Why people travel: Since 1999–2000, the number of trips for recreational purposes has exceeded 20% of all weekday journeys across Sydney (BTS 2011). Commuter trips to and from work showed consistently strong growth between 1999–2000 and 2009–10, expanding by an average of 1.16% annually to now equal the number of shopping trips taken on weekdays: both 15.9%. However trips to and from work contribute the highest share of distance travelled, increasing in 2009–10 to over 28%, followed by recreational trips (20.1%). Commuting trips to and from work have accounted for over one-quarter of total kilometres travelled in each year since 1999–2000 (BTS 2011).

In 2009–10, as in previous years, private vehicles continued to be the most frequently used mode for all trips in Sydney (BTS 2011). Car use was highest for 'serve-passenger' trips (those where a passenger is dropped off, picked up or transported), accounting for 88.2% of them, followed by work-related trips (86.1%) (Figure 1.4). For commutes to work, car use was also sizeable at just over two-thirds of all trips, while public transport patronage (train and bus) was also high (with nearly one-quarter). Compared with other purposes, private vehicle use was lowest (53.8%) and public transport use highest (24.5%) for educational trips. The share of 'other modes' (mainly walking) is largest for recreational and shopping trips (both around 30%).

Figure 1.4: Percentage of trips by purpose and mode on an average weekday, Sydney, 1999–2000 and 2009–10

Figure 1.4

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Source: BTS 2011

Notes: Year estimates are based on three years of pooled data. For example, the 2009–10 estimate uses data collected from July 2007 to June 2010 weighted to the 'Estimated Resident Population' issued by the Australian Bureau of Statistics for June 2009.
'Other modes' is predominantly walking, cycling and taxis.

Some changes in transport choice are evident between 1999–2000 and 2009–10 (Figure 1.4). During this time, the proportion of public transport use grew for commuting to work and work-related trips, while all other purposes had a declining share of public transport. Commuting by public transport increased 3.4%, while by car it decreased 4.4%. Car use for recreational purposes was also down. Compared with 1999–2000, the greatest increase in car use in 2009–10 was for educational and childcare trips (up 5.5%). These trends are the same as those reported in SoE 2009 (DECCW 2009a), but less pronounced.

In Sydney, an average of 75% of the population can access the city or a major centre within 30 minutes by public transport, although this varies across subregions (NSW Government 2009). Around 25% of vehicle driver trips on an average day are less than two kilometres in length, which provides opportunities for the further development of transport options to reduce private vehicle use.

In 2009–10, public transport was used for just over three-quarters of commuter trips to and from the Sydney CBD during peak hours (Figure 1.5). This represents a small decline from the peak of 77% in 2007–08. In 2009–10, 23.9% of residents across the Sydney metropolitan region used public transport (train, bus and ferry) to commute to and from work, again a small decline from the peak of 2007–08 (BTS 2011).

Across the main centres in Sydney, and the Newcastle and Wollongong CBDs, the only area where public transport has recently improved its share of peak hour commuter trips is to Liverpool city centre (Figure 1.5).

Figure 1.5: Proportion of journeys to work by public transport to various CBDs in the Sydney–Newcastle–Wollongong area, 1999–2000 to 2009–10

Figure 1.5

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Source: BTS 2011

Notes: Year estimates for Sydney CBD are based on three years of pooled data. For example, the 2009–10 estimate uses data collected from July 2007 to June 2010 weighted to the 'Estimated Resident Population' issued by the Australian Bureau of Statistics for June 2009. Other centres are based on five-year datasets.

Public transport patronage: Public transport patronage tends to track population growth with peaks and troughs mostly reflecting those of the economic cycle. This relationship has remained relatively stable from 1980–81 to 2010–11 (Figure 1.6). The combined patronage of the Government bus services (Sydney Buses), private bus operators, and the Liverpool–Parramatta Transitway amounts to more than 200 million passenger trips annually in the Sydney metropolitan region (excluding the School Student Transport Scheme). During 2010–11, patronage on the CityRail network (which is bounded by Dungog, Scone, Lithgow, Goulburn and Bomaderry) grew 1.8% to more than 294 million passenger journeys. Sydney Ferries operates close to 170,000 services each year, transporting more than 14.5 million people across Sydney Harbour and the Parramatta River.

