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Defeated candidates lament lack of planning expertise on new City Council

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Defeated Adelaide City Council candidates Sandy Wilkinson and Stephanie Johnston say the lack of councillors with planning qualifications on the new council could endanger the city’s heritage.

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Wilkinson and Johnston credit their electoral defeats on a split vote, with both candidates running similar platforms on heritage and planning.

Wilkinson – an architectural consultant and incumbent councillor – was a passionate heritage advocate during his 11-year term on council, campaigning for issues including the expansion of heritage listings, the refurbishment of the Victoria Park stables, reinstating the Central Market’s Grote Street façade and setting the council’s “guiding principles” for the Central Market Arcade redevelopment.

Newcomer Stephanie Johnston, a heritage consultant and Adelaide Park Lands Authority board member, also ran with a strong heritage platform, promising to advocate for World Heritage listing of the park lands and to fight for a positive outcome for council with the State Government’s upcoming planning reforms.

But both area candidates failed to gain more than 700 votes at last weekend’s election, losing to veteran councillor Anne Moran and newcomers Arman Abrahimzadeh, Robert Simms and Franz Knoll.

“We certainly shared a vote in terms of heritage and planning and that meant that votes weren’t flowing sufficiently in either of our laps,” Johnston told InDaily.  

“It is unfortunate the way that Sandy and I have seemed to have knocked each other out – me as a planner with an architectural background and Sandy as an architect with a planning background.

“Sandy is very focussed on construction – how you can keep heritage while still building new buildings whereas I’m more focussed on policy.

“We’re going to have neither of that experience on a council that’s going to have to deal with planning reform and the impacts of that planning reform on heritage conservation.”

Johnston said it would be a “big challenge” for the council to address planning reform without councillors who had experience in the industry.

She said while she thought most candidates had an “understanding and a concern” for planning and heritage issues, she questioned whether the elected body could adequately negotiate on policy matters.

“It’s clearly a concern for residents – the loss of planning powers to the State Government, the concern for the ability of the community to challenge things in court.

“This isn’t just about saying no you can’t knock that down, yes you can knock that building down, it’s about working out complex policy matters around planning reform.

“Obviously the (council) staff are well-advised but it does help if the elected members have an understanding and experience in the area.”

Wilkinson took to Facebook following his electoral defeat to express regret that his “previous heritage vote was split”.

He told InDaily today that the newly elected council did not feature candidates with the same “qualifications and experience” that he had.

“There are people who have sympathetic views towards heritage issues but no one who has the experience and the drive like I have to favour heritage matters,” he said.

“I have always advocated for buildings to be returned to the state they were originally in, and I’m gravely concerned that with the new council, there won’t be that same drive, despite a few people who are well-meaning, but who do not have the knowledge and experience like I do.”

Johnston said there were “real dangers” sites such as the parklands and heritage buildings could be put in danger if councillors did not adequately fight for their protection.

She said she welcomed Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor’s support of World Heritage listing of the park lands and said it was pleasing to see all candidates spoke about the park lands and heritage in the lead up to the election.

“It’s something that obviously everyone cares about, it’s at the heart of our identity,” she said.

“But, there are real dangers that we’re going to lose the ground level detail and heritage fabric that we love as bigger sites get those towers put on them.”

Wilkinson said the split vote between himself and Johnston allowed ‘Team Adelaide’ – a faction of candidates favoured by councillor Houssam Abiad and outgoing Lord Mayor Martin Haese – to prevail in the area ward.

Successful area candidates Arman Abrahimzadeh and Franz Knoll were both listed as Haese and Verschoor’s endorsed candidates.

Re-elected area councillor Anne Moran also had Haese’s endorsement but said she was never invited to join the group and had not attended its meetings.

InDaily reported yesterday that candidates connected with ‘Team Adelaide’ had formed a majority on the new Adelaide City Council.

Wilkinson, who wasn’t part of the group, said ‘Team Adelaide’ had “absolutely” impacted his chances of electoral success.

Johnston said there had been more “organised alliances” at this year’s council elections than before, but she stopped short of blaming the existence of ‘Team Adelaide’ for her electoral defeat.

“In my case, I could have run in south ward or across the big picture (as area councillor), but I chose area because I was campaigning for issues that would impact a larger area of the city,” she said.

“That put me up against Sandy, so it was in my own doing that we were running together.”

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