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Council fumes as it loses consultation powers

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Adelaide City Council has hit out at the sudden removal of statutory consultation powers for major city developments that was quietly pushed through by the State Government this week.

The State Government says the change – gazetted yesterday – is needed because it has evidence the council is stymieing city development.

Until now the State Government’s recent series of planning law reforms have drawn only muted criticism from lobby groups, but Town Hall has decided to go public with its unhappiness.

Under the changes, which Planning Minister John Rau announced in a letter to councillors on Monday, the council will lose formal statuatory consultation rights for developments in the CBD over $10 million.

Such developments are currently approved by the State Government’s Development Assessment Commission (DAC). However the DAC is required to formally consult with council and must give significant weight to its views – and has in the past required developers to modify their designs after a council submission.

Under the change, that formal statutory consultation requirement will be removed. Other bodies with formal statutory consultation rights will not be affected.

“We understand the State will move immediately to gazette the decision, which is disappointing  given we’ve not been consulted in any way,” the chair of the council’s City Planning and Development Committee Natasha Malani said in a statement.

“With the Minister undertaking a wide ranging state planning review headed by QC Brian Hayes, common sense would suggest any change to the planning system should be an outcome of that  overall reform process – not sit outside it.”

Malani said the council’s Development Assessment Panel (DAP) played an important role in making sure city developments fitted the overall planning strategy and vision for the CBD.

“The minister’s letter tells us the current arrangements are causing duplication and creating costly delays, but the reality is the panel plays a constructive role in providing independent assessment of large scale development which takes into account the needs of running a capital city, and those of local neighbourhoods.”

But in a letter to the council, Rau said the elected body was stifling the State Government’s development approval pre-lodgement process – a charge Council denies – forcing his hand.

“The intent of the pre-lodgement process is to collaboratively evolve a project to a point where it can receive pre-lodgement agreements with referral agencies,” the minister wrote.

“Since the reforms were introduced over 18 months ago, no pre-lodgement agreements have been reached with council, despite them being regularly achieved with other referral agencies including the Government Architect, State Heritage, Airports and Renewal SA.

“This has resulted in an inefficient assessment process, with the need for the proposal to be formally referred to council and for the project to be considered by two planning authorities.

“This is compromising the capacity of the reforms to achieve two important outcomes, namely progressive certainty and a streamlined assessment process. These outcomes are important incentives for the take-up of pre-lodgement and design review resulting in improved outcomes for the city.”

The Local Government Association said “we are having urgent consultations with the affected councils.  This includes Adelaide which until now was not involved in the process”.

“The LGA has not seen the regulation variation and has not  received a response from the minister to concerns that councils have raised. We have only just become aware that it was gazetted yesterday.”

Council’s independent Development Assessment Panel chairman John Hodgson also took the rare step of making a public statement on a political issue by critiquing the government’s decision.

“Until this decision by State Government, our referral role had allowed us to provide important input to the Development Assessment Commission on the way in which factors such as traffic management, public transport, cyclist and pedestrian movement, interact with major proposals being considered by the DAC,” he said.

“Getting these local issues right is fundamental to achieving the high quality city to which we all aspire.

“The decision to strip the panel of its referral powers may well result in these issues being given little, if any consideration by the State’s Development Assessment Commission.

“In my view it’s essential that those who manage the city or neighbourhoods where this applies have a primary role in shaping development outcomes.”

 

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