Opinion: Democracy at work – or not
The McDonalds versus the town of Tecoma story as reported earlier, click here, has come to a sad close with the locals having lost the battle. Despite the majority of the citizens not wanting to have a McDonalds outlet within their village like precinct, the planning regulators ruled that what the citizens requested had no bearing on the outcome.
This situation is not unique to this town or that state, this is the state of contemporary planning within Australia, and I suggest in many other places internationally. Somehow we have ended up with the situation whereby developments are judged to be appropriate through a process that does not recognise the rights of the locals.
I know of exceptions such as when the locals in Santa Monica through their mayor banned parking in streets around the Getty in Santa Monica (not the main Getty Museum further up the hill). Till that point, the Santa Monica Museum had become very popular but had limited parking available so loads of people every day clogged up the residential areas surrounding the museum. Now it is necessary to book your parking in advance otherwise you are forced to travel there by other means. Local residents should have a say.
When contentious issues and developments are to be introduced to residents it is indeed possible for planning authorities to undertake community engagement to bring the residents around on the matter at hand. Or if they are not convinced, then maybe proposals need to be rethought or simply dropped as being inappropriate.
However most planning authorities and their planners have developed a culture whereby the local residents are regarded as being ‘the problem’ in delivering what planners think are good ideas. Most of these ‘good ideas’ are in fact first proposed by the usual suspects, being the development and property lobbyist. The developers indeed have the right to make money, but not when it means that residents are to be ignored.
The Tecoma case was at first won when, late in the day, the local council was convinced to listen to their electorate. But later it was lost when the appeals tribunal ruled that the local wishes were not relevant.
The democracy experiment has a long way to go in local council matters in particular in Australia’s planning regimes and the culture of favouring any development over residents’ aspirations.
Recently I have made the case for a major change here in Canberra where the culture of the planning authority is rock solid working against the wishes of the residents. To be more accurate, having been involved in one or two cases of dealing with the local planners, I would suggest the planners have failed as they have no idea of the intelligence and aspirations of the residents. Click here for that piece about the changes locally.
The real question is: How do we all learn from the outcome in Tecoma? The Guardian has reported on the day McDonalds opened in Tecoma – click here
Paul Costigan, 11 April 2014