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SA held up by bureaucratic nightmare


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South Australia has embraced the noble vision of Colonel Light standing proudly on Montefiore Hill, gesturing elegantly towards our fine city.

His modern equivalent would be better portrayed hiding under a desk, holding his head in his hands and sobbing with frustration.

The current review of our planning laws, chaired by Brian Hayes and expected to be delivered within the next week, has been asked to deliver reforms to sweep through the overly-bureaucratic tangle that stands in the way of a new generation of growth and confidence.

But Mr Hayes has more to do than set up a new planning system – his reforms also need to send a very clear signal to all levels of government that attitudes to planning need to change for the betterment of the State.

A recent court decision held a change to the height of a retaining wall demanded a new development application. Safety is a premier concern for Master Builders SA – after all, it is one of our core values and the strength of our brand – and so we understand the concerns raised by the Senior Judge of the Environment, Resources and Development Court, Susanne Cole, in her judgment.

The current problem lies with the response to that case. Planning staff at a number of councils are now refusing all variations, no matter how small, and are citing this decision as requiring the lodgement of a new development application. That means requiring the same process for a change of internal roofing timber because of supply issues – or to build an entire double-storey house.

Work can stop for weeks or months, and thousands of dollars of additional costs incurred – simply because of a change of internal roofing timber, or a different finish on a rear wall – and all because an overly-literal approach has forgotten why the laws are there in the first place: to help people build without impacting others.

The repercussions extend beyond the immediate project.

It means higher costs and delays for home owners, their builders, councils and ratepayers.

It means the State Government’s push for greater infill development to stop the sprawl will be slowed by increased bureaucracy, further chilling homeowners and investors wanting to do something so rare these days: spend money.

And it also means a likely slowing of government taxes.

We have gone from a case relating to safety to a growing bureaucratic morass with an economic cost.

Master Builders SA has already called for the coming Planning Review to promote the use of plain language, and to cut the number of specialist zones as it delivers a more regional approach to planning. We have also called for greater use of the new residential code.

A move to a system that embraces substance above paperwork will underwrite a new wave of job development and economic growth at a time when South Australia need it the most.

But we hope Mr Hayes and his expert panel also have an eye on the need for cultural reform to ensure changes are delivered. If this opportunity is missed, the State Government must be ready to quickly step into the breach and help councils end the quagmire.

After all, in 10 years’ time we all want to be pointing to the future, not huddled with our head in our hands as we wait for council to approve a piece of timber that is structurally safe, but never seen.

John Stokes is the Chief Executive Officer of Master Builders SA.

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