The ACT’s new Planning Bill introduced to the Legislative Assembly today is meant to fix Canberra’s broken planning system, but one community group has come out swinging, saying it hasn’t gone far enough to ensure Canberra can provide enough affordable housing or reach its sustainability goals.
Greater Canberra Convenor Howard Maclean said that while the new planning system was supposed to be outcomes-focused and streamlined, maintaining third-party appeal rights in established areas would continue to block much-needed affordable housing and suburban services.
Mr Maclean also feared the new District Strategies would entrench inequality in the planning system with different rules for different suburbs.
“The Bill’s objects and principles of good planning, which guide the entire outcomes-focused planning system, pay only lip service to the impact of planning on housing affordability, the cost of living, and reducing poverty,” he said.
He said third-party appeal rights to ACAT for development approvals had been an unmitigated disaster for the city for decades.
The Bill proposes to eliminate them for new greenfield developments, but multi-family housing developments in suburban areas and commercial developments in local and group centres would still be able to be delayed and blocked, Mr Maclean said.
He said public and social housing proposals would continue to face opposition in wealthy suburbs, such as the YWCA development in Ainslie, and traders could still use ACAT to block competition from new developments such as what occurred at the Dickson shops.
The role of the new District Strategies and District Codes in the new planning framework remained unclear, but they could result in multiple standards across the city under the guise of protecting the “unique character” of districts, making for a less equal city.
Eleven different sets of District Codes may also make the system more complex and consequently more expensive for both government and proponents to use.
Other resident groups are taking more time to digest the Bill, which creates a new Territory Planning Authority, but the few changes post-consultation suggests much of their feedback has not been taken on board, something the Greens have picked up on.
Issues raised include the principles of good consultation, not including the word ‘early’ or ‘informed’, the scrapping of pre-DA consultation, how broadly the term ‘Territory Priority Projects’ (TPP) will be interpreted, a lack of enforcement resources and less Assembly oversight.
Changes to the draft Bill include the Minister retaining the power to decide TPP DAs, while the Chief Planner will be able to have the final say on others.
The Minister and the Chief Minister will decide jointly what should be declared a TPP, the criteria for which have been modified.
A government spokesperson said consultation feedback supported the Minister having that power.
“The Minister may, at any time, seek advice from the Chief Planner,” the spokesperson said.
“Prior to making a decision on a TPP development application, the Territory Planning Authority must provide the Minister with information about whether, in its opinion, the proposal meets the requirements of the Act and the Territory Plan.”
The spokesperson said it was considered appropriate for the Chief Minister to be involved in strategic decision-making about major projects in the ACT.
The change to the definition of ecologically sustainable development could be contentious – it now includes the “achievement of economic growth and prosperity”, but this apparently is to better align with United Nations Principles (Sustainable Development Goals).
The spokesperson said extensive feedback was received, but the government had to balance these views.
“It was not uncommon to receive a number of varied views on particular issues and the Government has sought to balance these opposing views,” the spokesperson said.
“A number of comments received were also outside the scope of the Planning Bill. These comments have been provided to relevant areas for consideration and appropriate action.”
The Greens back the Bill but believe further changes are needed, particularly around strengthening environmental protection and action on climate change and clear measures to improve community consultation and engagement through key planning decisions, including on TPPs.
Leader Shane Rattenbury said the Bill needed to reflect community feedback better to ensure sustainable environmental outcomes, protection of heritage, and planning responses to climate change, and to retain confidence in the planning system.
“It also needs to respond to calls for clarity on what is meant by good planning outcomes,” he said.
The Greens can still oppose parts of legislation and work for changes under the Parliamentary Agreement, but this will mean they cannot sit in Cabinet discussions about the legislation.
Canberra Liberals Planning and Land Management spokesperson Peter Cain said the Bill lacked accountability and transparency.
“The new Planning Bill reduces the power of the Assembly, appears to reduce the power of the Minister, and materially increases the power of the Chief Planner,” Mr Cain said.
“There are several uncertainties regarding development assessment and approvals, the Territory Priority Projects and discretionary powers, which have not been sufficiently clarified to Members, relevant stakeholders and the broader community.
“The removal of the pre-DA consultation period represents a divergence from the democratic process, with less capacity for the community to have their voices heard.”
Mr Cain said that far from being a simpler system, the revised DA process was more confusing and convoluted than ever.
“We have received no clarity on the details of the Territory Plan and District Strategies, the discretionary call-in powers of the Minister and Chief Planner have significantly increased, and the Territory Planning Authority adds another layer of red tape,” he said.
The Bill will go to an Assembly committee for further scrutiny.
It also paves the way for establishing the nine new district strategies and a new Territory Plan, which are expected to be released for community engagement before the end of the year.
To review the summary of changes between the current and proposed legislation, including changes arising from consultation on the draft Bill, visit the Planning Review and Reform YourSay Page.