Defending Tasmania’s Planning System

The State Government’s changes to planning legislation have sown the seeds for over-development in Tasmania’s iconic cities, coastal hideaways, heritage towns and wilderness areas, whilst creating opaque processes that empower the Planning Minister and strip the community’s rights. They have plans for more draconian changes.

Changes to the Land Use Planning and Approvals Act (LUPAA) in 2015 created the potential for two major changes that weaken councils and community rights and threaten the environment.  The changes to LUPAA principally facilitated the creation of the Single Statewide Planning Scheme, comprising a set of Statewide Planning Provisions (SPP) covering the whole state and Local Area Provisions (LAP) for each of the 29 councils. The LAPs describe the zones and any unique local planning rules for specific places.

The SPPs, which the minister approved last year but will not come into effect until later this year as LAPs are finalised, include a provision that means there is no guaranteed right for the community to be consulted or have a right of appeal in regard to the assessment and approval of tourist developments in reserved land. While the spotlight has gone off the SPPs, the TCT will continue to seek community support and other allies to lobby the Planning Minister to hold a comprehensive review of the SPPs and in particular to reconsider this unacceptable provision.

The 2015 changes to LUPAA also granted the Planning Minister powers to instruct councils to amend LAPs at any time, constrained only by a set of very broad criteria, potentially reversing protection for sites that local communities have fought for. Prominent examples of this are the Fragrance Tower developments proposed in Hobart. If the Hobart City Council introduced a hard maximum height limit in its LAPs, the Minister can initiate a review that has the potential to overturn the height limit.

  The Cambria property map superimposed over a map of Hobart at the same scale. Image courtesy of Freycinet Action Network. The Batman Bridge is approximately 1 kilometre for scale.

The Cambria property map superimposed over a map of Hobart at the same scale. Image courtesy of Freycinet Action Network. The Batman Bridge is approximately 1 kilometre for scale.

The current Cambria Green proposal for a 3,000 hectare tourism resort near Dolphin Sands could be another development where the Planning Minister could step in. Because the development is totally inconsistent with the current zoning of the area, the developer needs a Special Area Plan (SAP) in order to proceed. This SAP is basically an exemption from all the usual rules that apply to everyone else under the planning scheme. However, if the council listens to the community and either does not grant a SAP, or makes changes to make it acceptable, the State Government can come in at any time and force a review of the local zoning provisions for that area.

There is a proposal for a massive tourist development in the 20 hectare Rosny Hill Nature Recreation Area, on the eastern shore of Hobart, that includes a hotel, restaurant, conference centre and 18 accommodation buildings. This development would occupy about 40% of the reserve and require the destruction of a large area of grassy woodland and sheoak forest. The proposed development would also result in the destruction of upwards of half of the population of the endangered orchid Thelymitra bracteata (leafy sun orchid). This is the largest population of this orchid in Tasmania and the only one in a reserve. Since the early 1990s, this ‘public reserve’ has been principally managed by the local volunteers from the Landcare group. If this development goes ahead it will be a prime example of publicly owned and well maintained land being handed over to a private developer to profit from and largely exclude the community.

Perhaps of greatest concern is the trend of excluding the community from providing input to the assessment of private tourism developments proposed for Tasmania’s public land, including National Parks and World Heritage Areas.

This has been illustrated recently in the case of the tourism development proposed for an island in Lake Malbena in the Walls of Jerusalem National Park. The project has been given approval under the state government’s Reserve Activity Assessment (RAA) process, but was never released to the public. What’s more, the developer has claimed that the information in the RAA is commercial in confidence and that they do not therefore have to release it. Fortunately Federal legislation has intervened and the proponent has been asked to release some details of their RAA assessment. 

The Lake Malbena proposal will, we presume, also be assessed under the existing local planning scheme and the council is obliged to seek public comment. This provides some level of community input, but it is limited to only those aspects of the proposal that are relevant to the planning scheme. For example, the council is not required to consider the impacts of the proposal on wilderness and other World Heritage values. Even this limited community right to have a say will be taken away when the SPPs come into effect.

It is vital that tourist developments are required to be assessed by local councils, to ensure compliance with the relevant planning scheme, and by the Parks and Wildlife Service, to ensure compliance with reserve management legislation. The public must have the right to provide input to both assessment processes and to appeal the final decisions. The Parks and Wildlife Service (PWS) is currently undertaking a review of its RAA processes with a view to providing a greater level of community input, but we doubt that this will provide the community with power to overturn approvals. The TCT along with other conservation groups is providing input to the RAA review.

It appears that the State Government has postponed its Major Projects Legislation, which could provide a fast track process for virtually any development the Planning Minister deems appropriate. The legislation was not mentioned by the Liberal Party during the state election and is not referred to in the government’s First Year Agenda document released in April this year.

The proposed bill was watered down in a second draft but it still has the potential to take controversial projects such as the Fragrance Towers, Mt Wellington Cable Car or Cambria development away from councils and the normal planning process and have them assessed and approved by an unelected panel.

The TCT is of the opinion that the government heard the level of opposition to the bill and decided to delay the fight, and will keep a close eye on the Parliament and alert the community if the bill returns. 

The TCT is committed to campaigning for a Tasmania that values its biodiversity, beauty and public places and respects the wishes of the public and local communities.

The TCT will fight over-development where it impacts Tasmania’s biodiversity and public access to public land. The TCT has been building alliances, empowering community members and energising this issue in the public sphere for the last 2 years. The TCT will add value to the groundswell of public opposition that is building against the Hodgeman government’s changes to the planning system.

Article by Peter McGlone