Constraints on how politicians exercise their votes when making decisions include their responsibilities to champion public interest, statutory requirements and possible conflicts of interest.
Election commitments aren’t legally binding. However, politicians have to wear voter backlash if they break promises. That’s why politicians often try to leave some “wriggle room” in their election commitments.
The pre-election commitments of the current Councillors on the question of whether they would support an extension of the urban footprint in Redland City are discussed in this article.
Councillors’ commitments, combined with possible conflicts of interest, are factors that will combine with the officers recommendations to inform Councillors on how to vote on the proposed massive Shoreline development (MCU 013287).
Are election commitments relevant to Shoreline
Whether or not the urban footprint should be expanded was discussed at the last local government elections.
The proposed Shoreline development is outside the urban footprint of the SEQ Regional Plan. An approval of Shoreline’s 10,000 person residential project would extend the urban footprint.
Before the election, The Bayside Bulletin and Redlands Times interviewed all candidates standing for election to the Council. The Bulletin’s questions included “would you support extension of the urban footprint?”
Redlands2030 reviewed and discussed these election commitments in November 2014. As the Council has spent months on its assessment of the proposed development it is appropriate to revisit this issue and consider from an ethical perspective the likely outcome of a vote on Shoreline, based on the election commitments by the Councillors elected in 2012.
Clearly the position of five of the current Redland Councillors is very firmly against approving Shoreline. Their responses to then media about extending the urban footprint were clear and unmistakable ie Ogilvie (absolutely NO), Hardman (NO), Elliot (No. No. No.) Beard (No) and Bishop (I do not see why we need to..)
A further five (5) Councillors expressed views that were more equivocal and some put great reliance on community expectations or consultation. Briefly, the views of these Councillors (as found on the public record) were as follows:
- Boglary (as per the SEQ Regional Plan and only after ensuring extensive community consultation with all planning and financial implications researched)
- Gleeson (yes but it meets the desires/wants of the local community)
- Talty (I will be guided by the community’s views)
- Edwards (in line with expectations and comply with town planning guidelines. Community input. Development outside the (urban) footprint must benefit the city)
- Mayor Karen Williams (Support the state government’s and community’s position and “listen to the people” and do what they wanted when it came to developing rural areas outside the urban footprint).
Cr Hewlett maintained “we need to review our urban development plans in which “clean” industry and manufacturing can be carried out“. He seemed to be more concerned with investor and business aspects rather than residential development.
Councillor Boglary may have given her answer in anticipation that the SEQ Regional Plan might be varied or the urban footprint in some way varied. There has been no change to the “line on the map” so even though Cr Boglary leans on community consultation and specific implications her election commitment is strongly against Shoreline.
Councillors Talty and Gleeson are relying on wants and views of the community.
Likewise the Mayor’s election commitment relies on the SEQ Regional Plan (being the State Government’s position) and “listen to people” (presumably not just those wanting to develop rural areas outside the urban footprint but the qualification may well be at odds with the State Government’s position). The Mayor’s Top 10 priorities as advised in 2012 included the commendable commitment to:
Support the state government’s and community’s position on the “urban footprint”
What are the community views (about extending the urban footprint)?
Clearly the most reliable measure of community attitudes, to the extension of the urban footprint, is that derived from the opinion surveys and polling used to build the Redlands 2030 Community Plan. This Plan was developed by more than 3,000 community members, business people and local organisations, and was supported by Redland City Council staff and elected representatives. It is backed by an extensive Compendium (Redlands 2030Background Compendium) which details the community engagement and methodology for the development of the Redlands 2030 Community Plan.
The community attitudes underpinning the Community Plan were assessed and tested using different methods, it was not based on a single “opt in” survey or a telephone “push poll”.
Perhaps the most telling endorsement of the Redlands2030 Community Plan is embedded in the Bay Island News, June 2013 where Mayor Karen Williams is reported as saying:
“While no longer required by the Local Government Act, 2009 the Redlands 2030 Community Plan remains an important strategic document for outlining the future vision for the Redlands” .
There are no subsequent surveys of community views that come near the credibility or thoroughness of that detailed in the Compendium. These results should stand unless the further evidence by way of comparable research were to reverse the findings embedded in the Redlands2030 Community Plan. The importance of the Community Plan has been discussed previously and it remains central to the current council’s policy and planning directions including for example it’s Corporate Plan 2015-2020.
What does the Community Plan said about extending the urban footprint?
The Redlands 2030 Community Plan is very clear about maintaining the urban footprint, in the section “strengthening the city’s physical character and heritage” Goal 2 ( p34) requires “a series of distinct neighbourhoods link to a network of dynamic activity centres within a compact urban footprint, and keep the natural landscape setting of the Redlands intact”.
Again under “planning for a liveable city” Goal 7 (p34) is for “a mix of housing suitable for all household groupings makes efficient use of land within the urban footprint and encourages a range of affordable housing options and protection from intensification or encroachment of other uses”
It goes further where Goal 7 (p11) commits that “we meet our responsibilities to protect and enhanc the environment, balance our lifestyle expectations with environmental considerations, contain the footprint of urban development and infrastructure, and restrict access to the most fragile areas.
In terms of measuring the progress of the Community Plan, the target (p39) is “The urban footprint as defined by the SEQ Regional Plan is not extended into rural and agricultural areas”.
So what can the community expect when the Shoreline comes to a vote?
It seems clear, that on the basis of the pre-election commitments by current Councillors that the Shoreline MCU should not be approved by a clear majority.
However, it may be that some Councillors wish they had left themselves more wriggle room.
To test the veracity of this analysis, members of the community could ask their local councillor to confirm their publicly stated commitments. Ask them “will they will be sticking with their election commitments to the existing Redland City urban footprint?”
Redlands2030 will discuss in a forthcoming article the legal parameters around conflict of interest, where a conflict of interest applies, and how conflicts of interest need to be dealt with.