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Seeking a planning minister for Canberra

By Paul Costigan - 2 September 2015 11

Mice-Men-P1120744

Canberra residents have the perception, or at least the aspiration, that the elected ACT politician appointed to be the planning minister will oversee the future planning and development of the city on behalf of the residents.

In a recent article the former chief minister, Jon Stanhope, listed one of his disappointments as not being able to deal with land planning (and affordable housing). His planning minister was Andrew Barr.

Moving back even further in Canberra’s history, Prime Minister Bob Menzies became very frustrated in the 1950s by the bureaucracies that had charge of the future of this city. There were two main departments and between them they were continually passing the buck back and forth and as a result not much was happening.

Menzies’ solution was to replace their roles in the planning and development of Canberra with the one body — being the National Capital Development Commission (NCDC). Over time the NCDC proved somewhat successful although it did leave the city with urban and infrastructure problems still being addressed today.

Since self-government in 1988, there have been continuous changes to the city’s planning and development bureaucratic structures. As a result Canberra now has not one, not two, but five separate agencies dealing with overlapping aspects of planning and development.

They are: the National Capital Authority (NCA), the ACT Planning and Land Authority (ACTPLA), the Environment and Planning Directorate, the Land Development Authority (LDA) and the Economic Development Directorate.

Actually that could be six, as the Community Services Directorate has recently been very active in talking up developments.

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This bureaucratic web goes largely unchecked constructing rules, partial rules, and stacks of obtuse planning processes. The result is a convoluted planning and development system that is dense and incomprehensible to all, including the bureaucrats who administer this maze.

The planning and development agencies, all five of them, have now developed a strong culture of believing their own messages. This has become very evident of late whereby they go public with statements to indicate that they do listen to residents, but in the end they make their planning and development decisions for the ‘longer term benefit of Canberra’.

Who knows how they define this ‘longer term benefit’. The common perception is that their ‘longer term benefit’ has little to do with health and welfare, little to do with aesthetics, almost nothing to do with climate change or other pleasantries such as neighbourhood character and enhancing the public amenity.

One wonders just whose ‘longer term good’ it must be about — any guesses?

Meanwhile out in the suburbs the questionable and inappropriate developments roll on endlessly.

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No resident, as an individual or group, could possibly deal successfully with this confusion of agencies and the mountain of rules, partial rules and those rules that can be bent when the bureaucracy decides to do so to suit someone else.

Meanwhile, believe it or not, in amongst the quagmire of bureaucracies there still exists someone with the title of ACT Planning Minister.

Like all the ACT ministers, the planning minister is loaded down with multiple portfolios. The current planning minister has portfolio responsibilities for planning, community services, ageing, children and young people, workplace safety and industrial relations.

This means that even if they were inclined to act as a real planning minister, there is little time to deliver on planning in an intelligent and knowledgeable manner. And besides — the bureaucrats would stop such a thing happening!

On top of that work load, is the reality that the ACT planning minister has direct control of just one of the five agencies with a role in planning and development. Most of the recent questionable planning and associated developments have been delivered by agencies, such as the LDA, that are not under his control.

The ACTPLA is supposed to be an independent authority — meaning they make up loads of rules to complicate people’s lives and the minister has very little say about what it does.

The NCA is an irrelevant remnant of the Commonwealth’s reign (pre 1988) that continues to complicate matters under the guise of national significance.

On top of this maze, there is also the Chief Minister, being also the Minister for Urban Development, who makes his own announcements on planning and development, most of which end up irritating residents. He has a team that pumps out propaganda that reinforces the view that the politicians and their bureaucrats exist in another reality — almost as if they are continually attending the mad hatters tea-party.

With so much planning and development being conducted by people and agencies not within the planning minister’s control, the reality is that the ACT Planning Minister is a planning minister by name only.

Maybe it is time for the Menzies solution to be re-applied. This whole mess of bureaucracies need to be reduced to one Commission for Canberra that is respectful of the aspirations of residents, and is focused on people, addresses local and national perspectives, promotes good design in buildings and landscape, delivers sensible and relevant developments, and ensures that developments enhance people’s health and well being, the environment, aesthetics, and neighbourhood character and provides opportunities for cultural development.

Someone (not another dreaded committee) needs to be appointed to clear up Canberra’s mess of agencies. Planning and development across Canberra should be under the direct control of one planning and urban development agency with just the one minister. Is that possible — or would the bureaucrats stop such a thing happening?

There’s just over twelve months to the elections, so there’s still plenty of time to get such significant changes moving.