Figure 1.6: Patronage of Sydney Buses and CityRail, 1980–81 to 2010–11

Figure 1.6

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Source: ABS 2012; BTS 2012; BTS data 2012; STA Annual Reports; RailCorp Annual Reports

Notes: Sydney Buses data covers the bus contract regions of northern Sydney, the northern beaches, eastern suburbs and inner western Sydney. Data includes private bus services on the Liverpool–Parramatta Transitway from February 2004, as well as those private services in the west and north-west taken over by the Government since mid-2007. Sydney Buses provides approximately 62% of all bus trips in the Sydney Statistical Division on an average weekday (T&I 2009).
The exceptional peak in rail patronage occurred during the 2000 Olympics.
Measurement of CityRail patronage underwent a major review in 2010–11. The revised measure covering 2005–06 to 2010–11 more accurately estimates patronage and improves the consistency of the figures with other rail data such as station gate counts.

Freight transport in NSW

NSW domestic freight in 2008–09 amounted to 73.2 billion tonne-kilometres with a growth rate since 1994–95 of about 2.1% per year. Road transport continues to dominate the freight task, with 58% of domestic freight carried by road (up from 56% in 2006–07). In the same year, rail transport's share reached its highest level since 2000–01, but shipping declined to its lowest in nearly 20 years (Figure 1.7).

Figure 1.7: Domestic freight transport by mode in NSW, 1990–91 to 2008–09

Figure 1.7

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Source: CTEE & APC 2011, Table 6-3

Notes: Includes interstate freight movements, but not international freight movements.
Data for 2008–09 is estimated.

Forecast economic growth in NSW is expected to see the state's road freight movements reach 40.4 million tonnes per year by 2018–19 (an expansion of 16.4% over 10 years). The overall road freight task is projected to increase even more over this period to 50.6 billion tonne-kilometres per year (up 20.6% over 10 years) because of an increase in the average length of trip taken (CTEE & APC 2011).

For Sydney, trips by light commercial vehicles, such as delivery vans, are predicted to increase by about 14% between 2010–11 and 2020–21 (similar to the expected rate of population growth), while rigid and articulated heavy vehicle movements are forecast to grow by about 30% (Map 1.2) (BTS 2010).

Map 1.2: Sydney freight growth, heavy commercial vehicle trips, average weekday, 2010–11 to 2020–21

Map 1.2

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The level of annoyance or discomfort caused by noise depends on the type, timing, duration, frequency and other characteristics of the noise. Noise pollution can affect people's quality of life and health and should be minimised as far as possible by good planning and pollution control. Evidence from large-scale epidemiological studies links the population's exposure to environmental noise with adverse health effects (WHO 2011). However, not enough baseline data is available to establish acceptable benchmarks to gauge whether noise levels are changing with increasing urbanisation and industrial development.

Complaints about noise are managed by a number of organisations but are mainly dealt with by local councils, the Environment Protection Authority, NSW Police and Roads and Maritime Services. The incident reports received are not considered to be an accurate indicator of the extent of noise pollution and typically understate it. As a result, the data on complaints received by Environment Line below is indicative only.

Reports to Environment Line

Noise pollution is the second most common type of complaint call received by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage Environment Line (DPC 2011, p.222). In 2010–11, Environment Line received 2635 noise incident reports (or complaints). Noise from scheduled premises was the most common complaint (46% or 1210 incident reports), followed by noisy vehicles (39% or 1035 incident reports) and noise from non-scheduled premises (15% or 390 incident reports).

