Redland City Council endorsed its Draft Planning Scheme, City Plan 2015, in November.
When it finally receives approval from the new State Government, the Council will commence a consultation process as required by planning laws.
Council could help the community to understand the planning process, and give people a “fighting chance” to contribute to City Plan 2015, by pre-releasing some of the supporting documents now.
A little (alarming) background
Redlands’ new City Plan was written in the shadow of the LNP’s proposed planning reforms. Their approach intended that Planning Schemes be “front ended” with community concerns, issues and values, supposedly to allow for “more certainty” in the development process.
Under the LNP’s proposed legislation the community’s opportunity to be involved in development applications would have been severely curtailed. It was expected that in many instances, the first the community might know of a major development next door is when the bulldozers arrive.
Whether the ALP Government will reverse this approach is not clear. Some industry sectors feel a shift in the balance towards community input will hinder the development industry. If the Draft City Plan 2015 follows the LNP style of Planning, Redlands citizens will be aggrieved.
What the community will be facing
Only after the Draft Scheme is agreed to by the State Government (and the Council) will the community finally get to see it. This is a very “paternalistic” process and needs to be looked at closely given the recent resounding rejection of the “top down” model at the State election.
Planning Schemes are notorious for the content being big on “plannerese” and “legalese”. Commitments to plain English are soon swept away as planners play the word games they seem stuck with such as “triggers”, “underpinning”, “overarching” and of course “mirrors”. Look out for the phase the “overarching, underpinning mirroring… will trigger” …it will win a prize!
It is all going to be very complicated. The community should be given a “fighting chance” to understand the key issues.
Councillor election commitments
Redland City Councillors have been circumspect about the content of the City Plan, as they are in fear of breaching the Council’s Code of Conduct. Interestingly, when the Redland City Bulletin (10 December 2014) sought to confirm the views of each Councillor on the option of extending the Urban Footprint, some equivocated, despite their more definitive 2012 pre-election commitments as reported by Redlands 2030.
Some Councillors hid their views, claiming a statement would breach the confidentiality of the new City Plan. Sorry Councillors, published election commitments are not confidential and the community will be watching to see if you act in accordance with your commitments. Election commitments by each and every Councillor are on the public record (see Election Commitments about the Urban Footprint ).
In respect of election commitments, the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott once declared: “It is an absolute principle of democracy that governments should not and must not say one thing before an election and do the opposite afterwards.” He now understands the implications of not keeping promises.
Lastly, timing. The statutory time frame is 6 weeks for public consultation. Other jurisdictions choose to allow 60 days so that people in the community have sufficient time to fully understand the draft plan, form views and prepare submissions.
So given all of the above, it is clear help is needed. It is time for our Council to help people to comprehend, review and make comment on the Draft City Plan 2015.
Four steps to giving the community a “fighting chance”
1. Councillors to vouch for Draft City Plan
The standard Planning Schemes are complex and usually tedious documents … and many people will struggle to make informed submissions on the new City Plan. In considering City Plan 2015 Councillors should undertake to TEST-READ City Plan 2015 themselves, before “imposing” the Scheme on an already apprehensive community. Councillors should ensure the wording and associated intended outcomes are readily understood and apparent to the average reader. Each Councillor should be in a position to assure the community that they themselves endorse the wording and intended outcomes of the Scheme or should be able to advise constituents of any deficiencies or weaknesses that they have found.
In a word, the community expects effective stewardship from its elected representatives. A responsible approach on the part of Divisional Councillors will ensure the unpaid work by the community and community groups in assessing the new Scheme and organising a coherent and comprehensive response is not wasted on confused and confusing text and associated confusion about intended outcomes.
Councillors vouching for the readability and intended outcomes of the new City Plan2015 will give the community a “fighting chance” to make a meaningful contribution.
2. Release the Community Consultation Plan
During 2014 Council began the Planning Scheme Consultation Process with “ticket only” City Plan 2015 workshop presentations. The one hour sessions for a maximum of 60 people were in fact not a form of consultation. These sessions were simplistic and controlled and their value escaped most attendees. By playing its cards so close to its chest the Council did not avail itself of the knowledge, skills and experience of the community. That was a missed opportunity and the value and indeed the purpose of the sessions remain a mystery. Presumably these forums were part of a defined community consultation process.
To help people make sense of the 2014 sessions and to lift the fog the sessions left behind, Council should release its entire, step-by-step City Plan 2015 consultation plan now!
Knowing what was expected last year and what is expected this year will give the community a “fighting chance” to making a meaningful contribution.
Cr Wendy Boglary is to be commended for being prepared to speak at City Plan 2015 information sessions for the community, in all parts of Redland City.
Other councillors, and the Mayor, should be following Cr Boglary’s good example.
3. Make the planning overlays available now
NOW is the time for Council to make available much of the documentation that is being used to support development of the new City Plan 2015. These documents might include technical reports, mapping, discussion papers, and advice from the State Government – in fact anything used to guide decision making. The policy position and the statutory maps should rightly remain “in confidence” but background information should be made available now so people can examine the technical basis of the new Plan.
In addition, the mapping overlays component of the new City Plan that is based on technical data technical or assessments should be released now.
Presumably there will be overlays the same or similar to the previous Planning Scheme overlays for acid sulphate soils, bushfire hazards, flooding, etc and most will not change. Given the dire need to protect our koalas, many people expect there will be a Koala Overlay.
Irrespective of which overlays are in the new Scheme, the overlays are usually based on technical assessments and people could examine and test the technical basis of the City Plan, as a first step, independent of the assessment of the policy and mapping outcomes. This approach by Council would show respect for the expertise and knowledge in the community and allow the community to test the evidence base of the new City Plan2015.
An early release of Overlays will give the community a “fighting chance” to make a meaningful contribution.
4. Release the Evaluation Report Now
Developing a new Planning Scheme should form part of an adaptive planning model. In addition, contemporary land use planning is tied to an adaptive planning framework embracing the PDCA (plan–do–check–act) approach. So presumably the new City Plan 2015 will build on what is good about what we have and improve on weaknesses. We should build the new Plan on the successes of the previous Scheme. Equally, we should eliminate the failures of the old Scheme and ensure they are not continued in the new one. And we should be careful to apply the adage – if it ain’t broke don’t fix it!
So what were the failings of the old Scheme? The frequent refusal by Council to defend planning and development decisions in court is a clear indication there are weaknesses in the current Scheme. These shortcomings ought to have been documented by Council over time and there should be a comprehensive report in place, identifying the failures of the previous Scheme. Can Council confirm this? We hope so as rectifying identified problems should have been the starting point in developing the new City Plan.
To that end a comprehensive Evaluation Report should be available and the community should be informed of the problems and weaknesses of the existing Planning Scheme. We would expect that the Report’s conclusions, asides and comments about complexity or size or whatever would be backed by evidence.
An early release of the Evaluation Report on the existing Planning Scheme will give the community a “fighting chance” to make a meaningful contribution.
Ask your Local Councillor and the Mayor to respond to the four issues in this blog to give us a “fighting chance” to contribute to City Plan 2015