Over to you ACT Government. Give it a go!

What’s Your opinion?


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11 Responses to
Seeking a planning minister for Canberra
lynehamovaluser 8:47 pm 15 Sep 15

Recent ridiculous planning and development proposals, disasters and occasional decisions show that there needs to be a close look at what has been and continues to be done without public knowledge.
A new system that includes mandatory public disclosure and proper public involvement in planning before it even gets to development stage might work. All over Canberra, residents’ groups, community associations and the like are trying to keep on top of what’s happening in their own area.
Do we need ‘local’ resident groups allied throughout Canberra to give us the power to ensure that in the maze of government authorities the people aren’t lost in the process (Kafkaesque)?

ungruntled 6:51 pm 03 Sep 15

What it seems to me is the underlying cause of all the angst expressed here so far, is the result of two things.

1. The financial base on which the ACT exists is inadequate for its basic needs. (I suggest looking to The Grants Commission to re-assess how they calculate ACT federal grants, because it is my understanding that The Feds don’t pay their way in ACT any where near as equitably they do in other states & territories. this seems to be an issue which no-one is prepared to bring up with them or anyone else.)

2. The Assembly is lacking in
a) responsibility to the community it is intended to serve, &
b) The Assembly is totally lacking any creativity with which to approach the issues it faces. (It is patently evident the old paradigm isn’t working and we need to go back to first principals and re-think a solution.)

So much for the clever country! Or the lucky country for that matter!

HiddenDragon 5:59 pm 03 Sep 15

Ghettosmurf87 said :

dlenihan said :

watto23 said :

Arthur Davies said :

All totally accurate, but I would add a few additional planning items:-

Must be totally independent of the real estate/developers influence. This was a major advantage of the NCDC prior to our self non government. How can we have real self government while agents of the Commonwealth can override our decisions with distain, as they have in the past (equal marriage, euthanasia, drug trial etc).

Must be independent of treasury influence as they are driving almost all the mostly bad decisions (this means that the revenue situation for the ACT must be seriously changed)

Must act in the interests of ACT residents, not vested interests, all too often from outside the ACT. A primary goal used to be to provide affordable (read 3 times annual income not around 8 as at present) housing & rental properties for ALL who wants one (at market rates for those in well paid jobs).
All this kept the private market in check IT WORKED FOR MANY YEARS.

Information on planning proposals must include all background material, all must be open & transparent, no “commercial in confidence” or “security considerations”. Once published for all to see & submissions invited, the submissions too should be published for all to see. Then the Commissioner, or whatever the title is, must be required to act on the basis of those proposals, local resident proposals getting the most consideration. Not as at present where we are all “consulted” (or should that be insulted) while the minister & the bureaucrats go & do whatever they originally wanted with a few inconsequential changes.

Arthur

Vested interests are what drives capitalist society. The current federal government has been caught out in not being able to convince the public its policies are for them, when clearly its for their political donors. In the ACT, its clear that developers have a big say in what gets developed and where. This won’t change regardless of the political party in charge. This is why I feel the removal of stamp duty is a good thing. The government won’t be reliant on high property prices to bring in more stamp duty. In fact to make more money they need to release more land and build more properties and that will put downward pressure on property prices. Although with increased rates its hard to know if we’ll be better off.

The vast majority of home owners have already paid stamp duty. How does reducing the current level of stamp duty for new home buyers and adding yet another surcharge on to rates to all residents improve anything.

It is no more than political double dipping, or for a want of a better term, legalised theft.

Unless the whole housing bubble bursts, (and we are all down the toilet) this wont magically reduce the cost of housing. it just clever political double speak to allow the ACT government to put their hands in your back pocket.

It is about putting in place a more stable form of revenue for the government. Rather than depending on the transfer of housing to generate revenue and imposing a transaction cost, the cost is spread across everyone based on the value of the land they are currently on, with that land constantly being charged.

It is a far more stable and sustainable method for raising revenue.

Sure, those people who have paid stamp duty already may be worse off, but you don’t stick with a broken system and avoid a better solution, just because some people will be hard done by.

Apparently the average person spends 7 years in a house. Therefore, the next time they move, they will pay a whole lot less stamp duty and therefore see a benefit from the new system.

It’s also about locking-in boom-time revenues (which should always have been treated as exceptional) after the boom is over – look at the jursidictions which have miraculously discovered the evils of property transaction taxes, and those which haven’t (yet)…….

dlenihan 2:55 pm 03 Sep 15

To each their own, I find it abhorrent.