Figure 1.8 shows the number of calls made about non-vehicle related noise to Environment Line since 2002–03. These calls represent only a fraction of total complaints about noise, as most complaints are directed to councils, police and other agencies that are also responsible for dealing with noise issues in NSW. The number of noise incident reports to Environment Line has varied over the years but is now at its highest level in the period shown.

Figure 1.8: Non-vehicle noise incident reports to Environment Line, 2002–03 to 2010–11

Figure 1.8

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Source: DECC 2007a, Appendix 13; DECC 2008, Appendix 13; DPC 2011, p.222

In 2010–11, Environment Line also received 3687 requests for information about noise issues, which accounted for 9.5% of all environmental inquiries received. This compared with 4686 or 11% of requests for information in 2007–08.

Noise complaints to NSW Police

NSW Police record all calls received by their Computerised Incident Dispatch System (Table 1.2). Reports about alarms have declined by 63% since 2008–09, perhaps partly due to vehicle immobilisers replacing vehicle alarms as the preferred technology to prevent vehicle theft. Another factor may be the police practice to no longer respond to call-outs in connection with alarms unless they receive confirmation that a crime has occurred.

Table 1.2: Noise and alarm incidents attended by NSW Police, 2008–09 to 2010–11

Type of incident




Noise complaint




Noise complaint attended




Alarm (vehicle or building)




Alarm attended




Noise abatement direction issued




Legal action arising from noise abatement direction




Source: NSW Police data 2011

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A range of measures is required to deal with the complex pressures arising from population growth and short-term tourists visiting NSW. Long-term planning strategies by government are designed to mitigate the negative impacts of growth and visitation. Further pressures resulting from population growth, such as water and energy consumption, and waste disposal are discussed in People and the Environment 1.3, People and the Environment 1.4 and People and the Environment 1.5.

Transport pressures that affect the environment include:

  • the distance people travel to their place of work or essential facilities
  • mode of transport used or the number of travellers using a transport option
  • transport technology and fuel efficiency
  • fuel prices
  • the availability and quality of public transport and pedestrian and cycling facilities.

These pressures influence the amount of fuel consumed and the volume of emissions created (see Atmosphere 2.1), noise pollution, and other impacts which directly affect the environment.

Transport noise, especially from road traffic, affects a significant portion of the community as well as the environment. Questions about the impact of road traffic noise on human health were included in the 2009 NSW Health Survey, an ongoing telephone survey of NSW residents that monitors the self-reported health of the population. A total of 10,719 interviews with adults in rural and urban locations revealed that 45.8% of respondents considered they were exposed to road traffic noise. However, 66.8% indicated no disturbance from this exposure (Centre for Epidemiology & Research 2010).

Aircraft noise is also a significant issue for some sections of the community. Sydney Airport is Australia's busiest, accounting for 42% of the country's international aircraft movements and 22% of domestic passenger movements in 2010–11.

Other pressures contributing to increased noise pollution include:

  • population growth and expanding urbanisation
  • industrial development in former rural areas
  • the growth in use of mechanised labour-saving devices.

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Established responses

Integrated land-use and transport planning

Coordinated and consistent planning at state, regional and local levels for population growth, infrastructure and services is a priority for the NSW Government.

NSW 2021: A plan to make NSW number one (NSW Government 2011), the Government's 10-year plan for NSW, has identified five areas in which to advance integrated land-use and transport planning:

  • Goal 7 – 'Reduce travel times'
  • Goal 8 – 'Grow patronage on public transport by making it a more attractive choice'
  • Goal 9 – 'Improve customer experience with transport services'
  • Goal 19 – 'Invest in critical infrastructure'
  • Goal 20 – 'Build liveable centres'.

The Metropolitan Plan for Sydney 2036 (NSW Government 2010a) provides key directions for making Sydney more connected, sustainable and competitive and sets residential and employment targets for Sydney local government areas. State Environmental Planning Policy (Urban Renewal) 2010 identifies three potential urban renewal precincts: Redfern/Waterloo, Granville town centre and the Newcastle CBD. The key principle of the policy is to integrate land-use planning with existing or planned infrastructure to create revitalised local communities.

