14 July 2006

Planning System "Reform" Project

| Chris S
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Simon Corbell has just announced a Planning and Development Bill that significantly changes the development landscape within the ACT. The changes are largely based on work done by the Development Assessment Forum, an intergovernmental and industry body established with the main aim of reducing “red tape” in the development process.

One (of many) of the flaws with the DAF process is that there is no community representation at all and therefore the citizen perspective has been totally ignored. It is also predicated on having highly-skilled staff administering squeaky-clean planning processes – as we’ve just seen with EpiCentre, there are some doubts about this in the ACT. DAF has also totally ignored the fact that building regulation, like all regulatory systems, has been designed to prevent abuses occurring. “Red tape” has formed due to public concern over events and are generally there for very good reasons. Another weakness is that the DAF system is totally dependent upon private certifiers doing the right thing.

These private certifiers do not have a good track record – earlier this month the AAT handed down a decision on the failure of an owner-builder to properly follow planning regulations, and the certifier involved failed to pick up on serious problems. This particular certifier had already had conditions imposed on his licence.

Can we place our trust in the future development of this city in the hands of Simon Corbell, ACTPLA, LDA and private certifiers? I think not – to do so would be a continuing recipe for disaster.

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a bit too much penis envy going on here…. a mixture of the Canberra Soviet and the south canberra petty bourgeoisie have a common obsession with developers….

seepi, it has been like this for years, and it is this “feature’, as much as any other, that gets people riled up about planning in the ACT.

This is what enables developers to get away with too high, too wide, too deep, too intensive, too everything bad, and not enough of the good, and drags planning into the mud (aided and abetted by ACTPLA who are incapable of simply applying a set of rules. It is this discretion that allows corruption to start – I’m not saying that it has but there are always plenty of rumours around.

Aussielyn, what Corbell, Savery, ACTPLA and developers fail to understand is that an adversarial planning system is the worst of all worlds. And what these “reforms” do is embed a lose-lose situation all round – the developers think they have a win, but this will eventually come back to bite them.

All adversarial systems, where there are ongoing irreconcilable differences between two parties, are subject to a pendulum effect. As one side starts to get the ascendancy, then pressure pushes the pendulum the other way.

So it is with the ACT planning system – the so-called “red tape” is a set of rules that have been developed to prevent developer abuse, and have been enacted in response to specific breaches; when those rules are seen as over-benefiting one side, then the lawmakers start to erode them.

It’s a moot point as to whether the pendulum in the ACT has swung too far in favour of residents, as opposed to developers – under Corbell, who uses call-in powers like confetti, who has abolished the LAPACs and never replaced them (using instead the quite inappropriate Community Councils), and so forth, citizen rights have already been eroded to almost nothing.

That is why I claim, I believe with absolute accuracy, that Corbell is the most anti-resident, pro-developer Planning Minister this territory has ever seen. When he first got that role, he was welcomed by community groups with open arms, after the pretty dud Brendan Smyth. Corbell’s main claim to fame now is that he has managed to make Brendan look like an intellectual giant.

It’s OK to criticise from the sidelines – I also believe that criticism brings with it a responsibility to be part of the solution.

I believe that the solution is to have a collaborative, rather than an adversarial, planning system. In this model, the community has a defined role to play in both developing policy, and oversight of implementation.

The community, within defined rules, would be given the opportunity to scrutinise planning proposals during the pre-application process.

When the community has “signed off’ on proposals, then they would have no more objection/appeal rights, unless there are compliance issues, eg the developer builds something different to what has been agreed to.

What this does is ensure that delays for developers due to objections and appeals are reduced; costs are contained and aggravation is kept to a minimum. The planning authority is then determining proposals based on clearly defined rules (rather than having discretion, as they currently have, as to what is compliant or not); and affected residents know exactly what will occur in their neighbourhoods.

The biggest gripe by residents is that development that occurs in their neighbourhoods is unexpected, ad hoc, opportunistic and all-too-often, inappropriate. A collaborative approach would make this renewal process more of a partnership, rather than having entrenched pro- and anti-development positions. The Corbell proposals simply make things worse, and what will happen is that developer excesses will ultimately end in the pendulum swinging back again.

Why Corbell is singing the developers’ tume has me beat, specially after his recent dealings with Jolly Josip over ‘Bundah Caravan Park, and Terry “The Terminator” who is about to terminate Simon’s political career over EpiCentregate.

Corbell started to move down this collaborative path at one stage, by encouraging negotiated outcomes before cases went to the AAT. This approach works, but there is insufficient commitment to it, and it also occurs far too late in the process to be truly effective.

This one single line renders the whole bill completely pointless:

the Territory Plan has numeric limits (the “performance measures”), but these are allowed to be exceeded where the proposal meets the “Performance Objectives”.

It is like something off Yes Minister. Anytime they want to do something dodgy, they just have to come up with some creative ‘performance objectives’. Great. And I didn’t think planning could get any less resident-friendly in this town.

People will not find out the facts by reading the Canberra Times! The RA is a better source with your contributions.

