Crunch time for new planning legislation

The new Planning Act, on line to become law by the middle of the year, will set the rules to control all types of development throughout Queensland for years to come.  Four community spokespersons were invited to address a Parliamentary Inquiry Committee sitting in Brisbane throughout Friday 26 February to consider last minute improvements to these new laws, joining representatives of the development industries, planning profession and heritage interests.

The community spokespersons, Phil Heywood of Kurilpa Futures, Revel Poynton of the Environmental Defenders Office, Elizabeth Handley of Brisbane Residents United and Erin Evans of the West End Community Association, were unanimous in preferring the currant government’s draft legislation to the private members bill that would maintain the development-at-all-costs proposals of the previous government. However they warned of the urgent need for more transparency, consultation and precision in assessment criteria.

Phil Heywood, Planning Spokesperson for Kurilpa Futures, an inner Brisbane based community group, highlighted the importance of changing current and proposed assessment rules. He said, “We need to replace the present development pipeline with reforms to ensure that neighbours and local communities have rights to be informed and comment on all significant new developments.“

“Logically, all proposals should either be so minor that they’re exempt from planning controls, or so totally inappropriate –like nuclear waste disposal in a shopping centre- that they’re prohibited, or else subject to assessment. The great majority of all proposals will be like that, and neighbours and community should have rights to be informed and to have their comments considered before a decision is reached. That gives you the simple categories of exempt, assessable and prohibited, instead of the current complex system, dividing assessable proposals between ‘code assessable’ (which exempts proposals from public notification and objection) and ‘impact assessable’ which is proving to be a developers playground for imaginative interpretations of promised future performance. These need to be scrapped by the new Act and replaced by these three clear, common sense and simple categories.

Mr Heywood commented: “This should be part of a new ‘evidence based ‘ system of planning assessment which would judge the suitability of proposals on whether or not they conform with the requirement of clearly defined zones, unlike the present set which are liable to be distorted by highly coloured interpretations intended to sway the decisions of the Planning  & Environment Court. “

The costs of appeals to this body also needed to be reduced from tens of thousands of dollars a day to virtually zero, by consigning most appeals to professionally expert conflict resolution Tribunals. “Planning needs to become less complex and confusing. It should not be so exorbitantly expensive that it becomes the preserve of the big end of town,” he concluded.