Planning mess: where the hell are the pollies?

planning in Canberra gets worse

People were shocked to hear the realities of the behaviour of the ACT government as set out clearly by two speakers at the June meeting of the Tuggeranong Community Council.

The focus of the two speakers, Geoff Pryor and Richard Johnston, was their take on the draft of a new planning Bill that was out for consultation from March to mid-June.

It had been heralded as delivering a user-friendly and accessible planning system that can facilitate this growth without compromising the characteristics of the city.

To quote: “Through the ACT Planning System Review and Reform Project we are reviewing and reforming our planning system in a holistic way to deliver better outcomes for communities, the environment and people across Canberra.”

Having read much of the documentation, having heard learned people present on the draft papers and having read online submissions, there is no doubt that despite the rhetoric about what it was meant to deliver, it will deliver none of that.

If these reforms are not dumped or seriously amended, the ACT’s planning system will be less transparent, less likely to safeguard the city’s character, the biodiversity will be more under threat, good landscape design and architecture will be even less, green infrastructure will be diminished and access to influencing decisions will be very difficult – if not impossible most of the time.

More of the power to make more bad decisions will be in the hands of one person – the chief planner. This is the same person designing these changes. The politicians will be sidelined even more. Residents are to be written out of the planning process even more often than now and will have less opportunities to influence development decisions.

Geoff Pryor’s presentation was devastating for anyone who still believed the ACT Greens and Labor politicians when they said the planning reforms would deliver positive outcomes for the city.

The sad reality is that these politicians either had no idea what they were talking about, or had been completely fooled by the chief planner, or are incompetent, or worse still have endorsed this shameful and farcical process.

My summary of what Pryor presented was that the planning directorate has no expertise in how to conduct such an important review and no idea on how to engage with Canberra’s multitude of community sectors.

Reading any legislation is no easy task – reading planning legislation is way beyond most people’s daily experience. There was no allowance in the process for the majority of residents who have their own busy lives dealing with living expenses, housing issues, employment, a pandemic, school matters, petrol prices, health issues and let alone probably had no real awareness of the impact of these planning reforms.

There was a short time frame (several months) for people to get their heads around about 800 pages of very complicated stuff about planning legislation.

The planning chief provided no easy guide to what the key points were and nothing about what was wrong with the former planning legislation. The planning directorate rolled out an appalling minimalist attempt of a consultant that delivered minimal engagements, a minimal community awareness program with very few events for people to attend easily. Considering the adult population of Canberra, the number of residents engaged with this almost invisible consultation process was, as expected, shockingly very few. This was a breakdown of good governance.

What was noted by several commentators was that there was no engagement by the politicians. They made no effort to be available and to make contact and discuss issues being raised. It was as if they were too busy having tea and coffee with important people. Yet again, on planning matters and the city’s future, they do not hold a hose.

These low-level amateurish attempts to deliver meaningful planning reforms, as enabled by the ACT Greens and their Labor partners and being delivered by the ACT’s planning chief have clearly achieved one thing.

By their combined lack of actions, lack of transparency and inability to engage, the residents who have attempted to engage in this process have learnt to trust politicians and the bureaucracy even less.

The ACT Greens and Labor are definitely building a better farce!

Just how proud are they of this achievement?

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This article is a version of the piece originally published online with City News

Paul Costigan is a commentator on cultural and urban matters

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