It was in the pipeline, in the Planning System Reform Project, to do away with the yellow signs advising people that a DA has been lodged on the land. This is designed to minimise third party objections to a development. This is to get rid of people opposing development that is happening in their street and their suburb. In the future immediate neighbours adjacent to the development will only be able to object if they can prove they are materially disadvantaged. Your house can be surrounded on three sides by a block of flats and you have little chance of wining an appeal, as was the case with Lady Hicks of Turner in the AAT.
Residents of inner suburbs, in core areas, will be targets for more blocks of flats and Mac Mansions. There will be pressure to expand core areas. ACT Treasury has reaped more rates from the $5 billion worth of building in the last 5 years. It is now very evident who controls planning in the ACT. ACTPLA has only 2 building inspectors so self-regulation has vastly benefited the development lobby, developers pay accredited certifiers to sign off on their designs.
The “ Reform” has shown that developers can now feel their power, of their lobbying investment, on their bottom line.

There’s two aspects to the debate on public consultation. The first is that government doesn’t know everything – there are tried and trusted reasons, and processes for seeking public comment on various proposals. Indeed, the ACT govt is seeking public input into the changes to the planning rules. The problem is that Corbell at al are working on the principle that if they get the planning rules set, then there is no need to consult or have objection/appeal rights on individual DAs. Experience has shown that this does not work, as firstly, developers push the boundaries, secondly decision-makers regularly get it wrong (see the AAT for many examples), and thirdly ACTPLA’s ability to enforce compliance with the rules is very weak.

The second aspect to this argument is that industry groups (HIA, MBA, PCA, etc) have very large budgets and have become powerful vested interest influencers through political donations. Community groups have no such influence, and govts (whether intentional or not) are easily swayed by noisy and infleuntial people (Terry Snow is one example, although he and Corbell have now had a falling out).

As an example, the PCA last year charged their members $31,500 each for the lobbying that is done on their behalf.

The PCA has already issued a press release supporting the proposed changes and the ABC is reporting that the MBA is equally thrilled by the planning changes.

When developers are wetting themselves with excitement, we should be very worried.

What you are really saying is that you no longer trust the people that you elected to represent you to in fact represent you. I would suggest that you have lost your faith in government and probably never had faith in th eprivate sector … so you create “public consultation” as another check and balance. This id despite being (as part of a collective) responsible for putting the government in place that you no longer trust

No, it’s when the public is excluded and scrutiny is inadequate. Allsorts of things happen behind closed doors – we need to be able to shed light on these deals. It’s like the current RA debates on school closures, censorship of crime data, the “Bundah caravan park, and so on.

Not only does the public have a right to know, it is (or should be) part of the process. Doesn’t matter if it’s govt or private or both – there must always be the public as the third element (and of course, the media (fourth estate) as well).

Or is it when Government’s get involved

AAP News is today reporting:

“Tasmania’s auditor-general Mike Blake will
audit a controversial deal between deputy premier Bryan Green and the state’s builder accreditation body.
Mr Blake announced the audit today, almost one month after requesting documents relating to Mr Green’s deal with the Tasmanian Compliance Corporation (TCC).
It is the third investigation being conducted into the deal, which guaranteed the TCC a lucrative three year monopoly on builder
accreditation or a compensation payout worth $2.5 million.”

This is what happens when there is no community oversight of what goes on between the government and private enterprise. The greatest crime of these proposed planning changes, and what Corbell has done since becoming Planning Minister, is to remove the role and input of community groups into the planning process.

Left to their own devices, govt and industry will set up cosy little deals like they have done in Tasmania.

i woudl like to see ‘solar rights’ enshrined in planning legislation.

particularly if a person directly affected has a passive solar house.

But my point is the Government’s stuff up and push the envelope as much – spending like there is no tomorrow during June, putting school were no one wants them, making policial points with public asset (the anti-snow debarcle)or they build dumb buildings like Cameron and Benjamin.

Fact is the world is a little messy, and since we choose to live in capitalist society perhaps we should put up with the errors created by the market rather than the ones that the government makes. By this I mean be willing to accept some cost and manage it at the fringe instead of plonking right in the middle and making a complete balls up.

Yes stuff will go wrong – but lets deal with it and move on. I tend to think that more will go right in the long run – in any case some “mess’ in canberra will help make it more authentic.

thetruth, there is some merit in what you say. However, with property development there are huge profits to be made and developers start becoming far too creative (as high income earners do with tax laws, with bottom-of-the-harbour schemes, tax havens and the like).

We saw what developers will do in Gunghalin, within the rules, with ever smaller blocks, ever-narrower roads, and the infrastructure was not in place.

What happens is that, given the rules, developers will (literally) push the boundaries as much as they can – that is why we don’t see eaves, which used to be a great cooling device, on houses any more, as they count toward the allowable floor area on any given block.

To make matters worse, the Territory Plan has numeric limits (the “performance measures”), but these are allowed to be exceeded where the proposal meets the “Performance Objectives”. This is what allows developers and planners to grossly exceed the parameters that many of us think should be maximums.

Who would you have the future of the cities planning with?

Nothing wrong with the private sector, yes stuff happens sometimes illegal – but it happens in Government too (probably more often than the other way).

Let the market decide a bit more plan the city, be clear about uses and then let people get on with it.

It always interests me how Australian’s blame the private ownership for ills, but do not blame public ownership when the system blows up. Take telstra if something bad happens we tend to blame the 49% private ownership and not the 51% public ownership (strategically forgetting how BAD Telecom really was.

Dr. Foskey’s media release is on the ACT Greens Website, expressing related concerns [www.act.greens.org.au]

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