Metropolitan and regional strategic planning

The NSW Government prepares planning strategies which provide the framework for integrating land-use and transport planning in metropolitan Sydney and regional NSW. Between 2012 and 2014, new strategies are being released to reflect government priorities. The strategies are long-term documents with a 25-year vision for their regions. They include actions to conserve biodiversity, protect air quality, manage with less water, move towards cleaner energy, protect viable agriculture and resource land, and respond to the risk of climate change. By managing and coordinating growth, the strategies minimise impacts on the natural and cultural environment.

Strategies are in place for Sydney, the Central Coast, Far North Coast, Mid-North Coast, Lower Hunter, Illawarra, South Coast and the Sydney–Canberra corridor, and a draft strategy has been prepared for the Murray region. Local councils are required to consider and be consistent with the vision, policies and actions of the relevant strategy when preparing their local environmental plans.

NSW 2021 Goal 20 – 'Build liveable centres' has set a target to increase the percentage of the population living within 30 minutes by public transport of a city or major centre in the Sydney metropolitan area. The aim is to create compact urban areas which preserve environmentally important land and assist residents to reduce their reliance on non-renewable resources, such as oil. Planning strategies will provide the framework for housing and employment growth that supports this aim.

The metropolitan area of Sydney has also been arranged into subregions that combine local government areas sharing similar issues and challenges in planning for growth and managing change. Subregional strategies will be prepared outlining housing and employment growth targets and key planning principles to facilitate the urban development necessary to increase employment and housing within public transport catchments. The strategies will provide the context for preparation by councils of local environmental plans, which guide local land-use planning. The preparation of subregional strategies is a priority action under Goal 20 of NSW 2021.

The Government released Strategic Regional Land Use Plans for the Upper Hunter and New England North West in 2012 to balance the growth of the mining and coal seam gas industries with the protection of strategic agricultural land. The plans are consistent with the Strategic Regional Land Use Policy, which also includes the NSW Aquifer Interference Policy (DPI 2012) and Code of Practice for Coal Seam Gas Exploration. The Central West and Southern Highlands have been selected as the next regions to receive strategic plans which will deliver a tailored approach to the specific needs, challenges and opportunities of the areas they cover and provide local communities with greater certainty about how their regions will change over time.

Redirecting freight from road to rail

The vast majority of freight movements in NSW are road-based, with rail's share of the east coast interstate freight task low when compared with roads. Rail only provides a significant proportion of freight movements between the east and west coasts of Australia.

The need to increase the transport of freight by rail is an identified priority. Under Goal 19 of NSW 2021, the State Government has committed to the following target: 'Enhance rail freight movement: double the proportion of container freight movement by rail through NSW ports by 2020'. This would take the proportion of freight carried to and from NSW Ports by rail to around 28% by 2020–21.

To support this goal, an intermodal terminal is being developed at Enfield in Sydney. This is in addition to the Southern Sydney Freight Line which provides a dedicated rail line for freight between Macarthur and Sefton; another intermodal terminal development proposed at Moorebank; and works to improve the reliability and capacity of freight trains on the Main North Line between North Strathfield and Broadmeadow in Newcastle.

Traffic congestion

Another focus of NSW 2021 is improving the efficiency of the road network to ease transport congestion and reduce travel times for those travelling by car, bus or truck. Actions to achieve this include:

  • delivering road infrastructure to relieve congestion
  • improving safety and increasing the capacity of road corridors (such as through the Pinch Point and Congestion initiatives which target peak hour traffic hot spots in 23 Sydney corridors)
  • providing better real time travel information to motorists
  • improving accident clearance times.

Alternative transport is important in reducing congestion on the roads. During 2010–11, the Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) increased the length of bus and transit lanes to 200 kilometres as well as the length of off-road cycleways to almost 2000 km (RTA 2011).

