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Govt flags delaying reforms after e-Planning guru quits

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EXCLUSIVE | The Marshall Government’s ambition to roll out a comprehensive new statewide planning framework by July has been dealt a blow with its hand-picked reform tsar resigning abruptly this week, as stakeholders warn the overhaul should be delayed.

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The Government today signalled for the first time it was “open to considering” holding up the rollout of its much-hyped Planning and Design Code’s electronic launch, slated to go live in regional SA from April and statewide from July.

The admission came as the Planning, Transport and Infrastructure Department’s Director of State Planning Reform, Marcus Bal, quit the agency this week, less than a year into his tenure.

Brought in last February to oversee the transition to a new electronic planning regime, Bal joined the department shortly after an executive exodus saw the departure of former chief development officer Andrew McKeegan, at the time considered “the last remaining senior planning guru in government”.

Bal, previously Director of Change and Improvement at TAFE SA, is described in his LinkedIn profile as “an accomplished transformation leader with a successful track record in the delivery of organizational change and reform”. He declined to comment today.

Questions to Planning Minister Stephan Knoll were redirected to a DPTI spokesperson, who confirmed Bal’s resignation, telling InDaily the “decision to leave was a personal one” and insisting “the Planning Reform program is well advanced in its search to find a replacement and expects to have the position filled by the end of next week”.

“We thank Mr Bal for his contribution to the Planning Reform program, which he leaves in good shape having managed the financial and governance aspects of the program over the past year, including the technical development of the e-planning platform,” the spokesperson said.

The agency insisted the “Australian-first” delivery of a statewide e-Planning system “is on track and will make planning easier, simpler and quicker for all South Australians”.

“Mr Bal’s departure will in no way affect the rollout of the planning reform program,” the spokesperson said.

However, they flagged a potential delay, saying: “Over the coming months we will be working with councils and users of the new system to ensure they are ready and comfortable with it… if more time is need for users to be ready, the State Planning Commission is open to considering this.”

Several stakeholders have privately flagged concerns about the planning reform rollout, with more than one likening the looming e-Planning portal to the previous Labor government’s troubled e-Health Enterprise Patient Administration System, dubbing it “EPAS Mark 2”.

Others have raised concerns about the lack of high-level planning expertise within DPTI required to undertake a reform of this magnitude within the required timeframe.

The Local Government Association has already demanded a delay, with CEO Matt Pinnegar telling InDaily councils were “working closely with DPTI to address issues in the State Government’s new Planning and Design Code ahead of its rollout this year”.

“We have conveyed to the Government and the Commission that more time is needed for testing and training, and we have asked for a delay in the implementation of phase two, which covers regional and rural areas and is due to commence in April,” he said.

“It’s better to get it right rather than rush fundamental changes to how planning is conducted in SA.”

He said the e-Planning portal was “a key component of the new system and it’s vital that it works and supports councils to deliver better planning outcomes”.

“Quite simply, the new planning system and planning code cannot come into operation without a tried and tested e-Planning system,” he said.

The Urban Development Institute of Australia’s SA CEO Pat Gerace told InDaily that “many of our members have expressed significant concerns about the pace of the reforms, particularly because of the massive complexity involved and the near impossibility of making sense of the changes in a very short period of time”.

“While we are pleased that the Government has kept its doors open and is prepared to listen to our concerns, with what we have seen so far there really needs to be a second draft of the new Planning and Design Code released before going live,” he said.

“With a whole new system we’re sceptical that amendments to fix those unintended consequences can be done quickly, and SA can’t really afford a hiatus in development on top of the hit to confidence we are already experiencing as a result of other reforms last year.”

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