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Rethinking South Australia's planning system


State planning minister Nick Champion outlines the principles and challenges that will govern an upcoming review of the state’s contentious planning system, including protecting the tree canopy and preparing for climate change.

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We build houses to be homes for generations.

We plant trees to provide shade for people we will never meet.

We plan our city for continued community liveability.

We do this because communities are built on the lessons of the past, the needs of today and our hopes for the future.

All these concepts are embedded in one word – planning. Planning is done by individuals, families, businesses and governments. That’s why the Malinauskas Labor Government is set to embark on a generational review of the Planning and Design Code and the laws and regulations that govern it.

The Premier made a commitment during the 2022 election campaign to review the Code to enable “planning decisions that encourage a more liveable, competitive and sustainable long-term growth strategy”.

The review draws on clear messages sent by the community since the Code was established.

These concerns included:

The Government will provide more detail in coming days about the structure of the review, its timing and proposed implementation.

It’s worth, however, contemplating the challenges the review will face.

There are several key factors that have influenced metropolitan and regional planning in the years since urbanisation underpinned how and where we live. In Adelaide, we were bound by the line of hills that run from north to south and the coastline that edges onto the Adelaide Plain.

In 1836 Colonel William Light showed great foresight in planning a city before the era of motorised transport and industrial development. Whilst he was unaware of the future existence of those factors, his principles of design meant that when growth came, it was able to do so within the parameters of a well-designed city.

Within Light’s City of Adelaide, other designers were able to bring features that have had ongoing impacts: for example, Charles Reade and his design of the Garden suburb, Colonel Light Gardens in the 1920s.

In the 1980s transport planners sent an artery of convenience into the northeast suburbs via the world-renowned O-Bahn busway.

We’ve seen trams come and go. From their introduction in the 1870s, the boon of the 1930s, to the tragically short sighted decision of their removal in the 1950s. The Rann Labor Government’s 2005 commitment to re-establish trams in the CBD and then down to the Entertainment Centre has linked the university campus in the northeastern end of the CBD to the retail, entertainment and residential parts of the “square mile”.

The tree canopy is part of the character of Adelaide that sees us so often highly rated in liveability surveys. Protecting that canopy should be central in our planning system…

Regional design was driven by other factors such as local environmental features and the demands attached to agriculture, mining and transport. The Copper Coast and the Iron Triangle are historical examples of regional development that has to embrace change. The Spencer Gulf regions are embracing the opportunities soon to be felt by Green Hydrogen developments.

Today, we have a range of issues that will be central to the review of our Planning and Design Code and its administration – issues that we have not had to confront in the past but that frame our future.

Climate change is top of that list of factors that impact how, where and what we build.

Energy demands and supply have already had an impact and there will be further changes in that area, especially given the rapid emergence of renewable energy.

Then there’s the shift in employment patterns created by pandemic, the work from home revolution and the rising e-commerce footprint.

There have already been changes to administration that have been driven by new technology, such as the introduction of an e-platform to replace inefficient and time-consuming systems of the past. Technological change, however, continues apace and we have to keep taking up new opportunities those changes present.

One example of change is the City of Elizabeth.

The city’s existence was generated by the combined demands of economic transformation driven by the then-emerging automotive manufacturing industry coupled with a national drive to encourage immigration as part of population strategies.

Elizabeth has changed since those days.

The industry that spawned the city has gone and we are now only starting to see the impact of former Premier Jay Weatherill’s economic transformation policies.

New advanced manufacturing industries particularly in Defence are replacing old industrial sectors and the workforce demands are different.

Elizabeth is changing and our government believes there is an exciting new chapter ahead for the city once dubbed the “City of Tomorrow”.

Similarly, there are challenges in the south as it evolves from Mitsubishi and car components to world leading businesses based at Tonsley where Flinders University is a key partner with business and industry with these industries at the fore of our State’s economic transition.

Transition is of course not confined to the economy, as the face and use of cities change so do suburbs and the streets and communities, we call home in an ever-changing environment.  If you stand at Mount Lofty and Windy Point in the Hills you’ll see a city that is not only beautiful, well planned and functional, but also one that is green.

The tree canopy is part of the character of Adelaide that sees us so often highly rated in liveability surveys.

Protecting that canopy should be central in our planning system as should the heritage of our architecture and built environment.

One of the legacies of my ministerial predecessors has been to keep that mixture of heritage and use in balance. John Rau, for example, protected our food bowl and prevented urban sprawl from impinging on beautiful vineyards and the economic value of a functioning wine industry that prides product and promotes tourism. With the establishment of the Environmental and Food Production Area we constrained the city and will now have a city that will grow up and across rather than out.

We will shortly announce an expert panel to drive the review with a timeline that will see recommendations considered by the Government in 2023.

The panel will be driven by community and stakeholder engagement, an assessment of the demands arising from transport, governance and administration. It will seek to evolve our planning system underpinned by balance the same balance that has seen the development of Adelaide into a unique city, admired around the world for its ability to grow whilst retaining its ring of parklands, its heritage, beauty and structure.

We do this now, because we are caretakers of the present and the future – a future that I have the utmost confidence in.

Nick Champion is the South Australian minister for planning, and housing and urban development.

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