FleetWise is a NSW Government program to help organisations reduce running costs and the emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants from their passenger and light commercial vehicles under 3.5 tonnes, as well as heavy vehicles. These reductions are achieved through a combination of:

  • improved vehicle procurement
  • adopting alternative vehicle and fuel technologies
  • improving fleet management practices
  • improving driver practices.

By the end of 2011, around 8000 vehicles from 35 fleets were participating in FleetWise, with some fleet managers reporting fuel and cost savings of up to 12%.

Public transport

NSW 2021 sets long-term goals and immediate actions that will help deliver better outcomes for transport. Action to increase patronage on public transport includes improving train, bus and ferry reliability; minimising waiting times for customers; and increasing the availability of real time travel information.

Bus initiatives: During 2010–11, continued investments in bus services included 253 to serve growth areas such as the Hills District worth $114.9 million; 114 articulated buses ($86.9m); and 198 new buses – 93 for the State Transit fleet and 105 for private operators ($97.6m)

Since its introduction in October 2008, the Metrobus network with its high-frequency, high-capacity links between major destinations across Sydney has grown quickly to 8000 services per week on 13 routes.

A hybrid bus went into service in mid-2011 to trial the potential for energy and greenhouse gas savings from this new technology. This project contributes to the development of a clean energy future for NSW.

Rail initiatives: Sydney's geographic expansion has been faster than that of the city's rail network. The Government is supporting urban growth, especially in the North-West and South-West growth centres, through additional investment in rail infrastructure. Two new heavy rail lines in these areas and a light rail extension in the inner west will increase the reach, capacity and patronage of public transport for Sydney.

The South-West Rail Link will create two new stations at Leppington and Edmondson Park (both with commuter car parking) and the construction of two additional tracks between Kingsgrove and Revesby will also support this new line.

Significant investment in rolling stock is continuing. By the end of 2014, Waratah trains comprising 626 new air-conditioned carriages will be in service on the Sydney network. The Oscar project for inter-urban trains will see 221 double-decker carriages in place by March 2013.

Ferry initiatives: In May 2011, the NSW Government announced the reform of Sydney Ferries by franchising existing services with the aim of delivering improved and expanded services to commuters.

Walking and cycling

A range of green travel initiatives is being implemented. Encouraging people to leave their car at home and use alternatives will help to reduce carbon pollution, improve air quality and maximise the capacity of the existing road network. This balances the needs of public transport passengers, bicycle riders and motorcyclists, pedestrians, motorists and commercial operators.

Regulating noise

In NSW, the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) administers the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 and Protection of the Environment Operations (Noise Control) Regulation 2008, which provide the legal framework for managing environmental noise. No single government authority is responsible for managing noise pollution.

The Liquor Act 2007, administered by the NSW Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing (OLGR), provides for the management of licensed premises, including noisy behaviour by patrons.

Government agencies responsible for dealing with noise issues include:

  • local councils (for barking dogs, and noise from building and construction, garbage collection, and sporting and entertainment venues)
  • the EPA (for noise from large industrial complexes, key public infrastructure and concerts at major state venues)
  • NSW Police and local councils (for noisy car alarms, garden equipment and musical instruments in residential properties)
  • NSW Police and OLGR (for noise from clubs and pubs).

The NSW Government provides guidance to regulators, industry and acoustic practitioners about how to manage different types of noise and limit land-use conflicts likely to result in noise complaints.

Motor vehicle noise

Noisy vehicles account for a significant proportion of noise complaints to Environment Line. Because motor vehicle ownership is increasing in NSW, general levels of road traffic noise throughout NSW have risen. Government responses include:

  • targeting individual noisy vehicles
  • enforcing nationally agreed noise standards
  • expanding the network of stations that test noisy vehicles
  • setting noise standards for road traffic on new and redeveloped roads
  • providing guidance for developers building residences near busy roads and rail corridors.

The NSW Road Noise Policy (DECCW 2011a) specifies noise criteria that define acceptable road traffic noise when road projects are being assessed to protect the community from the impact of road traffic noise. A new relative increase criterion has been introduced to minimise significant increases in road traffic noise in quiet areas.

