Some of Queensland’s top planners say our planning laws and processes need to be fixed to give residents more say and create better planning outcomes for neighbourhoods.

Planners Dr Laurel Johnson and Associate Professor Phil Heywood were joined by retired natural resource manager Howard Briggs at the Your Suburb, Your Say rally in Kangaroo Point on May 8, and presented their vision for a better planning system for Brisbane.

Dr Johnson, who was recently awarded the Planning Institute of Australia’s Outstanding Woman in Planning award for Queensland, said it was time Brisbane City Council saw communities as planning partners rather than the ‘enemy’.

“Residents are perceived as haters, as a problem for the city, which perplexes me as a planner who has worked in many other cities around Australia. You should be brought inside so you can use your energy and your love for where you live to assist in planning for the future of the city.”

Dr Johnson said her research showed the issues that caused the most community angst in new developments were ones that should be solved at the planning level.

“There are two things that people continually object to in higher-than-usual density development. One is car parking, and the other is what it looks like — the ugly design and the loss of character in streets and in places … Why do residents have to write the obvious to the council whose job it is to plan the city?”

“People are writing hundreds of submissions again and again and are saying the same things across the city —  why aren’t they being heard? I simply do not understand [this] in a city that is equipped with some well qualified planners and an excellent community development team.”

Dr Laurel Johnson – image by Peter Hines

Dr Johnson rejected the common criticism that residents who complained about developments were being NIMBYs (Not In My Backyard).

“You are being insulted for the passion and love you have for the very place that you live. It’s extraordinary that you are insulted with that. On one side of planning we want your passion and we want you to be involved, but we want you involved on our terms. The narrowing of those formal opportunities for participation, for engagement in council’s planning process, is what’s at the heart of the problem here.”

Dr Johnson’s advice was to “sweat your councillors” and pressure them to represent their community’s interests.

Howard Briggs said there was a disconnect between neighbourhood plans and the building approval process, and the state planning legislation needed to be reformed to allow more appropriate involvement of the community in decisions that affected them.

“The system is incredibly complex and is designed to manage development rather than to plan for good neighbourhood outcomes. If you meet the rules, you get a tick and your development can proceed, but it’s often a lot different to what people expect when they look at the neighbourhood plan,” he said,

“With every development proposal there are a lot of local and site issues that inter-relate, but it’s so complicated that ordinary residents only get involved when it’s too late to influence the outcome,” he said.

Mr Briggs said councils should be doing more to ensure that residents had a clear understanding of how planning laws worked and what local plans meant for their neighbourhoods.

He said the state government could change the Planning Act 2016 to require councils to include a “short summary of the implications of the planning scheme” any time they changed a neighbourhood plan. “Why don’t we have a one- or two-page summary written by someone in the community about what this planning scheme will mean for you?”

Mr Briggs said this would allow the community to understand what changes to height or density under the planning scheme would look like in their neighbourhood over the life of the plan.

He said the Planning Act also needed to be amended to increase the opportunities for communities to object to development based on their local knowledge of what was best for their neighbourhoods.

“We need to be able to specify when code assessable development is appropriate and when code assessable development should be converted to impact assessment because of concerns raised by the community that maybe the developers of the planning scheme weren’t aware of.”

Phil Heywood said one of the shortfalls of the current planning scheme was that council had failed to look at the big picture. He said council had refused repeated requests to calculate the overall potential population growth allowed under the new inner-city schemes.

Associate Professor Phil Heywood – image by Sally Dillon

Associate Professor Phil Heywood said while the South East Queensland Regional Plan called for a population increase of 110,000 people for Greater Brisbane over the next 15 years, Brisbane City Council’s 24 inner city neighbourhood plans allowed for an increase of at least 240,000 residences.

Although Brisbane City Council had identified that high density development should be occurring in areas well connected by public transport, he said that wasn’t happening in reality.

In Kangaroo Point, where there are already more than 8000 residents on only 1.3 square km, the new neighbourhood plan allows for massive population increases, in an area with limited public transport and few community services or facilities and limited green space. Associate Professor Heywood said this approach to planning was unfair to future generations.

“We need to use planning as a means of making a better world. We have a slippery planning process. We have the so-called performance-based planning system which says, ‘Well, we do say that there will be a height limit of 12 storeys here, but we’re going to greenwash it and say it will perform rather well and so we’ll let you go up another 10 storeys.’”

We need target-based planning not trend planning. Trend planning tends to say, “Well, the developers know what they need. The planning system is there to ease the line forward. The objectives need to be set by the market.”

“But the objectives should be set by city councils in conjunction with people like us.”

The Your Suburb, Your Say rally was organised by the No to Lambert St community group. Stay in touch with their new Brisbane-wide campaign to improve the planning system.

Your Suburb, Your Say rally – Image by Sally Dillon

Feature image by Peter Hines

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