The promised governance review for the new planning system is getting underway with a consultant engaged and a final report due by 25 March 2024.
The review was a key recommendation of the Legislative Assembly committee inquiry into the Planning Bill that the ACT Government committed to.
But some community representatives had been wondering if it would ever get off the ground and feared the government would run out of time to implement any of its recommendations before the election in October.
South Australian firm Pegg Consulting, which has previously done work for the ACT Government, will run the review, with its first job to finalise the terms of reference from a draft prepared by the government based on the committee’s recommendations, four of which must be included.
The key one refers to the current arrangement where the role of the Chief Planner and the role of the Director-General of EPSDD are held by the same person, a significant issue of concern for many in the community.
The other three recommendations concern the ability of entities and individuals to provide frank, fearless and independent planning advice to the Chief Planner, the possible use of independent experts to override entity advice, and the appointment of a Government Landscape Architect to provide advice to the government and explore the introduction of a landscape policy for the Territory.
Other recommendations for the consultant to consider relate to whether the intentions of the bill are being met. These involve the principles of good consultation, an annual review of decisions and new developments, and decision-makers sticking to the objectives of the bill.
The review must consult the Chief Planner, ACT Government Architect, Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment, Conservator of Flora and Fauna, and any others relevant to the terms of reference, such as the Construction Occupations Registrar or the Environmental Protection Authority.
Outgoing Weston Creek Community Council chair Bill Gemmell said earlier in the year that the reinforcement of the “holy trinity” of the Chief Planner, Planning Minister and the Chief Minister at the centre of the planning system was out of step with the Territory’s progress on integrity and the appointment of the Integrity Commissioner.
“I caution them against going this way,” he said.
Inner South Canberra Community Council chair Marea Fatseas said only recently that perceived conflicts of interest needed to be sorted out.
Ms Fatseas welcomed the fact that the government had begun the review but queried why there had been no advice and no opportunity to contribute to the draft terms of reference.
This only reinforced concerns about a lack of transparency in the reform process.
Ms Fatseas also questioned why the review would apparently only involve internal stakeholders.
“There’s nothing there [in the contract] about talking to external stakeholders,” she said. “It looks like it’s all being kept in house.
“Let’s see if it actually leads to any change in this new planning system which starts in two weeks [27 November].
The government would be pushing it to respond in any meaningful way before the election in October, she said.
The contract says that both the Terms of Reference and the review should consider that the ACT is a small jurisdiction that may need particular governance arrangements for reasons of capacity and efficiency.
Pegg Consulting is being paid $138,370 for the review.