A study of best-practice planning for noise and vehicle air emissions along road and rail corridors led to preparation of the Development Near Rail Corridors and Busy Roads: Interim guideline (DoP 2008b) to support specific rail and road provisions of State Environmental Planning Policy (Infrastructure) 2007. The policy introduced goals for internal noise levels for residential and other sensitive developments alongside busy road and rail corridors to protect health and amenity in line with World Health Organization guidelines. The planning guidelines recognise that judicious land-use planning, architectural design, building orientation and good internal layout can achieve acceptable acoustic amenity in close proximity to busy transport corridors.

Since 2008, NSW Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) has developed the Noise Abatement Program (NAP) to mitigate noise impacts associated with existing state and federal roads. The NAP provides noise mitigation treatment for dwellings and noise-sensitive land uses, such as schools, hospitals and churches, that are exposed to high levels of road traffic noise as measured by specific criteria. Noise abatement treatments available under the program include noise barriers, noise mounds and architectural treatments. RMS allocated $3 million to the program in 2010–11 and $8 million in 2011–12.

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Developing responses

Review of the planning and development system

Goal 29 under NSW 2021 is to restore confidence and integrity in the planning system with the target of rewriting the state's main planning law. An extensive listening and scoping phase between July and November 2011 informed preparation of an issues paper which was released in December 2011. Based on this consultation, a 'green paper' is currently on exhibition recommending a preferred planning system structure. This will lead to the exhibition of a 'white paper' prior to a legislative Bill being submitted to the NSW Parliament in early 2013.

The aim of the reforms is to move from an overly regulated and prescriptive planning system to a simpler, strategic and more flexible performance-based framework with community participation and strategic planning as its focus. Rather than detailed prescriptions on how planning and development assessment should be carried out, the new system will include delegated instruments (or 'practice notes') and guidelines, providing greater flexibility and an ability to respond to change.

A new metropolitan strategy for Sydney will be prepared as a 20-year plan to build liveable centres across the city. It will guide future planning and investment decisions covering housing, economic development and jobs, open space, and the transport needed to connect homes, jobs, education and recreation facilities.

A review of the system for managing Crown land has commenced and is due for completion in 2013.


Central to the NSW Government's strategic planning framework for transport is the NSW Long Term Transport Master Plan currently being developed by Transport for NSW (TFNSW 2012) and which will reflect the consolidation of the state's urban and regional strategies as well as the Freight Strategy. Underpinning the top-level strategies will be a strong focus on land-use planning, corridor strategies, access plans, modal plans and other supporting plans. The master plan will use agreed forecasts about where people will be living and working, as reflected in land-use and other local and regional planning strategies, and integrate with NSW's 20-year Infrastructure Strategy and national strategies and plans.

Informing the Long Term Transport Master Plan will be transport and mode strategies, including a Freight Strategy and regional strategies. These will outline short, medium and long-term transport projects based on an assessment of existing and future demand and needs as well as service requirements, costing, economic appraisal, and environmental and engineering information.

As part of its submission to Infrastructure Australia in November 2011, the NSW Government released the draft options paper Rail Options for the Sydney Greater Metropolitan Area (TFNSW 2011). When endorsed, the master plan will identify future infrastructure priorities to increase capacity on the rail network. Current Government projections indicate that demand for rail transport will continue to grow, making it important to protect corridors that will allow for future expansion. Precinct planning around stations will guide the improvements required to assist connectivity and provide equitable access.

Rail initiatives: The North-West Rail Link will feature eight new stations over a 23-kilometre arc from Epping to Rouse Hill. In addition, track duplication on the Richmond Line between Quakers Hill and Schofields will cater for future passenger demand. To encourage additional public transport patronage, four commuter car parks at Blacktown, Schofields, Macarthur and Kingswood rail stations and seven interchange upgrades at Narwee, Werrington, Allawah, Panania, North Strathfield, Kingswood and Kogarah will be opened in 2011–12. The Government's Parking Space Levy is intended to discourage car use in business districts by imposing a levy on off-street commercial and office parking spaces. Part of the revenue raised goes towards additional car parking facilities across the CityRail network.

