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Management team gutted in new Planning Dept exodus

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EXCLUSIVE | Almost the entire leadership of the State Government’s delayed e-Planning rollout has resigned in recent days as bureaucrats stage a mass walkout from a project the responsible agency insists remains on track.

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Planning, Transport and Infrastructure Minister Stephan Knoll confirmed on Friday his long-touted statewide planning overhaul – including the rollout of a new electronic portal – would be delayed by at least three months, citing stakeholder concerns about the pace of the changes.

At the time, Knoll insisted the Government was “on track to deliver the new Planning and Design Code on time [but] the advice from the [State Planning] Commission is that stakeholders, councils and the community are asking for more time to understand the Code and become familiar with the new e-Planning system”.

The go-slow followed the resignation – revealed by InDaily last month – of State Planning Reform director Marcus Bal, who quit the agency less than a year after he was appointed by incoming CEO Tony Braxton-Smith.

InDaily has now confirmed that four more e-Planning bureaucrats have resigned in the days since, including program manager Kimberley Smyth and policy stream lead of the planning reform implementation program, Fran Wharton.

Program management coordinator Madeleine MacMillan and Leanne Williams, the executive assistant to the planning reform program director are also understood to have quit.

It’s understood that between Bal, Smyth and Wharton – who all came to DPTI from TAFE SA in the last year – three out of four executives making up the two management tiers overseeing the project have now left within the space of a few days.

The State Planning Reform director answers to Planning executive director Sally Smith.

The department said the resignations were all for “personal reasons”, however InDaily understands there have been major concerns expressed within the agency about the rollout of the project.

Smyth told InDaily today she preferred not to elaborate on the reasons for her departure but conceded “I had concerns” and “felt it was best for me to be in an environment I felt was more aligned to my values”.

Wharton said her decision was made for both “personal and professional” reasons.

A Department spokesperson nonetheless insisted that “delivery of the e-Planning system is tracking to schedule”, with the agency “now shifting emphasis from the build phase to validation and implementation”.

“As such there will be a shift in skills required to implement the program and [these] positions will not be replaced,” they said, restating that “the extension of time announced last week for delivery of SA’s new planning system is to help councils, industry and the community prepare for its introduction, and is not related to e-Planning readiness”.

It’s understood there was a recent move from the upper echelons of the department to separate responsibility for council and business readiness from e-Planning, while InDaily has been told there has been a “high turnover of staff” in the planning portfolio in recent months.

“Project and program implementation specialist” Ray Partridge was last week installed as Bal’s replacement.

State Planning Commissioner Michael Lennon said the commission had engaged an “independent external assessment” that “gave us high levels of confidence in the readiness of the e-platform”.

“The Commission has been closely monitoring the readiness of the e-platform and we’ve been assured both by DPTI and an external party that the program remains on track,” he said.

“We’re delighted in the calibre of the new leadership team.”

But Opposition spokesman Tony Piccolo said the latest resignations followed the departure of two senior planners earlier this year, saying: “The place is in disarray.”

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