ADELAIDE City Council last week said recent comments by South Australian Planning Minister John Rau on council assessment bodies call into question the independence of the consultation supporting the independent review into planning reform.
As reported by News Limited last Monday, Mr Rau expressed "serious reservations about the capabilities of council assessment bodies in dealing consistently with complex planning and development matters."
"One of the big things we have been hearing from business is that you go to two different councils and, even though the zoning is the same, you will get two completely different interpretations about what that zoning means," Mr Rau was quoted as saying.
The Minister's comments follow the release of the 'Our Ideas for Reform' report by the Expert Panel on Planning Reform earlier in the month. The report contained 27 proposals to overhaul the planning system, including a requirement that all assessment be undertaken by independent professionals and the establishment of a state planning commission to provide arms-length decision-making and transparent advice. The Panel is due to release its final report to the Minister by the end of the year.
Adelaide City Councillor David Plumridge, Deputy Chair of Council's Planning Committee, said it was astonishing that the Minister would make comments in the middle of the independent review process that could at the very least taint the process and possibly prejudice the outcomes of the review.
"The Adelaide City Council is prepared to engage in planning reform if the Planning Minister is also committed to genuine engagement," Cr Plumridge said. However, he said it appears as if the Minister has already made his mind up on aspects of planning reform, "which makes it difficult to believe that the views of the wider community, as part of the consultation process, will be taken into account."
"We are supportive of several of the ideas for reform put forward by Brian Hayes QC and the expert panel. However, our views are based on the fundamental principle that the community should have a clear voice in determining the nature and shape of their local areas, and that this is best achieved through local councils having a continuing and fundamental role in the planning system.
"If you take away planning powers from local councils, you take away the community's ability to have their say on local planning issues. This has always been a key role for councils and must remain so in any new planning system."
Cr Plumridge said that if the Minister's comments are any indication of how he views community consultation on planning reform, "then the community should be fearful of how this will translate into consultation on local planning decisions."
"We suggest the Minister should let the planning reform review run its full course, and hear all sides of the argument, rather than trying to sway the views of the expert panel before they've even prepared their report," he said.
"Council stand ready to consider and discuss the merits or otherwise of all of the planning reform ideas put forward by the expert panel as part of the consultation process. We ask Minister Rau to do the same."
The Expert Panel on Planning Reform's report, 'Our Ideas for Reform', is open for public comment until 26 September 2014. More information is available from South Australia's Expert Panel on Planning Reform website at <http://www.thinkdesigndeliver.sa.gov.au/>.