Light rail initiatives: Under the Sydney Light Rail Program, existing light rail will be extended 5.6 km from Lilyfield to Dulwich Hill. The extension will provide additional public transport services through nine new stops in the inner western suburbs. The Sydney Light Rail Strategic Plan, when complete in 2012, will assess the wider network benefits and needs of customers to achieve the best public transport services for passengers in the CBD, University of NSW and University of Sydney corridors.

Walking and cycling: A whole-of-government Cycling Action Plan is being implemented, which represents the largest program of bicycle initiatives and construction projects ever prepared for NSW. The plan combines investment in cycling infrastructure with a range of social programs and policy reforms designed to ensure riding a bike becomes as easy as walking or driving for short local trips. The action plan will be reviewed and updated as part of work to prepare the Long Term Transport Master Plan.

A draft NSW Walking Strategy has been developed as part of the transport master plan to address pedestrian needs and encourage more people to walk. In the meantime pedestrian facilities, including bridges over major roads and local access improvements, are being delivered in partnership with local councils and other Government agencies. One such project includes the Wynyard Walk, a fully accessible pedestrian link between Wynyard Rail Station, the developing CBD western corridor and Barangaroo.

Rail noise

Efforts are also being made to better manage the environmental impacts of noise from the rail system. This requires action by rail infrastructure owners and developers, rail operators, train manufacturers, regulatory and planning authorities, and the community (OEH 2012). The current approach includes noise criteria for new and redeveloped rail lines, a rail noise abatement program, environmental planning guidelines for new residential developments along rail lines, and rolling stock noise-emission standards (DoP 2008b).

Industrial noise

The key NSW Industrial Noise Policy (EPA 2000) is scheduled for review to ensure it reflects best-practice mitigation and management measures for noise-generating industrial activities.

The NSW Government has overseen a study into methods for estimating the strength of temperature inversions. This is important because noise levels can increase markedly in these meteorological conditions. The implications of this research for assessing industrial noise will be taken into account in the forthcoming review of the Industrial Noise Policy.

An EPA study of the level and character of low frequency noise and infrasound in the environment will inform its review of the assessment methodologies for low frequency noise from industrial sources.

Wind farm noise

The NSW Government released draft planning guidelines for wind farms in December 2011 for community feedback (DP&I 2011a; DP&I 2011b). The draft guidelines have enhanced noise criteria, noise assessment and noise compliance requirements.

Neighbourhood noise

Neighbourhood noise is another significant source of noise pollution, with responsibility mainly residing with local councils and the NSW Police. Noise pollution is effectively controlled locally or regionally, depending on the source. For example, NSW is working with other jurisdictions to develop a scheme for Australia and New Zealand which would require residential air conditioners and household garden equipment to have noise labels to assist consumers to select appropriate models.

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Future opportunities

Integrated, coordinated strategic approaches to planning are required to help reduce the impacts of population growth on both metropolitan and non-metro areas of NSW. Between 2012 and 2014, existing strategies will be revised and new strategies prepared to provide a 20-year vision for NSW.

More baseline data about noise would assist planners and compliance officers to deal effectively with noise problems. State and local governments need coordinated strategies to ensure that land-use compatibility is considered upfront in all planning processes to prevent the generation of new noise sources that have an adverse impact on public health and amenity. Planning for new developments should aim to avoid noise-related land-use conflicts through initial planning, with appropriate separation of incompatible uses. Urban renewal should be located and designed to minimise noise impacts on residents while recognising the benefits of concentrating housing around transport nodes or corridors. The planning of new release areas should consider existing adjoining land uses, such as small farm holdings.

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Contents SoE 2012 View printable page Last modified: December 2012