The state government recently released a discussion paper ‘Reforming Tasmania’s Planning System: a position paper on the Land Use Planning and Approvals Amendments Bill 2014’ to selected stakeholders requesting their comments.
The Planning Position Paper includes numerous proposals – I estimate more than half – which were not mentioned in the Liberals’ election policy on planning. Other included proposals are justified as being delivery of a ‘Fairer, Faster, Cheaper and Simpler Planning System’ but the rationale is less than convincing.
A few of the proposals are actually not specified – for example, the Paper says being that a particular statutory timeframe regarding planning scheme amendments would be reduced but fails to state what it will be reduced to.
The government cannot claim a mandate for most of these changes. Most members of the public would have no idea what is being proposed because consultation has been primarily through the state-government-appointed Planning Reform Taskforce and a select list of stakeholders (which includes the TCT). The Position Paper was not even advertised in newspapers.
I noted a very strong reaction from retiring West Tamar Mayor Barry Easther and President of the Local Government Association of Tasmania in the Examiner on 10 October 2014, but his is almost a lone local government voice in this debate.
But West Tamar Councillor Barry Easther said while the government’s mantra sounded great, existing schemes were more than adequate.
“Our performance in processing development applications is way ahead of any state on the mainland,” Cr Easter said.
“Nothing is going to be cheaper, let me tell you, and I really wonder whether it will be any fairer. And as for simpler, well, our current ‘simplified’ planning scheme is about 10 inches high where our old scheme was about 3 inches, so the proof will be in the pudding.”
Few other councils have joined the public debate. We understand that even in private there is not a clear coordinated position from all or the majority of councils. This inadequate response from local government may be in part because of the difficulty of coordinating responses from 29 councils but it could have more to do with the government seeking their input during local government election.
Shorter assessment timeframes
The government proposes to reduce, from 42 to 21 days, the time that councils have to make a decision in regard to a permitted use or development; and reduce from 21 to 14 days the time during which councils can require additional information to be provided. The Liberal election policy included these specific proposals but the government has not been able to explain how councils will implement these new requirements and whether it will actually deliver quicker assessments. Councils may need to meet every two to three weeks instead of the current four weeks, which sounds like an increase in red tape (not a decrease) which will cost councils more. If councils cannot meet the shorter timeframe they might stop the clock more often and request more information from the proponent, perhaps as an excuse to allow more consideration of the proposal. Councils might also make poorer decisions that cause problems for the proponent, the adjacent community or the environment after the development is completed.
Thir- party appeals
This proposal implements the Liberal election policy to increase fees from $300 to $600 for third parties to make planning appeals. The government now proposes that the higher fee will not apply to proponents or those on adjoining land or directly affected by a development – only to groups such as the TCT or a local community interest group. This was not stated in its policy.
Interim planning directives
Another proposal that was not in the Liberal election policy is to empower the minister to create interim planning directives or replace an existing directive without any public process. The Planning Position Paper justifies this proposal by making a vague reference to an instance that arose during the 2013 bushfire emergency, when existing legislation apparently prevented urgent necessary changes. It fails to explain the specific circumstances of that instance or why it is believed to be a problem that might occur more generally.
Extension of planning permits
Currently, planning permits are issued by councils for two years, with the possibility of an additional two-year extension if substantial commencement has not been achieved. It is proposed to allow councils to issue a third two-year permit – another proposal that was not mentioned in the Liberal election policy.
This proposal is justified by reference to a few extraordinary instances (few details are provided so these cannot be verified), including where it is claimed that developers just missed the four-year cut-off. There is no consideration of alternatives, such as granting extensions of a few weeks or months instead of two years when developers are close to commencement or receiving finance.
It is proposed to allow subdivisions to be permitted when approved as part of a planning scheme; therefore, they would not be subject to a decision by council or public notification and a call for representations.
This would weaken the assessment and control of clearance and degradation of native vegetation for residential development. It is vital that each and every subdivision proposal is subject to scrutiny by councils using the most up-to-date information on natural values and not relying only on information available at the time the planning scheme is issued. Councils could misuse this provision by pushing for a large number of subdivisions to be approved through the planning scheme, knowing that many people do not respond to these processes.
Public exhibition period for new planning schemes reduced
It is proposed that the public exhibition period for new planning schemes b reduced from two months to one month. This would be unfair as most schemes are very large and technically detailed so the shorter timeframe could prevent many people from making representations.
Amendments of planning schemes that do not require a public process
This proposal would allow the minister to make certain changes to planning schemes if the minister believes the matters are urgent (which is not defined) and in the public interest (there is no public consultation process in which the ‘public interest’ could be determined).
The TCT’s full submission (in two parts) to the Planning Position Paper is on our website: www.tct.org.au