The first finding of the State Government’s planning review is that everybody is unhappy with the planning system – communities, councils, developers and government.
The review, led by Brian Hayes QC, will put out an options paper containing suggested changes to the system in May. This morning it released a report surveying all the feedback it had received via state-wide public workshops – and it seems every stakeholder wants change.
Local communities, councils and the Government are all dissatisfied with the way public consultation on planning and development issues works.
Communities feel they were only asked for their opinion on a policy or nearby development after a Government had made up its mind, or not asked at all.
“The complexity of the material provides little opportunity for local and individual involvement in establishing the issues, or ways to address these issues, during the formation of a strategy, and in understanding the implications for local neighbourhoods,” the report said.
Conversely, councils and Government bemoaned the unwillingness of people to get involved other than in protesting a particular nearby development. These groups want more public submissions when a policy is being developed, rather than when it is being executed.
Governments also struggled to convince community groups of the science underpinning many planning strategies – “there was a reluctance by some to accept official population and demographic projections, or the evidence pointing to the implications of slower population growth on people’s livelihoods”, the report says.
And councils complain they don’t know how to implement the State Government’s strategic direction – including the 30-Year-Plan – at a local level.
“The Planning Strategy works as a high-level statement of directions, but … councils and agencies lack guidance in translating it into action at the regional or local level, in framing policies and rules that would deliver on its directions.
“Feedback from many councils and practitioners, and also environment-sector bodies, pointed to the absence of a clear statutory relationship between relevant state plans”.
One way to get there – and to encourage high-level public involvement – would be to simplify the development system and make it more readable and understandable to community members.
That may, however, be in conflict with the system’s professionals – planners and architects – who feel their professional expertise often goes unvalued.
Councils and the State Government are currently engaged in a verbal slagging match as the Planning Minister pushes through reforms to reduce the role of councils in development approval.
Hayes told InDaily the ongoing review wasn’t a reason for the Government to stop making changes to the planning system – but all those changes would be scrutinized as well.
“You don’t expect governments to stop governing while a review is taking place,” he said. “If they want to govern they govern.”
On the changes, the survey’s respondents were divided, Hayes said.
“It’s mixed on that. We heard from the elected members, and to be fair not only the elected members we heard from independent members who were on assessment panels, that they felt that the existence of an elected member was of assistance to them.
“So I don’t know what the answer is. We’ve heard two views.”
Meanwhile, developers feel the entire system makes development to difficult and doesn’t offer confidence to someone looking to invest money.
The development approval process needs to be linked to the impact of the project, the survey’s respondents say; small developments, like car ports and garages, need to be quick and easy, whereas big developments with a big impact on the community need a high level of evaluation.
Participants suggested the system should work out to the vast majority of development applications being dealt with without a full merit assessment.
Developers want the right to initiate development plan changes over land that they own. They’re also keen on more certainty in the system – possibly from having an in-principle planning consent which would let them get financing while submitting their full designs for approval.
At the opposite end of the spectrum environmental groups expressed concern that environmental impact assessments weren’t rigorous or transparent enough. An “improve or maintain” requirement for development impact was suggested.
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