Ghettosmurf87 2:05 pm 03 Sep 15

dlenihan said :

watto23 said :

Arthur Davies said :

All totally accurate, but I would add a few additional planning items:-

Must be totally independent of the real estate/developers influence. This was a major advantage of the NCDC prior to our self non government. How can we have real self government while agents of the Commonwealth can override our decisions with distain, as they have in the past (equal marriage, euthanasia, drug trial etc).

Must be independent of treasury influence as they are driving almost all the mostly bad decisions (this means that the revenue situation for the ACT must be seriously changed)

Must act in the interests of ACT residents, not vested interests, all too often from outside the ACT. A primary goal used to be to provide affordable (read 3 times annual income not around 8 as at present) housing & rental properties for ALL who wants one (at market rates for those in well paid jobs).
All this kept the private market in check IT WORKED FOR MANY YEARS.

Information on planning proposals must include all background material, all must be open & transparent, no “commercial in confidence” or “security considerations”. Once published for all to see & submissions invited, the submissions too should be published for all to see. Then the Commissioner, or whatever the title is, must be required to act on the basis of those proposals, local resident proposals getting the most consideration. Not as at present where we are all “consulted” (or should that be insulted) while the minister & the bureaucrats go & do whatever they originally wanted with a few inconsequential changes.

Arthur

Vested interests are what drives capitalist society. The current federal government has been caught out in not being able to convince the public its policies are for them, when clearly its for their political donors. In the ACT, its clear that developers have a big say in what gets developed and where. This won’t change regardless of the political party in charge. This is why I feel the removal of stamp duty is a good thing. The government won’t be reliant on high property prices to bring in more stamp duty. In fact to make more money they need to release more land and build more properties and that will put downward pressure on property prices. Although with increased rates its hard to know if we’ll be better off.

The vast majority of home owners have already paid stamp duty. How does reducing the current level of stamp duty for new home buyers and adding yet another surcharge on to rates to all residents improve anything.

It is no more than political double dipping, or for a want of a better term, legalised theft.

Unless the whole housing bubble bursts, (and we are all down the toilet) this wont magically reduce the cost of housing. it just clever political double speak to allow the ACT government to put their hands in your back pocket.

It is about putting in place a more stable form of revenue for the government. Rather than depending on the transfer of housing to generate revenue and imposing a transaction cost, the cost is spread across everyone based on the value of the land they are currently on, with that land constantly being charged.

It is a far more stable and sustainable method for raising revenue.

Sure, those people who have paid stamp duty already may be worse off, but you don’t stick with a broken system and avoid a better solution, just because some people will be hard done by.

Apparently the average person spends 7 years in a house. Therefore, the next time they move, they will pay a whole lot less stamp duty and therefore see a benefit from the new system.

dlenihan 12:18 pm 03 Sep 15

watto23 said :

Arthur Davies said :

All totally accurate, but I would add a few additional planning items:-

Must be totally independent of the real estate/developers influence. This was a major advantage of the NCDC prior to our self non government. How can we have real self government while agents of the Commonwealth can override our decisions with distain, as they have in the past (equal marriage, euthanasia, drug trial etc).

Must be independent of treasury influence as they are driving almost all the mostly bad decisions (this means that the revenue situation for the ACT must be seriously changed)

Must act in the interests of ACT residents, not vested interests, all too often from outside the ACT. A primary goal used to be to provide affordable (read 3 times annual income not around 8 as at present) housing & rental properties for ALL who wants one (at market rates for those in well paid jobs).
All this kept the private market in check IT WORKED FOR MANY YEARS.

Information on planning proposals must include all background material, all must be open & transparent, no “commercial in confidence” or “security considerations”. Once published for all to see & submissions invited, the submissions too should be published for all to see. Then the Commissioner, or whatever the title is, must be required to act on the basis of those proposals, local resident proposals getting the most consideration. Not as at present where we are all “consulted” (or should that be insulted) while the minister & the bureaucrats go & do whatever they originally wanted with a few inconsequential changes.

Arthur

Vested interests are what drives capitalist society. The current federal government has been caught out in not being able to convince the public its policies are for them, when clearly its for their political donors. In the ACT, its clear that developers have a big say in what gets developed and where. This won’t change regardless of the political party in charge. This is why I feel the removal of stamp duty is a good thing. The government won’t be reliant on high property prices to bring in more stamp duty. In fact to make more money they need to release more land and build more properties and that will put downward pressure on property prices. Although with increased rates its hard to know if we’ll be better off.

