Planning Shock: Where the Heck Are the Pollies?

The ACT Legislative Assembly… Once again, politicians are absent from planning matters and the future of the city. Photo: Paul Costigan

“Geoff Pryor’s presentation was devastating to anyone who still believed the ACT Greens and Labor politicians when they said planning reforms would bring positive results for the city,” writes the Canberra Matters columnist. PAUL COSTIGAN.

PEOPLE were shocked to hear the realities of the ACT government’s behavior as clearly spelled out by two speakers at the June Tuggeranong Municipal Council meeting.

Paul Costigan.

The focus of the two speakers, Geoff Pryor and Richard Johnston, was their perspective on the draft of a new planning law, which was due for consultation from March to mid-June.

It has been touted as an easy-to-use and accessible planning system that can facilitate this growth without sacrificing the city’s characteristics.

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

Having read much of the documentation, heard learned people comment on the draft papers, and read online submissions, there’s no doubt that despite the rhetoric about what it should deliver, it won’t deliver any of that.

If these reforms are not abandoned or seriously changed, the ACT’s planning system will be less transparent, less likely to preserve the city’s character, biodiversity will become more threatened, good landscaping and architecture will decrease even more, green infrastructure will be weakened and access to influence will be weakened decisions will be very difficult – if not impossible.

More power to make more bad decisions will rest in the hands of one person – the chief planner. This is the same person designing these changes. Politicians are being marginalized even more. Residents should be excluded from the planning process more often than before and have fewer opportunities to influence development decisions.

Geoff Pryor’s presentation was devastating for those who still believed the ACT Green Party and Labor politicians when they said the planning reforms would bring positive results for the city.

The sad reality is that these politicians either had no idea what they were talking about, or were completely duped by the chief planner, or are incompetent, or worse, condoned this shameful and absurd process.

My summary of what Pryor presented was that the Planning Directorate has no experience in conducting such an important review and has no idea how to deal with Canberra’s multitude of community sectors.

Reading laws is no easy task – reading planning laws is well beyond most people’s day-to-day experience. For the majority of residents who lead their own busy lives and have to deal with the cost of living, housing issues, employment, a pandemic, school matters, gas prices, health issues, let alone probably had no real awareness of the impact, there was none in the process Consideration of these planning reforms.

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

The planning chief gave no simple guidance on the key points and what was wrong with the previous planning legislation. The Planning Directorate instituted an appalling minimalist attempt by a consultant who delivered minimal engagements, a minimal community awareness program with very few events that people could easily attend. Given Canberra’s adult population, the number of residents participating in this almost invisible consultation process was shockingly small. This was a breakdown of good governance.

What was noted by several commentators was that there was no engagement on the part of the politicians. They made no effort to be available and make contact and discuss issues raised. It was like they were too busy having tea and coffee with important people. They don’t hold back when it comes to planning and the future of the city either.

Clearly, these amateurish, low-level attempts to implement meaningful planning reforms, as made possible by the ACT Greens and their Labor partners and delivered by the ACT’s planning chief, have achieved one thing. Through their combined lack of action, lack of transparency and inability to get involved, residents who have attempted to engage in this process have learned to trust politicians and bureaucracy even less. The ACT Greens and Labor are definitely building a better farce! How proud are you of this achievement?

Paul Costigan is a commentator on cultural and civic affairs.

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