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Rau wants elected councillors out of planning

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Planning Minister John Rau wants elected council members off development assessment panels – and he’s questioning the value and continued existence of the panels altogether.

Last week the Minister moved to overrule a DAP ruling on a city development by rezoning the development site – essentially changing the rules under which the DAP had made its decision.

Rau told InDaily last week he was leaning toward wholesale planning reform.

“As a general proposition, councillors being involved in DAPs at all I think is a very very debatable issue,” he said.

“My personal view at the moment is leaning towards saying they shouldn’t be involved at all.

“I have heard information from a number of local government people, councillors, who say that they would prefer not to be involved because it puts them in a difficult position.”

Looking more broadly, Rau called into question the continued existence of the DAPs themselves.

“I think (the issue) is an example of a broader matter that we have just canvassed a little, which is the question as to whether the whole concept of DAPs as it’s been constructed is the best way to go.

“My present inclination is toward the view that we can do better… we would probably be better served by having regional based versions of the development assesment commission.”

Rau’s comments represent a strengthening of his position after he initially called for councils’ roles in planning to be reviewed in August.

Development assessment panels are made up of elected councillors and independent planning experts. They assess developments against a council’s development plan.

The planning system is currently being reviewed by an expert panel led by Brian Hayes QC, which is due to report in August next year.

On the specific DAP decision about the St Andrews development that he chose to overrule, Rau described the DAP’s decision “bizarre”.

“It was clear that there had been a decision made by the council DAP which was out of step even with the council’s own mooted changes to its development plan,” he said.

“There are some times you can follow proper processes to the nth degree but come to what is manifestly a bizarre outcome.

“It may well have been that every proper process was observed in this matter – I’m not making any assertion that that was not the case – but I do maintain that having regard to the fact that the council’s own mooted development plan for that precinct would have enabled this development to go ahead, it is somewhat strange that there was what appears to be almost robotic reliance on what everybody knows is about to be an outdated development plan.”

The developer behind the project alleged the assessment process had been marred by conflicts of interest from two of the DAP’s council members, and threatened legal action, the City Messenger has reported.

Rau said he had “no information” about any potential conflicts of interest or failures of the system.

“I have no information that would enable me to make an assertion of that type. I don’t agree with the decision that the DAP made, but that doesn’t mean I have any reason to think there’s anything improper about the conduct of any particular member.”

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