In a stunning move against residents, Planning Minister Justin Madden has confirmed he is considering removing Council planning powers to make decisions on permits for key development projects.
Read The Age article.
This would be disastrous, although some Councilors would welcome it because they’d no longer be responsible for making decisions on these contentious, unpopular and time-consuming projects.
This approach has been raised before – by the Development Assesment Forum. Read the summary of our 2004 submission to DAF (below).
But this approach simply doesn’t address the real problem. In most cases SOS is aware of, when a Council reverses a staff planning recommendation, it’s the Councilors who’ve made the correct decision. Rarely do they ever do this without valid planning grounds.
If the Minister really wanted to reduce costs and delays in the planning process, he would simply make some of the basic amenity guidelines mandatory, including simplified and quantitative planning rules.
The key problems with the ‘independent’ panel approach are –
* Who appoints the panel, and who is on it? Do they live locally and understand the area? Is it packed with ‘planning experts’, the SAME people who also work for developers or sit on present Government-appointed panels like those which hear planning scheme amendments?
* How is the panel made accountable to the public? Under the Development Assessment Forum model, that is just ignored.
There are other ways to speed up planning assessments without removing democratic powers from Councils and their communities (the DAF model also removes residents’ appeal rights). And it’s interesting that what the Governement thinks is good for Councils (moving their powers to an un elected panel) they wouldn’t do themselves – no state planning panels have the power to make final decisions, they must pass their recommendations to the (elected) Planning Minister to decide.
July 07 Summary of SOS Submission on DAF (June 04)
Most r esidents only get involved in planning issues when challenged by an impending nearby development so any planning regime in a democracy must allow third party appeal rights It is also often local objectors rather than council planners who find inconsistencies, errors and omissions in development proposals, perhaps because they have the most to lose – a further reason why they must be part of the decision-making process.
Proposals designed with regard for local planning policies and neighbourhood amenity won’t run foul of Council, VCAT or objectors. In contrast, most of the complexity and effort of the planning process is devoted to dealing with proposals that push the envelope.
Most councils in comparable situations have similar turn-around times for making decisions on planning applications, despite the fact that some allow most decisions to be made by staff under delegation while others run most decisions past full council meetings.
The fundamental cornerstone of any planning regime in a democracy is transparency, public control and oversight, which will all be seriously compromised by the DAF proposal. Privatisation of the permit decision process for major proposals will be unregulated (as with the new “pre-certification” process) because to do otherwise would create more layers of bureaucracy than it would save.
DAF panels (unelected) would also make decisions partly on “technically excellent criteria” which can be subjective and may vary in different situations and over time (eg, the improved Rescode “north-facing windows” guideline).
A SIMPLER, MORE EFFECTIVE, MORE DEMOCRATIC SOLUTION
As in most developed countries that protect their cultural and built heritage, local planning policies should be mandatory (heritage, built form and other overlays, etc). Councils spend a lot of effort developing these controls in conjunction with their local community, which is all wasted if they can be ignored at VCAT. Basic Rescode amenity standards are minima anyway and should also be mandatory to safeguard basic living and housing conditions. This won’t adversely affect most developers who already comply with these standards.
Secondly, VCAT should be restricted to assessing council process rather than re-hearing assessment applications. This would force Councils to improve their processes. Amended plans should not be permissible – this just encourages ambit claims. These changes would force developers to get it right first time and not waste taxpayers’ time and money coping with applications that don’t quite meet site limitations or local and state planning policies.
hese simple reforms, without any need for further policy development, would remove most ambit claims and speculative development from the system, freeing up Council time to consider and report on applications of merit. This would thus vastly improve VCAT congestion and Council approval times as well as decreasing the number of inappropriate planning applications and safeguarding the community from inappropriate development.
The Age Article (if it has been removed from their site) –
Councils may be stripped of permit power
* Royce Millar
July 18, 2007
LOCAL councils could be stripped of their power to approve or reject key development projects under a contentious scheme, now before the State Government, aimed at reducing costly delays.
Planning Minister Justin Madden has confirmed he is considering the model introduced by the South Australian Government, under which special panels dominated by unelected planning and design experts determine major planning applications.
The Australian Capital Territory and NSW are moving towards similar models proposed under a federal initiative known as the Development Assessment Forum.
Previous planning ministers Rob Hulls and Mary Delahunty baulked at reducing councillor planning powers, but Mr Madden — who is proving popular in development circles — is open to the idea.
“We are seeking more advice and information on the Development Assessment Forum system,” said Mr Madden, who was appointed Planning Minister in November.
While such a move would be strongly supported by industry groups including the Property Council and Planning Institute, it will be fought by councils and resident groups such as Save Our Suburbs.
“It is a denial of democracy,” Save Our Suburbs president Ian Quick said. “No matter how many problems we have with our local councils, we can at least vote them out.”
Property Council executive director Jennifer Cunich yesterday confirmed she had brought South Australian colleagues to Melbourne to help lobby Mr Madden.
South Australian councils initially opposed the system, implemented early this year, but now seem relaxed about it. “The early indication is that it’s working reasonably well,” Local Government Association of South Australia past president John Rich said. “There is now a more dispassionate look at the development process, which is good.”
But Municipal Association of Victoria president Dick Gross said last night there was no evidence that the South Australian model had reduced delays or costs. He said about 95 per cent of planning decisions were already made without the interference of elected councillors. And he believed communities wanted elected councillors to make decisions on the bigger, more sensitive projects.