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Think Design, Deliver and undertake to stick to it! Planning reform in South Australia

Paul Leadbeter has observed plenty of reviews of the state’s planning laws. This year, the Planning Minister announced another period of review in the area. In this post, Paul reflects on the importance of meaningful community consultation for the review’s success.

One of the few benefits of growing old disgracefully is that if you hang around long enough in the area of planning law reform you will see various iterations of regulatory and policy schemes for land use planning. Land use planning laws and policy operate in what is often a volatile political atmosphere. Many factors contribute to this, including reactions to government restrictions on property rights, the environmental impacts of government decisions, community rights and entitlements (both perceived and actual), property and land speculation, wealth generation, clashes between local and state government and the occasional perceptions of developer greed and NIMBYism (NIMBY is an acronym for the term, ‘Not in my back yard’. It is usually a pejorative term directed at residents who oppose development in the vicinity of their properties). As a consequence the law in this area tends to change and ‘reform’ more frequently than in many other areas. Policy certainly changes on a regular basis.[1]

Planning law and policy in South Australia is presently undergoing one of these frequent periods of review and reform. The letters to the editor pages of The Advertiser have been full of expressions of concern about the direction of planning in the state.[2] Matters of particular concern include:

  • the expansion of the boundaries of outer metropolitan Adelaide;
  • the perception that the major project provisions of the Development Act 1993 have been used excessively and sometimes inappropriately;
  • the proposal to increase residential development in the CBD and in the suburbs that border the outer perimeter of the Adelaide parklands through the use of much higher density residential apartment buildings; and
  • the community frustration at the failure of existing law and policy to give the community a meaningful say and input into the creation of planning policy and the development assessment decision-making process.

On 18 February 2013, the state’s Planning Minister, John Rau announced what his press release describes as ‘an exhaustive and community driven review’ of the state’s planning system which will review the legislation relating to planning, urban design and urban renewal. The review will focus on the 20–year-old Development Act 1993 as well as the role and operation of all other legislation that impacts on the planning system. An expert panel of five persons lead by Adelaide QC Brian Hayes will undertake the review. Hayes should be well versed in the process of review having been the Chairperson of the Planning Review Group which produced the 2020 Vision-Ideas for Metropolitan Adelaide report in 1991. This report led to the creation of the current Development Act and the existing development plan format.

It will be well worth the Expert Panel spending time considering to what extent recommendations of the Planning Review did and did not come to fruition and why. There may be some useful lessons for the current review process. The Terms of reference for the Expert Panel on Planning Reform require it to provide the Minister with a final report outlining recommendations for a new planning system by no later than the end of December 2014, although it is anticipated that interim reports or advice on certain aspects will be provided to the government ahead of the final report.

The Expert Panel is presumably expected to be guided by the recommendations and policy proposals contained in the state government’s 30-Year-Plan for Greater Adelaide.[3] In doing so the Panel must realise the vision of:

(a) a vibrant inner city for Adelaide—including the city centre, park lands and inner suburbs;

(b) liveable, affordable and healthy neighbourhoods; and

(c) thriving, sustainable regional communities.[4]

In undertaking its review it is envisaged that the Panel will consult widely with the community, industry, councils and parliamentarians, review interstate and overseas planning systems and urban renewal legislation and consider relevant public reports and academic research relating to planning, urban design and urban renewal.[5] All sensible requirements, and all things that happened with the Planning Review 20 years ago.

Consultation that provides citizens with the ability to put their views and desires for the future development of their living, workplace and recreational environments and confidence that their views and opinions are being listened to and incorporated into the new system will be essential if the Panel is to achieve any credibility in the eyes of the general public. There has been considerable dissatisfaction in recent years with the state government’s approach to Ministerial Development Plan amendments (DPA) and meaningful public input to that process. While sections 25-26 of the Development Act currently require public consultation on development plan amendments, when no changes to draft DPAs are made following consultation the process can be perceived to be tokenistic and rather futile. Certainly with the recent DPA on regulated trees[6] there were no changes made by the Minister despite some good suggestions for changes being put forward. This is frustrating for the community which is advised that their best way to influence the development of their areas is to focus on the planning policy creation and undertake input at that stage rather than the development assessment stage. People want to be satisfied that if they make a submission and suggestions their submissions are given reasonable consideration and that there are clear and valid reasons why the suggestions are not deemed appropriate to take on board with legislative changes and policy amendments.

Failure to provide and maintain clear and transparent consultation processes will undermine the Review process and make it more difficult to gain the acceptance of the general public to suggestions for legislative and policy change. It is challenging times for South Australia. Climate change will have a significant impact on our community in the form of more intense hot spells, bushfires and extreme weather events. Water supplies will become more of an issue in parts of the state. These factors will all require careful treatment in any new planning law and policy regime. Large scale reviews of this nature can be exciting and challenging. Done well it could set the state up for a viable, sustainable future. Done badly it could be disastrous!

The Expert Panel on Planning Reform has set up its own website, Think, Design, Deliver and is calling for public input.

Certainly the Expert Panel has started on a positive note and appears at this point in time to want to make the whole review a very inclusive process. Experience with the 2020 Vision Planning Review 20 years ago was that there was extensive public consultation. Hopefully the same will apply to this review and its outcomes in 2013-2014.

 


[1] This is in part as a consequence of the statutory requirement that Development plans be reviewed on a regular basis, see s 30 of the Development Act 1993 (SA).

[2] See, eg, The Advertiser, Monday 4 March 2013, p10.

[3] SA Government, Dept of Planning and Local government, The 30 Year Plan for Greater Adelaide-A volume of the South Australian Planning Strategy, 2010.

[4] Terms of Reference,n5 Clause 3.

[5] Terms of Reference,n5 Clause 4

[6] Regulated Trees Development Plan Amendment-Ministerial DPA released for public consultation on 17 November 2011 see SA Govt. Gazette 17/11/2011 p 4535.

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