29 May 2013 — Much has been said over the past two years about the need to improve the culture of planning in NSW. It is a sentiment that has been echoed by all sides of the planning profession whether from local or state government, the private sector or the development industry.

Generally, this is an attempt to address the poor public perception of the culture of the planning profession which is largely driven by negative media coverage of planning issues, for example Part 3A. The perception that planning creates uncertainty and lacks transparency is often promoted in the media and by the vocal developers lobby.

Whether the perception reflects reality or not, the fact that it exists suggests that planners need to work to change that perception.

The NSW planning White Paper takes its lead from the good work the Planning Institute of Australia has been undertaking on positive cultural change within the profession and acknowledges that “…a planning system with a good culture is one that is considered to be fair [and] that reflects all interests”. The White Paper pledges the NSW Government’s ongoing commitment to working with PIA, local councils and other stakeholders to support community participation in planning.

A community participation charter is proposed to be legislated, which enshrines seven principles including partnership, accessibility, early involvement, right to be informed, proportionate, inclusiveness and transparency.

The White Paper, however, proposes that community participation will occur only at the strategic planning stage, that is, the preparation of local plans and subregional delivery plans. Significantly it is proposed that “a low level of community participation, for example… complying development or code assessment… will only be notified for information”.

The White Paper also suggests that within five years 80 per cent of all development approvals will be by complying development or code assessment.

What this effectively means is that within five years 80 per cent of all development approvals will be granted without proper community consultation. It is unclear how this can be described as inclusive, transparent and “reflecting all interests”.

The culture of planning is not going to be changed for the better by silencing the community’s voice at the development application stage. This will only cause further community angst over the perceived lack of transparency as to how planning decisions are being made and create further mistrust of the profession within the community.

While the move towards codified development is a positive step, planners must ensure that the community’s right to be meaningfully engaged at the development stage is not diminished.

Wesley Folitarik is principal strategic planner for Goulburn Mulwaree Council.

4 replies on “NSW Planning Review: What is a culture without the community?”

  1. I have many of the same concerns as Corinne.

    Having worked for many years as a planner, it is clear that humans are generally resistant to change, and consultation will continue to reveal that many communities do not want the change required to accommodate population growth (e.g. higher density housing) and employment. The White Paper suggests communities will get a real say in strategic land use planning policies, but in reality, it is more likely that communities will be given growth targets by the State Government and told that their role is to say how these targets will be accommodated in strategic plans for their region, suburb and street. Will consulation proposed in the White Paper result in the more organised and erudite communities getting what they want at the expense of the less organised?
    The transitional period will see existing policies and plans transformed into one of the “new” plan types…with little or no additional community consultation. Most existing State and Regional level plans and policies were prepared with little effective community consultation…they may be okay plans and policies, but does this “transition” demonstrate to the community that anything has changed as a result of the review of the planning system, at least for the next 10-15 years? And would communities feel comfortable allowing 80% of development to be code assessable under this transition arrangement?
    Will people with skills and experience in community engagement be invited to prepare the community participation charter for the State Government? The Lower Hunter Regional Strategy is currently being reviewed. We are being told it will become one of the new types of plans outlined in the revised Act, however community consultation so far has elicited very little community interest. This indicates that the engagement models the Department is following are not very effective and they need to take a new approach. Will they, or will they say the lack of community response indicates community acceptance for the revised plan? Does this type of engagement demonstrate the future nature of engagement under the new Act? How will the community feel about planning and the planning profession in the future if it is?

  2. This idea expressed in the above document seems to assume that our electricity grid and our communications medium(s) are bullet-proof.
    The reality is that as we move towards fibre to the home, that every home, and business, will need to have its own blackout-proof power supply to supply the communications receiving equipment including computers, printers etc. That represents a fair capacity energy system.
    The reason I Raise this, is that we are bent at the moment on adding new generation to our 50Hz electricity grid by “INDUCTION GENERATION” method.
    This includes Wind turbines and Roof-top Solar.
    It should, but is usually not well known to the electrical engineering fraternity that there is a definite limit to the percentage of the system that can be supplied by Induction Generation as distinct from Governor Controlled generation.
    When I studied Electrical Engineering, that limit was 27.7% of the total generation , at which point, all of the alternators of the system simply over-speed or shut-down leaving the GRID in a BLACK situation with no energy to get it running again.
    Every time more generation is added by Induction Generation, it makes system failure more likely.

