Major projects legislation postponed but still a threat

The Minister for Planning, Peter Gutwein, announced on 22 November 2017 that the Draft Land Use Planning and Approvals Amendment (Major Projects) Bill 2017 (Major Projects Legislation) would not be tabled in parliament prior to the state election. The Minister promised that the bill would be redrafted to rule out very high buildings being able to be declared major projects.

The redrafted bill has been released for public comment and it does convince us that buildings that exceed height limits in planning schemes, such as the Fragrance skyscrapers, could not be declared major projects. This is a big victory (so far) for the TCT and our partner organisations. 

The TCT took the lead to publicly identify the possibility of the Fragrance Group’s skyscrapers (proposed for Hobart and Launceston) being fast-tracked using the proposed major projects legislation. This, combined with the excellent local campaign by Hobart Not High Rise forced Minister Gutwein to back down. 

During the consultation process the Minister dismissed our complaints, saying we had misinterpreted the relevant provisions. Ironically, if he had taken notice of the TCT submission he would not have to go through this embarrassing about-turn now.

Even though fast-tracking of the Fragrance skyscrapers is ruled out, the proposed legislation will grant the Planning Minister far too much power and further reduce the community’s right to appeal development approvals. There is a danger that these other serious problems will go unnoticed. We must be vigilant and respond to the revised legislation by the due date of 31 January 2018.

In summary, the proposed legislation will enable developments to be taken away from local councils (either by the proponent applying to the Planning Minister or by the Minister calling-in projects) and the assessment, public consultation and approval or refusal done by an unelected, expertise-based, Development Assessment Panel. This is generally the same as the existing process for projects of regional significance but with several very worrying changes.

Expanded scope: The legislation greatly expands the scope of the existing Projects of Regional Significance (PORS) criteria so that virtually any project, from a subdivision or larger, could be fast-tracked, if, in the ‘Minister’s opinion’, the project fits the criteria. The legislation grants the Planning Minister total power to decide which projects are declared ‘major projects’. 

No right of appeal: While the community will be given a chance to make representations on proposed major projects, it will have no right of appeal over approvals, including people who are directly affected. This is the same with PORS and Projects of State Significance (POSS) but this proposed legislation greatly expands the range of projects that could be considered major projects. 

Unconstrained ministerial call-in powers: The Minister may ‘call-in’ developments simply because he decides a council has ‘unreasonably delayed’ a project’s assessment. With the term ‘unreasonable’ not defined in the legislation the Minister has total discretion to decide what an ‘unreasonable’ delay is. This unconstrained ‘call-in’ power is new and would be open to misuse.

Building on the existing PORS ‘complex projects’ criteria, the proposed legislation allows the Minister to call in a complex project merely because, in his opinion, the council is ‘unlikely’ to do the assessment in a  ‘timely manner’. The provision does not require there to be an actual delay in the assessment of a project and the term ‘timely’ is not defined. It is worded in a way that allows the Minister to predict the future by finding that the council is unlikely to do an assessment in a timely manner. 

Article by Peter McGlone - TCT Director

Image: kunanyi / Mt Wellington with artist impression of a cable car to the summit. Photo and graphic by Jack Redpath