The vast majority of home owners have already paid stamp duty. How does reducing the current level of stamp duty for new home buyers and adding yet another surcharge on to rates to all residents improve anything.

It is no more than political double dipping, or for a want of a better term, legalised theft.

Unless the whole housing bubble bursts, (and we are all down the toilet) this wont magically reduce the cost of housing. it just clever political double speak to allow the ACT government to put their hands in your back pocket.

watto23 9:24 am 03 Sep 15

Arthur Davies said :

All totally accurate, but I would add a few additional planning items:-

Must be totally independent of the real estate/developers influence. This was a major advantage of the NCDC prior to our self non government. How can we have real self government while agents of the Commonwealth can override our decisions with distain, as they have in the past (equal marriage, euthanasia, drug trial etc).

Must be independent of treasury influence as they are driving almost all the mostly bad decisions (this means that the revenue situation for the ACT must be seriously changed)

Must act in the interests of ACT residents, not vested interests, all too often from outside the ACT. A primary goal used to be to provide affordable (read 3 times annual income not around 8 as at present) housing & rental properties for ALL who wants one (at market rates for those in well paid jobs).
All this kept the private market in check IT WORKED FOR MANY YEARS.

Information on planning proposals must include all background material, all must be open & transparent, no “commercial in confidence” or “security considerations”. Once published for all to see & submissions invited, the submissions too should be published for all to see. Then the Commissioner, or whatever the title is, must be required to act on the basis of those proposals, local resident proposals getting the most consideration. Not as at present where we are all “consulted” (or should that be insulted) while the minister & the bureaucrats go & do whatever they originally wanted with a few inconsequential changes.

Arthur

Vested interests are what drives capitalist society. The current federal government has been caught out in not being able to convince the public its policies are for them, when clearly its for their political donors. In the ACT, its clear that developers have a big say in what gets developed and where. This won’t change regardless of the political party in charge. This is why I feel the removal of stamp duty is a good thing. The government won’t be reliant on high property prices to bring in more stamp duty. In fact to make more money they need to release more land and build more properties and that will put downward pressure on property prices. Although with increased rates its hard to know if we’ll be better off.

HiddenDragon 5:35 pm 02 Sep 15

“….As a result Canberra now has not one, not two, but five separate agencies dealing with overlapping aspects of planning and development……”

Some degree of overlap and duplication is almost inevitable in bureaucracies, but that sounds like a lot – something to consider, perhaps, as a savings option when looking to meet the inexorable demands in areas such as health.

Arthur Davies 4:48 pm 02 Sep 15

All totally accurate, but I would add a few additional planning items:-

Must be totally independent of the real estate/developers influence. This was a major advantage of the NCDC prior to our self non government. How can we have real self government while agents of the Commonwealth can override our decisions with distain, as they have in the past (equal marriage, euthanasia, drug trial etc).

Must be independent of treasury influence as they are driving almost all the mostly bad decisions (this means that the revenue situation for the ACT must be seriously changed)

Must act in the interests of ACT residents, not vested interests, all too often from outside the ACT. A primary goal used to be to provide affordable (read 3 times annual income not around 8 as at present) housing & rental properties for ALL who wants one (at market rates for those in well paid jobs).
All this kept the private market in check IT WORKED FOR MANY YEARS.

Information on planning proposals must include all background material, all must be open & transparent, no “commercial in confidence” or “security considerations”. Once published for all to see & submissions invited, the submissions too should be published for all to see. Then the Commissioner, or whatever the title is, must be required to act on the basis of those proposals, local resident proposals getting the most consideration. Not as at present where we are all “consulted” (or should that be insulted) while the minister & the bureaucrats go & do whatever they originally wanted with a few inconsequential changes.

Arthur

Paul Costigan 11:30 am 02 Sep 15

Dear Nirem, Do not get me strated on the mess they made of Civic. However I think things can be done to bring about positive changes in Civic – and have written about this previously.

http://the-riotact.com/how-can-civic-be-rejuvenated/146370

The new parking fees, while probably making sense to the finance bureaucrat in charge, could not have come at a worse time. Did the planning minister have a role in this decision? did he think it was a good idea right now when so much of Civic is struggling?

I would really like to see the Planning Minister take a very public role on leading the debate on making Civic successful again. Things can happen when there is creative and passionate leadership.

Maybe I am being just too optimistic again!

Nilrem 8:11 am 02 Sep 15

Meanwhile the Mega Mall continues to munch its way through the CBD, leaving nothing in its wake but grey concrete canyons. Why has the Government abdicated its responsibility in planning a nice city centre?

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