    Alan Swales, ex TransGrid Automatic Load and Frequency Control Engineering Officer, also ex Data Acquisition & Control.

    I have studied the internet, looking for information and only in Germany have I found any evidence that this phenomenon has happened recently..
    It was in 1950 that I last remember this being the cause of St George Area and NSW Railways shutting down because of Induction Generation over-supply.


  3. Wesley’s article demonstrates that he still doesn’t get it. I am a former industry advocate (UDIA) and have been promoting the view for many years that our housing crisis has been effectively “manufactured” by a lack of understanding of how investment in housing works, particularly by regulators and the broader community, who have progressively adopted a “can’t do” culture.

    Over the last 20 years, successive state and local goverments and services authorities have failed to appreciate that they have a direct role in the housing supply chain. When the system is working in sync, with sufficient raw land releases (with infrastructure in place), a strong development pipeline and demand generated by population growth (which is relatively stable in the greater Sydney region) you have a “supply and demand” balance.

    Developers and builders invest in a project when they can achieve an acceptable level of risk. Risk is priced into the project. So, the greater the level of certainty, the lower the cost and the higher the participation rate.At some point, a set of rules has to be established that generates an aceptable level of risk.

    The current EP&A Act is a very good piece of legislation. It accomodates the environmental, community and economic assessments necessary to generate responsible development. It can apply to development in 1980 or 2020 and beyond. Unfortunately, it has been hijacked by a lack of will and constan tinkering by well meaning regulators that have to some extent responded mor to the nay sayers than the doers. It is this naysay culture, appealing to community resistance that has legitimately spawned from:
    – examples of poor development,
    – undelivered infrastructure,
    – the rise of NIMBYism (those who have a home),
    – the expotential growth in communication mediums (that allow small voice to appear to represent the majority) and,
    – the inability for the home buyer to become involved in a particular issue (primarily becasue they do not have an interest in a project that they haven’t decided to buy into yet),
    that has crippled our supply chain.

    The last point in the previous paragraph is the same point that can be made about giving the community a voice at the strategic planning level versus the DA stage. The locals do not have an interest until they can see a direct relationship with their home.

    So, who’s view should prevail, that of the resident who is resisting change, comfortable in his home,or the future resident who has not bought in yet and can’t get onto the property ladder because they don’t make enough of it to keep the prices in check.

    If you want to minimise the risk of development, you have to get to a point where the investment rules are set. I support the concept that we as a community (including residents, developers and regulators) have a real and comprehensive conversation at the strategic planning level. If you forgo that opportunity to get involved, you forgo the right to revisit the rules of development (read investment).

    You can rewrite tha Act a thousand times, but without a cultural shift, we waste a lot of time and money for no improvement in our housing dilema.

  4. Thank you for your article. It’s great to see people in the planning profession prepared to speak out.

    I would add the following:

    In exchange for removing community comment on up to 80% of development applications, the Government proposes to increase community engagement upfront in the making of strategic plans. However:

    – No resources have been committed by the Government to increase community engagement in strategic planning beyond what is already occurring.

    – The Community Participation Charter proposed by the Government is not enforceable or reviewable in courts, rendering it effectively worthless.

    – Even if the Community Participation Charter were to be enforceable and reviewable, the strategic plans prepared in consultation with communities could be disregarded at any point in time through a range of ways:

    1/ The Minister already has, and would continue to have, the power to amend strategic plans without community consultation or rights of appeal.

    2/ Developers already have, and would continue to have, the right to request spot rezonings and ask for a review of the decision, with no equivalent right provided to communities.

    3/ The Director General of Planning would have the power to grant developers Strategic Compatibility Certificates even if their proposed development does not comply with the Local Plan (unlike the White Paper, the Planning Bill indicates that this is a permanent measure, and does not mandate any community consultation or rights of appeal); and

    4/ The Minister would have wide discretions to call in State Significant Development with no rights of appeal granted (this is a reduction in appeal rights compared to now, when State Significant Development is subject to third party objector appeal rights through judicial review).

    The above proposals by the State Government will not only undermine community engagement in strategic planning, but also significantly increase the risk of corruption associated with planning and development decisions.

    This is certainly NOT best planning practice. Planners reading this: please stand up for your profession! NOW is the time.

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