The Canberra Liberals have laid down another election plank to go with rejecting light rail, dismissing the Barr Government’s proposed Planning Bill as anti-community and anti-environment.
Planning and Land Management spokesperson Peter Cain has announced the Canberra Liberals will oppose the bill, saying that in its current form it reflects a complete and utter failure of the planning system review.
“The Planning Bill 2022 fails miserably to restore trust and confidence in the ACT planning system and confirms that the Labor-Greens Government is planning for profit, not people,” Mr Cain said.
The Canberra Liberals’ decision adds another key policy difference between it and the government, and the party will take a new planning policy to the 2024 election.
It comes after the government released its response to the Legislative Assembly committee inquiry into the bill Mr Cain chaired, which highlighted a range of governance, consultation, compliance and environmental issues, as well as the vagueness of terms such as “substantial public benefit” or “outcomes-focused”.
The response has been described as disappointing and dismissive, with Inner South Canberra Community Council chair Marea Fatseas saying the government sought a predetermined outcome.
Mr Cain said the government had ignored community concerns and had not been genuine about seeking its views.
“The community were subjected to an insincere box-ticking consultation process and have simply not been listened to,” he said.
Mr Cain said the bill posed a severe threat to Canberra’s reputation as the Bush Capital and its Garden City character.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr has said the planning reforms to build a more flexible system were necessary to enable badly needed housing to be built in Canberra, particularly in areas where people wanted to live, and particularly homes they could afford.
It had generally been accepted that the current system was broken but the changes proposed and the way the planning review has been conducted have alarmed community councils and others concerned at what a more streamlined approach with fewer rules will have for green space, building standards and the character of neighbourhoods.
Ironically, the big sell of the planning review was that the so-called outcomes-based approach would mean better development.
Not all oppose the reforms, though, with housing advocacy group Greater Canberra saying they don’t go far enough in opening up suburbs to development, particularly to build the so-called missing middle, such as low-rise apartments and townhouses.
But the Canberra Liberals have zeroed in on the community councils’ grievances, especially the power the reforms hand to Chief Planner Ben Ponton and Planning Minister Mick Gentleman.
“The proposed accumulation of authority in the hands of the same failing Planning Minister and Chief Planner who directed the review with limited Assembly oversight is irresponsible and undemocratic,” Mr Cain said.
“The Planning Minister’s ardent refusal to consider reform of governance arrangements to meet community expectations on integrity has backfired.”
He said the bill would entrench that lack of Assembly oversight, leading to developments being waved through without the community being able to have its say.
“The proposed ‘outcomes-focus’ approach will enable any development to be approved with minimal community input or Assembly oversight as long as it suits the Chief Minister’s agenda,” he said.
“The proposed reduction of third-party engagement in DA processes demonstrates this bill has ignored the community, rather than been informed by them.”
Mr Cain said the bill in its current form was indefensible and called on the government to withhold debating it until the new Territory Plan and District Strategies were finalised, echoing concerns that the planning review has been piecemeal.
“So long as this bill fails to properly address integrity in governance, genuine consultation with community, and the protection of our city’s characteristics, the Canberra Liberals will not support it,” he said.
Mr Cain said the Canberra Liberals were developing a strong planning policy to take to the next election in genuine consultation with community groups, industry bodies and environmental advocates.
It is believed the government will bring the bill to a vote by the end of June, and introduce an Interim Territory Plan ahead of the planned committee inquiry into the draft Territory Plan.