Does the Redland City Council have an Industry Reference Group?
In May 2013, Council promoted its “Redlands – Open for Business and investment” campaign with a colour brochure. It includes the following words:
“An Industry Reference Group (IRG) that meets monthly to ensure Council and industry stakeholders are working in partnership to deliver benefits to Redland City.”
Despite several requests to Council, by representatives of Redlands2030, the membership and operation of the Redland City Council IRG remains a mystery. A couple of senior sources advise that there is no group known as the IRG. Others say it doesn’t meet. If so, why the reticence in responding to information requests.
But this week (17 February) a member of the public tried to phone a senior officer ….. only to be told the officer was unavailable. It was said he was “upstairs at a meeting of the IRG”.
Given the pivotal role the IRG is tasked with in the Redlands – Open for Business and investment campaign, the status and operation of the IRG should be transparent to the community.
Clues to the existence of an Industry Reference Group
There are very few references to the IRG on the public record. A hint about the IRG and its operation appears in a documentation supporting the controversial Shoreline Development Application.
In this material, Council’s response to the applicant’s request is reported as follows:-
“Presentation of draft Economic Development Strategy as part of Industry Reference Group (IRG) meeting on 14/05/2014. Presentation forwarded to IRG representatives (which includes applicant [Shoreline] reps) post-meeting for comment.”
Redlands2030 became concerned after noting the Council’s response to Shoreline’s request (RFI015) regarding the yet to be released RCC Economic Development Strategy. This concern was heightened when it became apparent that Shoreline had accessed and used Council’s then unreleased URBIS Land Supply Review 2014 in its 2014 Residential Land Supply Preliminary Report dated May 2014 (refer page 11) in its Development Application lodged in June 2014.
Council only released the draft Economic Development strategy to the public in July 2014. The Urbis Land Supply Review (2014 update) was publicly released in August 2014. In each case, the public only got access to these documents months after they were apparently made available to members of the IRG (including, it seems, representatives from Shoreline).
Council’s Economic and Land Supply documents are of interest to the whole community.
It begs the question as to the potential role that the Industry Reference Group may have had in the formulation of the draft Redland City Plan 2015. This planning scheme, which will determine who can build what where for many years to come, is yet to be released to the community.
Given the insights, in terms of access to Council reports, it seems reasonable that the membership of the IRG and the minutes of IRG meetings should be readily available in the interests of transparency.
As highlighted in a previous Redlands2030 post, during the preparation of the new City Plan in 2014 Council maintained a wall of secrecy with the Community. Only after significant lobbying by Redlands2030, other community groups and individual residents, did Council undertake a belated, very limited and very controlled “public consultation” process about the planning process.
Questions about Council’s transparency with the community
Redlands2030 has held back on publishing this post in order to have first confirmed the membership and activities of the IRG. Unfortunately the Council appears reluctant to be transparent with its Community. Redlands2030 first asked for the names of those within the Industry Reference Group on 15 October 2014. When subsequent reminders were ignored, a request was then sent directly to the Council’s CEO, Mr Bill Lyon on 26 November 2014, and then to the Council’s Media Group on the 8 December 2014. To date there is still no response from Council that lifts the veil from the mysterious IRG.
Why are the IRG’s existence, operation and membership being kept secret?
Is this symptomatic of a lack of transparency by the current Redland City Council?
From “Open All Hours” to a closed shop
A quick review of the extent that Council decision making debates are “open to public” scrutiny is enlightening. Since Mayor Williams took office in April 2012 the average weekly hours that Council decision making is done in front of its community has fallen from about ten hours per week to an average of less than two hours per week.
Of even greater concern is the significant increase in decision making by the Mayor and Councillors in “closed” meetings, away from scrutiny by the media and the community.
By contrast, in the final years of the previous Council a dialogue with the Development Industry was maintained through Development Forums.
To quote the previous Council’s intent. The Development Forums were to provide the opportunity for:-
“the Redlands to become an exciting showcase for excellence in planning and good sustainable urban design” and how a joint partnership between Council and the development industry would ensure the protection of our unique lifestyle and environmental values”
with the hope that
“the forum outcome would result in an appreciation of the perspective, values and opportunities that we all bring here today and a genuine willingness to commit to a dialogue for an exciting and mutually beneficial collaborative partnership”.
The 2010-2011 Development Forums were transparent with reports etc made available to the Community at large. Ironically the background and Reports of those Forums continue to be maintained on Council’s website.
COMMUNITY ACTION: If you have concerns with the transparency and/or processes of your Council representatives then let them know by writing/emailing to your Councillor and/or Mayor. See the Redlands2030 Council Contacts page for details.