The Office of Strategic Lands (OSL) was established under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (EP&A Act) to identify, acquire, manage and divest land required for long-term planning by the NSW Government, particularly for open space and public purposes.
OSL is a Corporation Sole acting on behalf of the Minister for Planning and is run within the Department of Planning and Environment (DPE). OSL is a self-funding entity, and is responsible for administering the Sydney Region Development Fund (SRDF), a statutory fund used for ongoing land acquisition and management. OSL currently only operates within greater Sydney and holds over a billion dollars in land assets in this region.
This audit assessed whether OSL effectively fulfils its role to identify, acquire, manage and dispose of land, and whether OSL ensures it is sustainable over the long-term to meet its objectives.
OSL effectively fulfils most aspects of its defined role, but is not supporting strategic land planning through proactive identification and acquisition of land for future public use. OSL is diligent in its financial management over the short and medium terms. However, it has identified that relying on the sale of surplus land to continue funding its ongoing operations is not sustainable, and it is yet to finalise a strategy to address this.
OSL does not currently have a strategic or proactive focus to improve land planning outcomes. This is primarily due to the lack of a clear strategy and business plan to direct its work which defines OSL’s purpose, objectives, goals and performance targets. OSL expects to finalise and implement a Strategic Business Plan to guide its future direction and long-term sustainability, in late 2017.
OSL has three primary sources of funding. The largest source is Treasury loans which it needs to repay. The next most significant source of funding is from sales of land no longer required for government’s long-term needs. OSL has identified that it is likely to run out of surplus land within ten years. This is a significant financial risk for OSL, which should be addressed through a long-term financial strategy.
Contributions by Sydney councils into the SRDF are OSL’s only regular and consistent income stream. The formula to calculate these contributions has not been reviewed for over 25 years, and recent council mergers and border changes have increased the need to review the formula.
OSL is not used as extensively as it could be by other NSW Government agencies. It has the potential to play a much bigger role in assisting NSW Government agencies with longer term planning by partnering with them to identify, acquire, hold and manage land for future needs. For example, it could acquire land in future residential growth areas for needed public services such as schools, hospitals and transport corridors. There is also potential for OSL to expand its operations beyond the greater Sydney region into other parts of NSW to provide a statewide benefit from its unique role in government.