The ACT Greens have been accused of overreach in claiming the community should be happy with the Planning Bill amendments that will be moved today (6 June) in the Legislative Assembly.
Debate on the contentious bill will resume today. Labor’s Planning Minister Mick Gentleman will move 106 amendments and the Greens’ Jo Clay 19.
Both Mr Gentleman and Ms Clay have said the amendments will address many of the community councils’ concerns about the bill.
The Greens’ amendments focus on strengthening environmental controls, consultation and accountability, as well as ensuring some third-party appeals to the ACT Administrative Appeals Tribunal are not removed. However, access will still be curtailed in some areas to promote efficiency in the system.
But the Combined Community Councils of the ACT (CCCACT) spokesperson Peter Elford said councils were far from happy and the bill would still be flawed despite the changes.
“It’s excellent the Greens are doing something, but it falls a long way short of meeting the overall thrust of the councils’ views,” Mr Elford said.
“We’re encouraged but it would have been much better if there had been more amendments.”
Mr Elford said the bill was still too vague, with shades of grey that would force industry and the community into the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal, something nobody wants.
He said no one could explain what outcomes-based planning would look like or how the new system would prevent bad development.
The government says the reforms are needed to boost the supply of housing in Canberra, particularly in the established suburbs, but Mr Elford said the community was not opposed to new housing, only poor quality development.
“There is no confidence that the new system will do anything but make it worse,” he said.
“Reasonable people can accept decisions they may not agree with that are made through good process, but the CCCACT believes they will not accept them if the process is not transparent.
“The government runs the risk that the processes prescribed in their Planning Bill will not be regarded or accepted by the community.
Mr Elford said the government had left people drowning in an ocean of abstraction.
Inner South Canberra Community Council chair Marea Fatseas said the Greens’ amendments should be more explicit about residents’ concerns, such as green space, access to sunlight, private open space, knockdown rebuilds and overshadowing.
“I know they say these can be dealt with in the Territory Plan, but there’s so many other things that they should point to in the legislation, and they’re not putting anything in there about those critical things that residents say they care about.”
Ms Fatseas said many of the amendments dealt with the object of the bill, but when it came to the crunch in ACAT, it was the rules that mattered, she said.
The community councils also believe bringing the bill forward is premature despite Mr Gentleman insisting that it was a necessary step before other elements of the reform process, such as the District Plans and the Territory Plan, could be finalised.
Mr Elford said the government was putting the cart before the horse.
“There are still large portions of this new reform system that are yet to even emerge – design guides, the rules and the final versions of the district plans and the Territory Plan,” he said.
“We still haven’t seen all the paperwork for the new system, but we’ve been asked to start supporting the government’s efforts to pass bits of the legislation before we know what the final solution is.
“They’ve tried to reform a system where we have no trust and yet somehow managed to create more distrust.”
But at least one council now believes the Bill should pass, with Weston Creek Community Council saying the changes mean it strikes the right balance.
The Canberra Liberals will not support the bill and want an independent review of the changes proposed by the entire planning system review.
But with Labor and the Greens agreeing on their amendments, the bill should pass this week, if not today.