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"Planning system will be an expensive shambles": Libs blink in development standoff

Politics

Debate on the most important planning changes in a generation has descended into a “comedy of errors”, with the state Liberals set to walk away from their opposition to key changes that would see local councillors banned from sitting on Development Assessment Panels.

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The Local Government Association has hit out at the Upper House “shemozzle”, reported in InDaily on Wednesday, that left Planning Minister John Rau’s push to reform the panels in limbo.

The Liberals, Greens and independent John Darley all agreed that the role of councillors should be curbed – but couldn’t agree to what extent.

Greens MLC Mark Parnell put forward an amendment allowing two councillors on each assessment, the Opposition favoured allowing only one, while Darley wanted none – and a further ban on council staff.

But all three options were defeated, leaving no restrictions whatsoever on elected members sitting on planning application reviews.

LGA CEO Matt Pinnegar lashed the “comedy of errors in the Upper House”, with a succession of attempts to curb local government influence resulted in “DAPs being full of councillors – a huge victory for the sector!”

“It’s a shemozzle,” he said.

“If the State Government implements the planning system the way they’ve dealt with this legislation, our planning system will be an expensive shambles.”

But having failed in their bid to compromise Rau’s bill, the Liberals now appear set to support the Government.

The Opposition’s Upper House leader David Ridgway told InDaily while a formal position was yet to be ratified by the partyroom, it’s likely the Liberals will back Rau when he recommits the clause to ban councillors from assessment panels.

“Rau will put in the clause that was taken out [and] if we can’t get one [councillor], we’re not going to have two and Darley’s [amendment] goes a bit too far,” he said.

“We fought a fight to get one councillor on DAPs [but] I suspect we’re probably happy to have none.”

The change of heart – after another fruitless week of debate – could herald a change of fortunes for the frustrated Planning Minister, who will meet today with crossbencher Darley to discuss a compromise that could revive his bid to formalise an urban growth boundary – another key element gutted by an Upper House vote.

Darley was nonplussed when asked by InDaily about the prospective Liberal backflip, saying: “Why didn’t they think about that to start with?”

He lamented the pace of debate – described by Rau as “glacial” – recalling a discussion this week wherein “someone asked us how long before this bill gets through”.

“I was thinking around April, and my PA said: ‘Which year?’” he lamented.

But Ridgway said given it would take “two to four years to draft regulations” arising from the bill, “another week or two is really not a big deal”.

“It will get there in the end,” he said.

But the LGA is unimpressed, having recently lauded the “consistent positions from both the Liberal Party and the Greens to remove restrictions on elected members being on DAPs”.

“We’re disappointed that they’ve filed seven sets of amendments and the role of local government has diminished in every new set,” Pinnegar said today.

“[The Liberals’] promise to the sector is that they’d keep one member on DAPs… [a future] state Government – of any ilk – runs the risk of trying to implement legislation that doesn’t have the support of Local Government.

“Councillors will not defend a broken planning system that shuts out local communities… the more the Property Council and developer interest groups advocate for Local Government to be removed from planning, the more concerned communities should be [because] all planning disputes will be referred to the state government.

Urban Development Institute Executive Director Pat Gerace yesterday wrote to all Opposition and crossbench Legislative Councillors to express “grave concern” after the failed amendments “detracted from the spirit and intent” of the legislation.

“It is clear that the majority of members of the Legislative Council support a reduction in some way of council members on panels,” he said.

“The debate has been had and we now strongly urge the Opposition to accept the Government’s position.”

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