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SA councils knock back "overly bureaucratic" planning reform

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The Local Government Association has rejected a State Government push for councils to give greater scrutiny to design quality in development decisions, saying the “overly bureaucratic” move will be “easily ignored” by developers and assessment authorities.

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It follows concerns from the SA Architects Institute that “leniency” in the state’s planning system meant the State Commission Assessment Panel (SCAP) could “ignore” design advice provided to it by the Government Architect and other experts, making it easy for developers to bypass heritage and height restrictions.

The SCAP is responsible for assessing development applications valued above $10 million, with all other developments referred to local government assessment panels.

As part of its ongoing planning reforms, the State Government wants to introduce an optional scheme for local government assessment panels to refer development applications valued below $10 million to separate, council-run design panels comprised of independent experts.

A government spokesperson said the panels would be tasked with assessing whether the proposed buildings meet design guidelines to support “high-quality design” and “assist with informed decision-making during development assessment”.

The scheme would be voluntary for councils and developers.

According to the Office for Design and Architecture, developers who choose to opt-in would only be able to access the scheme before they formally lodge their development applications.

Councils would then be required to consider the advice of the design panels during their assessment processes.

In its submission to the State Government, the Local Government Association said it saw “significant benefit in good design being part of the new planning system”, but councils would “not take up the scheme as currently presented”.

It described the proposal as “overly bureaucratic” and “unlikely to have any positive impact”, with the opt-in model likely to be “easily ignored by both developers and assessment authorities”.

“It is the view of local government that the scheme as currently proposed will not result in improved and high-quality design outcomes,” the submission states.

According to the LGA, the “opt-in” model might result in developments “which would greatly benefit from design review” escaping design scrutiny.

It said if a developer’s “chief concern” was to reduce holding costs, expedite the assessment process and maximise profit, “the scheme may need to provide greater incentive for development proponents to engage with it”.

“Councils have indicated that the cost of establishing and implementing the scheme may forgo the benefits of the scheme itself,” the submission adds.

“Some councils have considered that because the Scheme has been established to provide design advice to development proponents against the state-wide planning and design code, the State Government should bear the costs of the system.”

The LGA noted that some councils, including the City of Prospect, had already introduced their own local design review systems.

“The City of Prospect has noted that in most instances, the design review process leads to development application amendments and improved design outcomes,” it said.

Australian Institute of Architects SA executive director Nicolette Di Lernia said design quality needed to be given greater respect in planning decisions.

She said the proposed opt-in model for the local design review scheme meant its “meaningfulness” was compromised.

“It is totally voluntary for the applicant to go through that process or not, in which case, a lot of development will not go through a design review process but the community will still have to wear the impact of that development in the long term,” she said.

“It’s a concern because buildings are long-term investments, they have a long-term impact and they don’t just impact on the area within the site boundary – they actually have significant impact beyond that.”

A state government spokesperson said it anticipated that there would be a demand for the scheme on a voluntary basis.

The spokesperson said the cost of running the scheme was being considered “through the extensive consultation process”, with a decision to be made “in due course”.

The Office for Design and Architecture SA has proposed it run a trial of the scheme in the coming months.

The LGA said that it would be willing to help run the pilot provided its concerns were addressed.

InDaily contacted Planning Minister Vickie Chapman for comment.

Chapman earlier this month put a pause on the roll-out of a new state planning system and pledged to go back to the drawing board on several areas of contention.

The overhaul was already delayed by three months to September, but Chapman said the launch date “was always dependent on a number of factors including the scale and complexity of submissions received”.

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