Summary of my thoughts on the Draft Planning Bill

In this 5th post on the subject of the draft Planning Bill introduced into Parliament by Minister Rau I will summarise the thoughts I have made public in my previous 4 blogs. With luck Mr Rau might take my thoughts on board in lieu of branding me too as one of those morons who dont understand development and planning.

 

Planning reform IS necessary. Everyone agrees with this. Everyone’s views on this are influenced by their involvement. I wear two hats, one as a builder and one as a resident and another as an elected member. My thoughts therefore have an empathy with all who have to operate in the system.

PLANNING AND INFRASTRUCTURE BILL 2015.UN.PDFAs the Bill is debated in Parliament the focus should deal with where the system needs improving. It should recognize the role everyone has to play and not focus on removing those seen as interfering with the process. Removing residents, removing councillors, indeed removing councils does nothing to help create a better system, All it does is create the opportunity for unregulated development.

 

 

Removing residents from the approval end of the process whilst understood by me fails to recognise that this is the part in the process they are best able and capable of participating in. Fixing the system will identify when and where they can contribute rather than waste their time when their involvement is not able to influence.

Removing elected members takes any potential conflict away but also prohibits those with possibly the best empathy for a street or suburb. This must surely reduce the chances of a good outcome.

Shifting focus of public participation might sound OK in principle in that it IS at the concept stage when we truly want the input of our residents. Doing so then would in theory avoid the frustration of seemingly not being heard at the end of the process. Achieving this is like leading a horse to water and expecting him to drink. He will when thirsty and that is when there is a development proposed next door.

I implore everyone in Government; the Minister and his colleagues, those in opposition, members of the Legislative Council to look closely at the changes proposed by this bill. Think hard about what issues will be created by implementing it, anticipate its flaws.

Be careful in blaming Councils as the Minister has repeatedly done. Shifting the deck chairs never has and never will solve the problem. Who will be responsible for planning decisions in the future. Minister Rau indicated back in (from memory) August last year that Councils (the Morons he referred to a month ago) are only competent enough to approve fences and carports   think it was.

The same people (paid officers) making these decisions will be the ones employed by the regional bodies making the new decisions, unless of course they are going to put out of work.

Shifting Focus of Public Consultation

In the second of this series of blogs I noted that the minister believes that the focus of public involvement in the development planning process shoudl be at the stage of development plan amendments not at the assessment stage.

 

His logic has good but limited reasoning behind it. The best time for public to be involved is at the time a development plan is being evolved or amended. This is when the legislators can be influenced by the observations provided by the public. Without contribution from you (a resident in the affected area) the parameters are set and you have under the current system little chance to influence the approval of development under that development plan. That is of course no guarantee that they will; take notice that is.

Under the current system you do get a say at the approval stage and as discussed in a previous blog perhaps on occasions when the approvers will have scant regard your observations because they are irrelevant on the day. The 2 storey addition in a 2 storey zone previously noted is evidence of this.

Under Mr Rau’s draft bill you will not get a say at all at the approval stage in favour of involving you only at the development of the plan stage. As I indicated previously this in my opinion will require the largest ever education program ever undertaken by the State…..and we know that wont happen.

 

th (1)It is simply a fact that most people will not be motivated during a development plan amendment because it is not relevant to them. Planning is a subjective beast and somewhat abstract when authorities are promoting a district wide change. It is a pity we cant get more people involved at that stage but try as we will while you can lead a horse to water you cant make him drink. That is unless he is thirsty.

 

And thirsty is what he/she will be when there is a specific project proposed next door to them.

Under the draft bill this horse will not be offered a chance to drink when thirsty because legislation will not allow it. The pond will be fenced off.

This discriminates against members of a community in the event of a development that does not meet the development plan Mr Rau wanted them to contribute to when they had little interest.

So as much as I said in yesterdays blog that if a proposed development complies with the development plan it should not be subject to public scrutiny if it exceeds the parameters of the plan then it should absolutely definitely be open to public scrutiny and not left to paid employees or a remote DAP with little empathy for the street to decide.

Unley’s Development Assessment Panel was influenced recently (as reported in a separate blog) by logical argument from residents over a phone tower at the Goodwood Oval which was non complying development and yet was proposed to be approved by the professionals.

So Minister you would have us contribute at the concept stage of creating a plan and then allow any development whether complying or not to be left in the hands of those who wont be impacted by the development, whether good or bad development.

 

 

 

 

 

Elected Member contribution to planning and development

The Minister is not wrong when he identifies the conflict faced by elected members sitting on Development Assessment Panels.

I understand and respect the concerns he has in respect of the pressure that being placed in an adjudication role has on someone whose primary role on Council requires a popular vote to retain.

 

As someone too from private enterprise I struggle with appointments made in the public arena based not on skill but a whole heap of politically correct criteria. Criteria that spells out everyone has an equal right to acquire a certain position.

In other words, I struggle with people who do not have building, planning or legal expertise sitting on development assessment panels. I sense that my colleagues at Unley view this similarly. They twice voted me to fill one of the elected member positions on our DAP in favour of others without my background who stood against me at the time. Had I stood for a 3rd term I suspect they would likely have repeated their support.

The City of Unley has in respect of appointing independent members to our DAP been mindful that one of the qualifications we want is someone who is not only a planner or whatever specialist discipline relative to sitting on our panel but someone who has an empathy with our neighbourhood.

Where two people of equal skill-set applies the one who lives in Unley I believe is likely in my opinion to get the nod.

Enter the Elected Member. This is precisely what the elected member brings to the table. An absolute empathy for the neighbourhood in which they live because they … live there. An elected member often has a better appreciation of a development given their connection to the street in which the development is proposed and their connection to the community through their role as an elected member.

