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Rau fumes as urban growth boundary killed off

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An “extremely disappointed” Planning Minister John Rau has accused a coalition of Upper House MPs of putting developers’ profits ahead of preventing urban sprawl, conceding the defeat of his urban growth boundary plan is a “huge blow” to his planning legislation.

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The boundary would have protected around 800,000 hectares of rural land in the “Hills Face Zone” from development unless ratified by parliament, but it was rejected by the Opposition, Family First and Independent MLC John Darley as the Upper House worked through Labor’s complex planning law reforms last night.

“I think it’s important that the community realises what these characters are actually doing,” Rau told InDaily.

“They’ve actually left the Hills Face Zone in a precarious zone from a legal point of view – I was trying to protect it… Why they chose to do this, God only knows!”

Rau insisted that without enshrined protection ministerial whim is “the only thing standing between that area being bulldozed and staying as it is”.

The proposed protected zone covered land in the foothills and Mt Lofty Ranges, and extended from the Fleurieu Peninsula in the south across Murray Bridge and north through Mallala.

“It would be interesting to know what the Liberal MPs who represent some of these seats think their constituents will make of this,” said Rau.

“These people have torn up the opportunity to protect the hills face zone… Who’s pressuring them? What is the nature of the pressure that’s being applied?”

He insisted his legislation was “a no-brainer”, saying: “They’ve got to have a reason for doing this.”

“I know for a fact that the large developer lobbies … don’t like the notion of there being any difficulty associated with rezoning beyond having to get in the ear of the minister,” he said.

Shortly after becoming Planning Minister, Rau famously pledged there would be “no more Mount Barkers on my watch”, and laments that the urban boundary “was me bringing home the bacon on that promise”.

“These are the same people who for years harassed me and criticised me because of Mount Barker – which, incidentally, was a decision that predated me – and exactly the same people who go off their brains if there’s a thought of putting a footbridge in the parklands,” he said.

“But it’s open slather on the Hills Face Zone.”

But Family First MLC Robert Brokenshire said Rau had “got his knickers in a knot” after failing to properly engage with the Upper House and trying to rush the legislation through before the Christmas break.

“The (urban growth boundary) maps were not even provided to parliament until literally hours before the debate,” he said.

“It’s to do with the Government working properly with industry sectors and parliament, which the minister has failed to do … it’s pretty inappropriate and unprofessional by the minister.”

Brokenshire argued the Murray Bridge area had been earmarked for development opportunities dating back to Don Dunstan, but he nonetheless supported the broader bill.

“This could be a very good piece of legislation if it’s worked properly through parliament, (to avoid) unintended consequences that can work against the real intent of the legislation,” he said.

Brokenshire believes the bill will “most likely not” pass before the end-of-year recess, despite Rau threatening to make the Upper House sit until it is resolved.

The minister said he was still hopeful of getting the bill passed before Christmas, saying “it’s obviously seriously compromised by this (but) I’m hopeful I can get most of it through”.

That’s despite his own office tabling more than 130 amendments to his own legislation, but he insists: “I’m not embarrassed about moving amendments.”

John Darley told InDaily: “The moment you put in a boundary like that it immediately has the impact of increasing land prices.”

“It’s normal supply and demand, no more, no less,” he said.

Liberal Upper House leader David Ridgway said the Opposition “believes in a boundary, but we don’t believe in a mandatory one”.

“We believe in the provisions that have existed since 1962,” he said.

“I think it’s a bit rich (for the minister) to not acknowledge that (major development) has only ever happened when we’ve had a Labor Government, subject to influence from external forces, I suspect.”

Property Council executive director Daniel Gannon told InDaily the boundary provisions had been “too inflexible”, saying: “We don’t see that such an entrenchment provision is warranted for what is a matter of planning and development policy, which should have the flexibility to change as required.”

And he rejected the minister’s swipe at the industry lobby.

“The State Government last night throughout the course of debate reflected poorly on a job-creating industry that provides employment for almost 170,000 South Australians,” Gannon said.

“We were also surprised and disappointed to note the adversarial approach taken by the Government through last night’s debate despite the unorthodox nature of its consultation. Certainly from the Property Council’s perspective, we have employed a collegiate, respectful and private approach.”

Housing Industry Association Executive Director Brenton Gardner said: “The housing industry has made our concerns about the proposed (boundaries) well known for some time, so this is a very welcome result.”

Master Builders SA chief executive Ian Markos said the vote was a “good decision for both housing affordability and jobs”.

“There is a lot of good in this bill and it holds great promise for unlocking benefits,” he said.

“The defeat of the urban growth boundary makes this reform stronger.”

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