Brisbane planning reform: which way from here?

A Queensland government paper on planning reform leaves big environmental questions waiting to be answered, says the Environment Defenders Office.

Jo Bragg

EDO chief executive Jo Bragg said directions paper Better Planning for Queensland released on Monday did not indicate a clear commitment to environmental protection.

Ms Bragg’s reaction to the paper was different to the Property Council which lauded the paper for its similarity to the planning reform work done under the previous Newman government.

Property Council Queensland executive director Chris Mountford said the industry was involved in an extensive review of the state’s planning system for 18 months, and it was a relief that the process would not have to be started again under Labor.
But Ms Bragg said the 18-month consultation with the Newman government was not best practice and that the Newman government only consulted the voices it wanted to hear.

“They put out bits and pieces and they had groups they invited – people they’d like to hear from, not a genuine cross section at all,” she said. “It was basically a messy process that suited the spontaneous policy making of the previous government.”

Ms Bragg said she was not surprised the Property Council was positive about the paper, because it and other powerful bodies in the property sector had a “disproportionate influence” over reforms discussed under the Newman government.

“They like things being fast tracked whereas the community likes things being assessed more thoroughly,” she said.

A proper review process of Queensland’s planning system, Ms Bragg said, would be a public discussion paper that raised issues and posed questions and which gave the public the opportunity for a comprehensive response.

Ms Bragg said the planning system needed to move beyond “general principles that everyone agrees with” to looking at what really happens on the ground.

“It’s that detailed work that hasn’t happened.”

“A lot of money can be made by people through land use planning and it’s a valuable safeguard against corruption to have good process and genuine community and environmental input into these schemes.”

Chris Mountford

Mr Mountford said fast-tracking and simplifying the planning system in Queensland would benefit industry, local government and the general public.

“It’s hard for the community to engage with the planning system because it is so complex,” he said.

“Part of the government paper is increasing committee consultation up front about how an area will grow and change over time so they have a better understanding when development does occur, that it’s in line with a long term strategy.”

Mr Mountford said local council planning schemes and the development assessment process at councils needed to be faster and more efficient.

He said the language needed to be easy to interpret and information materials had to be consistent.

“A lot of frustration is shared equally by all players in the system,” he said.

A government press release about this week’s paper said its planning reforms would enable communities, local councils and industry to “shape the future of their streets, suburbs and regions”.

Deputy Premier and Minister for Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning Jackie Trad said Queensland needed a fair and practical planning and development assessment framework to secure long-term liveability, sustainability and prosperity.

Ms Trad said the Better Planning for Queensland directions paper would be discussed in workshops with community, local councils and industry from June ahead of a Planning Summit in July.

“Better Planning for Queensland will bring together the community, industry and council to help formulate a new Planning Act that can respond to the challenges of urban growth and is fair, open, transparent and easy to understand,” Ms Trad said.

“I want residents to have a strong voice in the planning and development decisions that affect the neighbourhoods and communities where they work, live and play.”

Ms Bragg said the Palaszuzuk government’s lack of movement on the role of the Environmental Department – which went from authoritative to advisory under Newman – was evidence of an unclear commitment to environmental protection.

“We want to the Environment Department to have a decision making role and we also say the Environment Department should have that same role in relation to major projects, that often go over the top of the planning system,” she said.

“Under last government the Environment Department used to have a decision making role in relation to coastal development.

“That was changed that so they merely provided advice to the Single Assessment and Referral Agency, effectively the Department of Planning and Development.”

Ms Bragg said an encouraging part of this week’s paper was the attention to reinstating cost rules in the Environmental Court, which were abolished during the Newman years.

The Newman government gave the courts general discretion in relation to fees which made it financially risky for community groups to oppose development.