Is it the most important contribution a panel member can bring to the DAP. No; because decisions must be made based on the development plan. It is not far behind though.

The current formula is a good one I believe and not in need of change where the focus on the plan out-ways the empathy provided by an elected member 4 to 3 on the panel of 7.

And what if the elected member is a planner or an architect, or a lawyer. What then Mr Rau. You are suggesting these people would not be compromised as independent members because they are professionals but they would be if an elected member…..because they are no longer professionals perhaps?

And I modestly suggest Unley, with its complex planning regime has got it right the whole time I have been a member. Very few decisions are challenged and of those that have been sent to the ERD court less than a handful have been overturned.

Residents contribution to planning and development

A major change in the current reform as noted in my earlier blog posts today is taking away the rights of individuals, neighbours to make representations on developments that will impact on their property.

 

On the surface this is not unreasonable as I put my Builder hat on. What has frustrated me as a builder are such things under the current system as when a permitted development (ie 2 storey in a 2 storey zone) is delayed to allow the neighbours to represent against the development because it is 2 storey.

Public notification on a project that complies is a nonsense in that representation will not change the minds of those charged with deciding whether or not to approve the development. It gives the representor an unrealistic expectation that they may influence the decision and extend the time it takes for the inevitable approval.

This is a Government issue not a council issue because Schedule 9 of the State Government’s Development Regulations 2008 triggers the call for public participation. If council did not do this then a neighbour could contest any decision made on that application.

The regulations SHOULD change to address this.

Problem is with the ministers proposal is that there will be no ability for the public to respond if the development proposed does not comply with the relevant development plan.

Here is the dilemma. Four years on our DAP qualifies me to suggest that many (if not a majority of) applications exceed the provisions of the development plan. His bill takes away your right as a neighbour to have a say on a project say 2 storey in a single storey zone.

As a builder I always tried and inevitably did design developments that complied with the relevant development plan. The result of this is most of my applications were passed in a very short space of time. Surely those who choose to push the boundaries should expect the process to take longer to ensure due process has been applied.

The minister is justifying his bill by indicating that people have the chance to contribute at the time a development plan is being implemented or undergoing an amendment. Look out for a subsequent blog for my thoughts on this.

 

 

Some thoughts from my dual hats of Planning Reforms

I have watched with interest the debate that has prevailed in recent times over Minister Rau’s planning reforms.

As a builder I have great empathy for the lengthy times it takes to get the most minor of projects through the planning system. As a councillor on the other hand I have true respect for the role the community plays in ensuring that development in their area is appropriate.

 

Interestingly the people frustrated at both ends can be the same people on different sides of the fence for the next development.

Builders and therefore their clients (you and your neighbours)  are rightfully frustrated by the time it takes to get an approval for their development, more often than not an addition to their own home. Councils have borne the focus of the angst that has created, often seen as the meddling cause of the delays. You are likely to have been a council critic. I know I have.

The truth is the system, as designed by the state government, is the cause not councils. There have been many changes proposed in the bill the minister has put before Parliament that are good. They will definitely help to improve the system significantly.

There are changes proposed that need to be at the forefront of change but which will be delayed due to I understand the cost of implementing them. I speak specifically about setting up a date based development plan regime. This is an area that should have  a focus long before those who may participate ion the approval process are questioned.

A major focus for the ministers bill is focused unfortunately on who may be involved however. He is set on  removing both residents and elected members of council out of the approval process.

I intend in the next 24 hours or so to put my thoughts on the removal of both residents and elected members from the process in separate blog posts.

So watch this space.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goodwood Oval Phone Tower a litmus test for Council’s DAP

I will be watching with interest the upcoming decision by Council’s DAP on the Goodwood Oval Phone Tower proposed proposed by Vodafone. It may well prove a litmus test for the Government’s proposed changes to the Development Act.

 

A number of residents have been confused as to Council’s role in this process. In particular some are of the belief that our elected members should be standing up to whoever is proposing this and saying hands off. They say this on the understanding that there will be only one view without and before knowing if that is in fact the case.

Having said that, if I were a betting man, I would say that is the case.

The fact of the matter is there is a due process that must be followed under state legislation. Council must receive the application and cannot refuse to receive it. That said the Act does allow means for public participation in certain circumstances and the phone tower is one such circumstance.

Beyond that the process provides a mechanism by which the application should be judged. In some cases this is the responsibility of the paid officers of the planning department of council. In others, including this one, that responsibility is vested in the hands of a panel known as the development Assessment Panel or DAP.

It is their job to read and understand the application and the planning officer’s report and recommendation. They must also read and understand any representation made by the public on the matter. They have to determine if the observations made in any representation, whether supporting the application or rejecting the application, is valid under the terms of the development plan.

The State Minister for Planning (and Deputy Premier) John Rau has sited often that elected members sitting on Council DAPs are making politically expedient decisions on planning matters rather than assess the application on is merits against the development plan. This is one of the core reasons why he wants to see councils and in particular elected members removed from the planning assessment process.

Many people in the street, frustrated by perceived delays in getting their 2 storey addition passed through council would probably agree with the minister. The very same people are critical then of Mr Rau for having already taken the power away from councils on high rise developments.

Our DAPs handling of the Goodwood Oval phone tower may well prove a litmus test on the minister’s move to take Council out of the development process. How the individual members of the DAP vote will at least.

Will the elected members vote the same as the independent members? Will the elected members be split in their vote? Will the independents be split in their vote? Will the elected members vote one way and the independents vote the opposite way?

Hmmmmm!