Where in the world can you receive a commendation for being deceptive, misleading and incompetent? Why Queensland of course.
The consultation process for the priority development areas (PDA) at Toondah Harbour and Weinam Creek was riddled with flaws and exhibited bad faith towards the community. This work has been self-servingly praised by the Redland City Council’s CEO and the responsible Government minister because, of course, it delivered the outcomes that were sought by a Council and Government who are strongly influenced by property developers.
Most surprisingly the perpetrators of this shabby consultation process have also received a “Commendation” from the Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) Queensland Division for “Public Engagement and Community Planning”. This decision reflects very poorly upon the PIA’s decision making process and devalues any other recognition that it makes about planning work.
Toondah style of consultation… is a long way from genuine “public engagement and community planning”. Consultation should be aimed at improving outcomes through garnering community knowledge, expertise, experience and values. People do have a contribution to social, environmental, economic and cultural attributes of the project. In the Toondah PDA experience we reverted to a planning style reminiscent of the 1960’s…”don’t you worry about that!”
How can our community have faith in upcoming consultation process including that being touted for the new City Plan 2015 or the reduced community input that will result under the Government’s new Planning and Development Act.
Is Council or the Government going to evaluate Toondah Harbour community consultation?
Redlands 2030 has attempted to document the sad history of community consultation arising from the Toondah PDA see “History of Toondah PDA Consultation“. Given the process is strewn with errors, flaws, misleading statements and poor communication, the Toondah Harbour PDA consultation process will become an important case study for years to come. It will assist readers, researchers and historians. It might even help to improve future consultation by our Council, if they want to learn from their mistakes.
Where the consultation was misleading, flawed and failed?
Assurances were given that the draft PDA plan (January 2014) was based on consultation in August 2013. These assurances were spurious; a quick glance at the engagement report and the draft plan will show that. The Member for Cleveland touted that he had worked proactively to bring the draft plan to fruition. However, he never explained what he meant this statement despite numerous enquiries. The community might assume his role should be to advocate for established community values …. not to just appease the Minister or facilitate business activity for property developers.
Not long after the launch of the PDA scheme some political leaders began to assert “its just a draft” or “its just a concept plan”. But in the draft PDA scheme there was no mention of a “concept plan” and the artists impressions being waved around in some circles were not even in the document the community was being “engaged” upon. Perhaps the consultation was looking for comments on what should have been done, rather than what was being done.
It appears that no-one in authority had personally taken the time to read PDA scheme.
The PDA scheme was a long, complex and tedious document to read. But it had legal standing as a planning instrument even in draft form. This inconvenient truth should have embarrassed those suggesting it was just a “concept plan”!
Planning terms embedded in the scheme included “trigger”, “overarching” and “underpinning” …these planning terms do not have the “Macquarie” meaning. It was not a sensible or comprehensible basis for community consultation. The only leader to acknowledge the sad state of affairs was the Deputy Mayor. Councillor Beard, he said it “should never have gone for comment”.
But the draft PDA scheme was not just written in”plannerese” and “legalese”. It fell well short of the “plain English” test. It had long and complex sentences (the winner was 44 words), confused and confusing tense, conflicting person (we, they, them), poor subject/object alignment and more. One retired English teacher said it would have failed a grade 10 English exam.
A simple “readability test” should have alerted our political leaders to the problems of the PDA scheme.
A sample of people viewing the document at the Cleveland library all agreed the document was incomprehensible though some said it had some nice pictures. Those managing the consultation process should have been monitoring what was happening. If they had done this properly they would have soon heard the alarm bells ringing.
Council unanimously resolved to request Minister Seeney for a month extension for public comment. This story headlined in the local paper.
But the request was refused. The Minister’s logic was quickly “accepted” by the Mayor and the local MP. This was in spite of the Minister’s advice being relayed to the public a week after his nominal consultation period had closed. The result…even more people were denied an opportunity to have a say!
Of course, during the consultation period, on-line architectural images were made available. The claim that this was an innovative form of consultation did not go down so well with the 100 or so people who were marched 500 metres in 30 degree heat at the first community forum. There, these people were asked to share the single iPad…. in broad sunlight (an impossible task).
It was an excellent way to disperse a growing crowd, but a pathetic effort at community consultation. Many of the experienced observers were embarrassed for the fumbling presenters and their presentations.
Mistake in the draft PDA Scheme
But it got worse when one of the staff admitted there was a mistake or drafting error in the PDA scheme. A mistake in the draft legal document! The error was soon amplified on the front page of the local paper. But there was never a retraction, a correction or an amendment. Council staff were questioned and response put was that the volunteers of Redlands2030 “could tell everyone!” The local paper never published an official correction.
How the Council would reconcile community submissions that were based on an erroneous document and an unrelated “concept plan” has never been explained.
A fundamental 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. The Council’s failure to make these reports available for review as part of the formal consultation process has never been explained or justified to the community. This major process flaw was a clear indication that the people managing the consultation process were acting in bad faith with no genuine intent to inform the community about their intentions.
Unrecorded comments and imaginary friends
Many people who attended consultation forums were clearly misled. They were encouraged to make comments on “post it notes’ (at the second community forum) and assured that these comments would be taken into account. Council never made a detailed submission which incorporated these comments. The “post it notes” seem to have disappeared. The comments were never published or referred to in the Submissions Report.
The Mayor said that people approached her in the street to support the Toondah Harbour development. Council officers admitted there were private discussions with “some” people. Perhaps all this private lobbying is the norm in Redland City, but surely the comments should have been documented along with the community submissions.
It was noticed that the Mayor did not attend any of the formal consultation activities nor did she attend the community organised event where various experts provided an assessment of the Toondah PDA scheme.
The local MP Mark Robinson made public comments that “the vast majority” supported the scheme. However, he never provided any evidence to back up his statements – which were subsequently repeated in Parliament. Such comments by the Mayor and the local MP were discussed in Is support for Toondah a fairy tail?
What did the community do?
Despite deficiencies in the consultation process the community garnered significant support in the form of submissions (583), a petition to Parliament (about 1,200 names), an online petition (about 500 names) and 300 met to protest against the PDA. People questioned the veracity of a consultation process that ignored established community values of the Redlands 2030 Community Plan, the existing Redlands Planning Scheme and even recent community efforts related to the same site and the same issue.
The people who organised the STIR campaign in the late 1980’s “rose again”. They collected 12 000 names on a petition at a time before computers. Residents from that effort were dismayed that their past efforts and the promises made to them were being trashed.
People also arranged for an expert panel to be convened. These professionals came from across Queensland and gave their time and expertise time “pro bono”. Even they were denied access to the background documents as had the public. But the professional judgement was of one voice and scathing of the PDA plans.
What can we do now?
There are lessons to be learned from the consultation saga used to support the Toondah PDA.
1.There are more chapters that await to be compiled on how something so poor passed through the “business” of Council and our local representatives. Redlands2030.net has already documented many aspects, and there is scope for more:
- Council consultation must improve for City Plan
- Cleveland needs a simpler plan for Toondah Redevelopment
- Flawed and failed community consultation underpins the Toondah PDA
2. The community needs to highlight to their local politicians the failures of the consultation on the Toondah PDA and that relating to local Laws, the economic development strategy and the land supply report . It was just not good enough and as a community we need to demand better from our Council, especially given the upcoming consultation of the City Plan 2015 early next year.
3. Members of PIA, the Planning Institute of Australia, should be advised that their institute has abetted a misleading, flawed and defective public engagement and community planning process. It constitutes a gross injustice to not only the Redlands community, but the professional body itself.