23 December 2022

Almost 50 flaws pointed out in proposed Planning Bill and still no one is happy

| Lottie Twyford
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A new bill is intended to fix entrenched issues in the ACT’s planning system, but no one can agree on what it should look like. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

Canberra’s growing pains are putting pressure on the city and its outdated planning system.

But reaching a consensus on a contentious bill that would overhaul the current system is looking increasingly complex following an initial inquiry process.

Neither governing party can agree on the bill and the Opposition has recommended it not pass.

A tripartisan ACT Legislative Assembly committee, which has been examining the proposed Planning Bill for months, has handed down its lengthy final report containing a whopping 49 recommendations for the government.

This includes separating the role of the chief planner and director-general of the Environment Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate (EPSDD).

It also recommended an annual review of planning decisions and new developments, a review of planning decisions, a review of governance arrangements and employing an independent body of experts to advise on planning decisions.

The overarching purpose of the bill is to move the Territory to an “outcomes-based” planning system.

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Canberra Planning and Action Group convenor Geoff Pryor has urged the government to take action and implement the recommendations from the committee.

He said the recommendations mirrored the group’s concerns.

“[We have] made it clear the bill as presented to the Legislative Assembly is deeply flawed and must either be withdrawn or seriously altered,” Mr Pryor said.

“The Legislative Assembly would be derelict if the proposed recommendations were not taken up in a new ACT Planning Bill.”

Likewise, the ACT Greens and the Canberra Liberals have also called for more work on the significant piece of legislation before it hits the Assembly for debate next year.

Shane Rattenbury

ACT Greens Leader Shane Rattenbury announced the party would split from Labor on the Planning Bill earlier this year. Photo: Lottie Twyford.

In a statement, ACT Greens Leader Shane Rattenbury said the committee’s report showed the government needed to take a closer look at specific issues such as governance, community consultation, transparency and environmental protection.

Earlier this year, the Greens were excluded from cabinet discussions about the bill after they said they could not support elements of it.

“If the community is going to have confidence in the planning system, we need to make sure these recommendations are incorporated before we debate this bill,” Mr Rattenbury said.

Jo Clay

ACT Greens spokesperson for planning Jo Clay has called for better drafting and stronger environmental protections. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The party’s planning spokesperson, Jo Clay, described the new system as “enormously complex”.

She said the committee had, throughout the course of its inquiry, not only received 65 submissions but also heard from 57 witnesses across the space of two days.

“Consultation needs to improve. Government should give people detailed reasons showing why their views weren’t included and provide case studies showing how the new system will work. Government should also restore and improve the process of pre-DA consultation,” she said.

“The drafting needs to be clearer. We need to know what is meant by a ‘good planning outcome’ and by ‘substantial public benefit’.”

She has also called for stronger environmental protections and a review of governance arrangements.

Peter Cain

Canberra Liberals spokesperson for planning Peter Cain has recommended the bill not pass. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The Canberra Liberals went further.

Opposition spokesperson for planning Peter Cain said the recommendations made by the committee “highlight the dictatorial nature of this review and the dysfunction of this Labor-Greens government”.

“The need to review the governance and administrative arrangements is of the utmost importance. Conducting extensive and effective consultations with interest groups is of the utmost importance,” Mr Cain said.

“As evidenced by this committee report, the Labor-Greens government has completely failed to listen, failed to consider and failed Canberrans.”

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Why are the Greens allowing themselves to be sidelined, with their power not yet used to improve Canberra?

It’s time the Barr Labor government stopped dictating the way we live in Canberra, instead including Canberra residents in the process. We need a voice. It’s been silenced for too long.

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