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Govt concedes there’s “room for improvement” as planning reforms paused

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There is no clear timeframe for the Marshall Government’s long-awaited planning overhaul, after the new minister responsible for the ambitious rollout pushed pause on the scheme – and pledged to go back to the drawing board on several areas of contention.

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Deputy Premier Vickie Chapman last month took over the Planning portfolio after the resignation of Stephan Knoll prompted the carve-up of his ministerial empire – with Transport and Infrastructure going to Corey Wingard and Renewal SA to Treasurer Rob Lucas.

Knoll’s office had long maintained the planning reforms – already delayed by three months to September – remained on track, despite departmental insiders and interest groups flagging issues with the rollout, which includes the introduction of a new e-Planning framework.

Those concerns have been borne out by Chapman’s decision to put the rollout on ice, less than three weeks after taking on the project.

In a statement, Chapman said the September launch date “was always dependent on a number of factors including the scale and complexity of submissions received during our consultation stage”.

“The final phase of PlanSA will not be introduced prior to Christmas 2020 [and] I intend to announce a more definite date once I am fully briefed on the whole of the program,” she said.

She said the Government had been “listening closely to councils, industry and the wider community, who have all urged us to move the final phase of implementation to next year”.

“Over 90 per cent of development applications are lodged in the metropolitan area, so we need to take the necessary time and continue to collaborate with stakeholders and work with councils who are integral to the program’s success,” she said.

“At this stage of the process, it would be irresponsible for us to proceed and ignore the insight and feedback that we have received from councils and the broader community.”

Asked on ABC Radio Adelaide whether she would consider concerns raised by critics of the planning changes on issues such as heritage protections and contributory items, Chapman said simply: “Yes.”

“There’s room for improvement in all of those areas,” she added on further questioning.

“I’d call it strengthening heritage issues rather than winding back programs [but] I’ve said we’re not going to have a plan that’s operational before Christmas, so this will be properly looked at and we’ll make [those] decisions.”

Labor’s Planning spokesman Tony Piccolo welcomed the decision, for which he said “Labor, along with industry and the community, has been calling for over nine months”.

“It’s unfortunate the Government had to be dragged kicking and screaming to see common sense and delay these reforms to next year,” he said in a statement.

“If they had not delayed it, the reforms would have done untold damage to the housing industry, hurt the state’s economic recovery from COVID-19 and cost us thousands of jobs.”

Master Builders SA boss Ian Markos said it was “pleasing to see the new minister acting to address the concerns of the building industry”.

“Due to the booming popularity of the $25,000 HomeBuilder grants, councils are going to inundated with development applications from October,” he said.

“The Code is extremely complex, even for experienced practitioners, and to try and roll out these once-in-a-generation reforms during such a busy period would have been disastrous.”

However, he cautioned Chapman against “listening too much to the usual anti-development brigade who have also welcomed the Code being delayed”.

“There is more than $1 billion worth of construction work currently sitting in council planning departments awaiting assessment – now more than ever, that’s work that needs to get out there as soon as possible to protect the jobs of builders, tradies, suppliers and the many other South Australians who rely on a strong building industry,” he said.

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