Community, science and environment voices raise alarm

In the lead up to the final opportunity for consultation on the proposed new single Tasmanian Planning Scheme, a growing range of community voices are coming together to highlight key concerns with the direction of the changes and the alienation of the public in planning decisions. Next week the Tasmanian Planning Commission will hold hearings on aspects of the scheme.

The proposed Tasmanian Planning Scheme removes both environmental and community protections and the capacity for public engagement in planning decisions. It amounts to gifting the real estate and tourism development sectors a similar 'special deal' that was granted to aquaculture 20 years ago and forestry and mining industries before that. The Tasmanian Planning Scheme is the most significant legislative change to planning law since the introduction of the Resource Management and Planning System in 1993 and unfortunately it counters many of the objectives that system was designed to implement. Planning Minister Peter Gutwein is expected to sign off on the new Tasmanian Planning Scheme and its provisions in December and strong protections and public involvement provisions must be retained. These are historic changes that most Tasmanians have no idea about.

"Tasmanians have traditionally been wary of politicians that get too close to big business. We need to know that our government isn't just box ticking development plans for the big end of town, while locking locals out of the process that should give them a say about what happens in their own backyard," said Laura Kelly, Strategic Director for Environment Tasmania.”

Distinguished Professor Jamie Kirkpatrick has studied the natural values of Tasmania’s parks and reserves for 40 years and said “a planning process simply shouldn’t allow development in Tasmania’s conservation reserve estate to be exempt from rigorous and transparent assessment as it will lead to an inevitable deterioration of the natural and cultural values the reserves are designed to protect. The public service is simply not adequately resourced to carry out community-based planning.”

Sophie Underwood recently spearheaded a campaign with RACT members regarding expanded tourism development in Freycinet National Park. She said the response to that proposal demonstrated how valued national parks are, and how critical it is that the community has a say in the way that parks and reserves are managed. “If the Tasmanian Planning Scheme is introduced, the community will lose the ability to properly scrutinise future proposals by a proponent like the RACT, opportunity for public comment will be limited and the right of appeal will be taken away.”

“The iconic natural and scenic beauty of the East Coast is being threatened via changes to planning laws that put developers interests ahead of the public interest and sound and democratic planning processes,” said Todd Dudley, President of the North East Bioregional Network. Nick Sawyer is spokesperson for the Tasmanian National Parks Association and worked in reserve management for the Parks and Wildlife service for many years. He said “opportunities for public scrutiny of proposed developments within national parks are already inadequate and full introduction of the new Tasmanian Planning Scheme will only make the situation worse. Changes are urgently required to guarantee both public comment and appeal rights.” Concerns with the proposed new planning scheme extend to non-reserved land, including private land that is known to hold important natural or community amenity values. The Tasmanian Conservation Trust has worked on private land conservation issues for decades and noted a disturbing weakening of protections in the new planning scheme.

"The government has failed to ensure that threatened species habitats will be protected with appropriate zoning on private land so it seems that wherever industry has an interest, habitats will get second priority," said Trust Director Peter McGlone. “Planning schemes should provide a safety net for species, prohibiting development in critical habitat areas, but this scheme is a net with so many gaping holes it is hard to see how threatened species will be saved by anyone other than enlightened proponents.” Robert Vincent is an Architect with urban and regional planning experience and is spokesperson for the Tasmanian Planning Information Network (TasPIN). Mr Vincent said “These planning changes are complex and detailed and will have far-reaching ramifications for people and places across Tasmania. They are being imposed with little explanation but will serious consequences for our urban amenity.”