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Online planning system to cost SA $25 million

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After a drawn-out and often frustrating fight to get his planning reforms through parliament, John Rau’s next battle was convincing Tom Koutsantonis to loosen Treasury’s purse-strings to fund its rollout.

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The state’s Property Council’s April budget submission had called for a three-year commitment to “fully fund” proposed digital planning infrastructure, at a cost mooted to be around $20 million.

Rau, and the Property Council, have emerged victorious from the budget deliberations, with today’s state budget – more details of which InDaily will reveal in a special edition after 3pm – containing a $24.8 million commitment to a new e-Planning system, albeit to be delivered over four years.

That will be coupled with the creation of a new State Planning Commission to provide independent advice to state and local governments and industry bodies, as well as assessing certain projects.

While it’s unclear whether the rollout will be fully-funded – or how much it would cost to do so – Rau insisted it would create “faster and clearer pathways for assessing development proposals”, attracting investors and “making the process easier to navigate for ordinary home owners”.

“Now the reforms have been passed, the hard work begins to implement the changes,” he said.

“This funding is the start of that process – one that will benefit all South Australians.”

SA Property Council executive director Daniel Gannon concurred, saying the need for additional investment was “something we’ve been cognisant of for a while now”.

“We have a lethargic local government-based system that’s pretty analogue,” he said.

“For mum and dad investors, for example, renovating a home or subdividing a block, at the moment they can’t access the information they need in a speedy or even timely manner… it’s like still using a note pad or fax machine when we have modern technology like the internet or the cloud.

“It slows people down, it slows development down.”

Gannon told InDaily if an application was going to be rejected, “a quick no is better than a slow no”.

“This is not a luxury or an indulgence – it’s a necessity for a modern investment pathway,” he said.

Gannon also called for additional staff to be assigned within the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure to ensure a seamless rollout, so that “in three years’ time, when the regulations are built, we can flick a switch and start using a much more modern planning system than we currently have in place”.

Koutsantonis said the new online platform “will give homeowners, developers and business operators quick and easy access to see which laws and regulations apply to their property and enable them to track the progress of development applications”.

“New projects stimulate the building sector, and that means more jobs and a stronger economy,” he said.

“We want to encourage more activity by making the planning process as seamless as possible.”

He suggested there would also be additional funding “for projects in Port Adelaide [which] will help to breathe new life into the area, creating more activity, sustaining local businesses, promoting growth and ensuring a brighter future”.

Rau’s Planning Bill passed parliament in April with a formalised Urban Growth Boundary and a new Infrastructure Levy regime to be put in place, although his bid to ban elected councillors from Development Assessment Panels failed.

The cost and efficacy of the e-Planning rollout will be heavily scrutinised given the Government’s track-record with online administration, with the Auditor-General this week releasing yet more damning findings against the costly failures of the systems used by the departments of Health and Communities.

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