In the past year Redland City Council has shown that it needs to make significant improvements to the way it does public consultation.
In particular, there have been major problems with consultation processes for the following:
- Draft development schemes for the Toondah Harbour and Weinam Creek priority development areas (PDAs)
- The process for City Plan 2015 and the draft Economic Development Strategy
- Draft new local laws
Issues of concern include:
- inadequate availability of information; and
- insufficient time for the public to consider and discuss complex information.
More detailed discussion about these three examples is presented below.
Consultation for City Plan 2015
It is important to learn from mistakes and failure and focus on improvement, so that a better job is done next time.
In a few months time, Redland City Council will be submitting a draft planning scheme (City Plan 2015) for public consultation. It will be an important document which determines who can build what where for many years to come. It will be a complex document which will use technical language. People will need to study the City Plan 2015 very carefully to understand possible implications for their local area and other areas that they may be concerned about.
Right now is the right time to have a serious discussion (public consultation) about some ground rules for giving the public plenty of opportunity to review the draft City Plan 2015. This should include the length of the consultation period and the type of information that will be made available.
Time for consultation
A local council is required by law to allow the public to review a new planning scheme for at least 30 business days (about six weeks). Enlightened councils understand that people need more time to digest and respond to complex information. Brisbane City and Logan City both adopted 60 business day (three month) consultation periods for their draft plannings schemes.
In Brisbane’s case the draft Brisbane City Plan 2014 was released to the community in February 2013, some three months before the commencement of the formal consultation period. So Brisbane residents had a total of about six months to review and comment on their draft city plan!
Redland City Council should confirm that it will give residents at least 60 business days (three months) to consider and comment upon the draft City Plan 2015. Anything less than 3 months would create suspicion that Redland City Council is doing yet another “tick and flick” exercise.
Most community organisations have, at most, monthly meetings so ratification of formal responses in a statutory minimum six weeks consultation time frame would be near impossible.
Presentation of information
Council should provide residents with all the information necessary to consider the draft planning scheme no later than the commencement of the consultation period.
Information must all be made available up front, so the community can make a complete assessment – unlike the draft economic development strategy where information was dribbled out halfway through the consultation period. Any economic impacts of proposed changes should also be fully disclosed to ratepayers with a benefit-cost analysis.
A complete information package should be provided (not like Council’s PDA consultation process where technical reports were not made available until after the consultation period ended).
Information should be presented in a form suitable for the public to review (not like the draft local laws where people are expected to compare two sets of 28 laws with each set of laws totaling about 400 pages.
For City Plan 2015 people should be able to find out what is proposed i.e. new zonings but it is important that they also be given information about why changes are proposed. The economic impacts of proposed changes should also be disclosed to ratepayers.
Listening and taking notice of what people say
There is not much point in a council going through the motions of public consultation if it does not listen to what people may have to say (like the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand).
The City Plan 2015 consultation process should be carefully designed to find out what issues are of concern to people throughout the community. A range of forums should be provided for people to have their say including old-fashioned ‘town hall’ meetings and on-line communication for people who prefer this form of communication.
Toondah Harbour and Weinam Creek PDAs
Consultation about the draft development schemes for the Toondah Harbour and Weinam Creek PDAs was a shoddy and deceptive exercise which resulted in the final schemes lacking any social licence.
The schemes were unveiled during the summer holiday period at a time when many people were away on vacation.
The documents put forward for consultation were hard to read and contained errors. At the consultation forums Council and Government staff were clearly not conversant with what was being proposed in the draft schemes.
Council recognised the original consultation period was too short and resolved to extend community consultation to 2 months but was unable to get the Government to agree. This subject matter for this consultation process was less complex and smaller in scale than a planning scheme for the whole of Redland City.
A serious flaw in the PDA consultation process was that the various technical reports which underpinned the PDA schemes were not disclosed to the community until after the short consultation period ended.
When it appeared that community sentiment was clearly opposed to the draft PDA schemes (as evidenced by public comment, a protest and petition activity), the Council organised an extremely dubious phone poll and then misconstrued its ‘findings’ to generate media spin suggesting that there was community support for the draft schemes..
Amazingly, it appears that the Council’s PDA consultation work has been nominated for an award by the Queensland Branch of the Planning Institute of Australia (PIA). Any such recognition would totally discredit these awards.
City Plan 2015 process
Redland City Council resisted the idea of having community consultation to inform the development of City Plan 2015. Then the Council entered into two separate but related consultation exercises. These were the draft Economic Development Strategy and the City Plan process and timetable (but not the content).
Management of these consultation processes was outsourced to a public relations firm called Bang the Table. The result was a remarkably restrictive consultation process which required people to use an on line booking system to attend a meeting. For each topic there were three meetings with capacity limited to 20 people per meeting. So the entire process allowed for a maximum of 120 community members to participate in group discussions.
If this was a trial for the consultation about City Plan 2015, the Council should think again. In the near future Council should explain exactly what sort of process and timing it will use for City Plan 2015. This should be done as a consultation exercise with council prepared to list to and act on any feedback that may result.
Draft local laws
Council opened up the discussion about draft new local laws by focusing media attention on a relatively unimportant issue, the keeping of miniature pigs. It was left to the community to uncover the Council’s intent to remove dog controls in declared Koala Management Areas.
Originally, Council planned to have a one month consultation period for its proposed new local laws. Then on 8 October Council decided to extend the period by another month. Could this be an indication that Council is attempting to improve its consultation processes?
In a Council statement explaining the extension, the Redland City Mayor said: “This is an important process and we owe it to our residents to get it right. If that means giving them more time to have their say, then that’s what we will do,”
Council published 28 draft new local laws which were proposed to to replace existing local laws. Attempts by Council to explain the changes have been totally inadequate.
The correct approach would have been to task a competent person or law firm to prepare an explanatory memorandum discussing the implications of changing to the new local laws. This might have cost a few thousand dollars but would have enabled community members to quickly focus on important issues.