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.