2 June 2023

Labor agrees to Greens' Planning Bill amendments

| Ian Bushnell
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Mick Gentleman, MLA.

Planning Minister Mick Gentleman believes community concerns will be addressed. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Labor has agreed to the 19 Greens amendments to the contentious Planning Bill and will propose more than 100 of its own when the debate resumes in the Legislative Assembly next week.

The in-principle debate started on Thursday (1 June), but debate on the details of the bill won’t get underway until Tuesday (6 June).

Planning Minister Mick Gentleman said on Thursday that Labor and the Greens had agreed to all of the amendments, and he expected a thorough and energetic debate.

“I’m quite confident that the amendments that are coming forward next week will address a lot of the concerns raised by community councils and specifically during the planning committee compliance as well,” he said.

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Greens planning spokesperson Jo Clay indicated there was still some negotiating to do but was confident that a more acceptable bill would pass.

“We are working really, really hard to see if we can put this together into a bill that is strong enough to protect Canberra’s environment, is strong enough to deal with climate change and gives us affordable housing where we need it.”

Mr Gentleman’s official response to the planning committee’s recommendations rejected many and only provided qualified support for others, provoking condemnation from the city’s community councils that have been deeply engaged in the planning reforms process.

The Combined Community Councils of the ACT (CCCACT) called the response underwhelming and dismissive, saying it only reinforced the view that the outcome of the planning reform process was always predetermined and that the opportunity for meaningful reform has been missed.

The Greens’ amendments do not cover all of the CCCACT’s concerns but go some way towards addressing them, particularly around strengthening environmental controls, consultation and accountability, as well as ensuring third-party appeals to the ACT Administrative Appeals Tribunal are not removed.

Mr Gentleman confirmed that Labor had agreed to the amendment retaining appeal rights in greenfield areas.

The Greens’ amendments do not cover Controlled Activity Orders, which the bill was to remove, but a Labor amendment restores that public right, which can be an avenue to ACAT for an applicant.

Ms Clay took credit for this, saying her party insisted in negotiations that the measure be restored as recommended by the inquiry report.

“That is a really important tool,” she said.

“It’s not used a lot, but it’s one of the few ways that a member of the public can actually enforce the planning system, so it is key to trust and to democracy, and just a good development to make sure that people have access to it.”

Mr Gentleman said the Planning Bill needed to be in place before the rest of the planning reforms involving the Territory and District Plans could be implemented.

He said the reforms would allow the development of much-needed housing for Canberrans, particularly along transport corridors and encourage more innovative developments.

Public and social housing were likely to be declared Territory Priority Projects, he said

“I’m really looking forward to more growth, particularly around our local centres, urban centres and transport corridors, and addressing that ‘missing middle’ in a really constructive, efficient way,” Mr Gentleman said.

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Ms Clay said Labor and the Greens agreed on the big picture about future development and infill but found differences when it came down to the detail.

“We all agree that climate change, housing and environmental protection are absolutely essential, and we all agree that high-quality infill development along transport corridors that give people affordable housing and access to services is the right way for our city to move forward,” she said.

“When you get down to the details, though, what that actually looks like differs … and that’s why on this one we stepped out of cabinet so we could work on it with the community and work on the bill from the outside.”

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.

Planning spokesperson Peter Cain is calling for an independent review of the changes proposed by the planning system review.

Mr Cain said the Planning Bill 2022, draft new Territory Plan and draft district strategies should not be supported in their current form as they have not received a fit and proper independent assessment.

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Bit of a befuddled process really. Certainly highlights many issues in the
planning directorate

A coalition of reprobates agrees with itself

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