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‘The single planning scheme is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get’

The Legislative Council will soon consider the state government’s ‘Land Use Planning and Approvals (Tasmanian Planning Scheme) Amendment Bill 2015’. The Bill is required to create the Single Statewide Planning Scheme.

I urge Councillors to scrutinise the Bill closely and judge it solely on its merits and not to pass it because they believe the Liberal Party has an electoral mandate.

I believe the state government has no mandate for a single planning scheme because its election policy to deliver a single statewide planning scheme that will be faster, simpler, cheaper and fairer was so simplistic as to be meaningless. At the election, voters did not know what the single scheme would look like and how these goal would be delivered and they still do not know.

I will put aside whether this policy had any impact on voters who supported the Liberal Party. More importantly, a government cannot claim a mandate for a policy when they fail to tell the public what is proposed and the implications of it. A promise must also be measurable, i.e. we must be able to measure if it is delivered.

A policy is defined as a statement of intended action and the Liberal’s four-part slogan on planning did not deserve to be called a policy.

The only part of the ‘policy’ that was clear and measurable was that we would go from 29 to 1 planning scheme. But what would change from the existing planning rules was never discussed by the Liberals and they still don’t want to tell us.

A draft single planning scheme, detailing what will change, has now been produced but neither the parliament nor the community have seen it. It is being developed in secret by the Planning Reform Taskforce, Chaired by Mary Massina.

Asking the Legislative Council to consider the legislation without seeing the actual single planning scheme is a bit like buying a house without seeing inside or buying it from the plan.

With such a hollow election promise, the Liberals should have gone to the public and the parliament after the election with a fully developed single statewide scheme and sought feedback on it in order to obtain support for the enabling legislation.

Predictably they have relied on repeating the election mantra that the single scheme would deliver faster, cheaper, simpler and fairer planning.

But compared to some of Tony Abbott’s slogan-polices, where he said with crystal clarify what he would ‘stop’ or ‘take away’, Peter Gutwein has proposed something ‘new’ but does not tell us what it is - just that there would be one of them instead of 29.

The Legislative Councillors are being asked to take on faith that the single planning scheme will deliver faster, cheaper, simpler and fairer planning outcomes because the government has never said how it will measure these outcomes.

Without a way of measuring the outcomes, no-one can ever prove that Mr Gutwein has failed to deliver his promise. Mr Abbott had his day when the taxes were axed, but how will voters know that Mr Gutwein has achieved his goals?

With such a detailed 248-page Bill, and in the absence of the actual scheme it is intended to create, I cannot work out how parliamentarians and the public can measure whether it will deliver faster, cheaper, simpler and fairer outcomes. This is Mr Gutwein’s equivalent of Mr Abbott’s promise to balance the budget without telling us how it would do so.

When the government started to feel a bit of pressure on the ambiguity of its promises, Mr Gutwein’s language changed to focus on achieving greater uniformity and brevity of the planning rules. But still he doesn’t tell us what the rules will be and how to measure the outcomes of it.

As a member of the Environment and Heritage Consultative Group, working under Mary Massina’s Planning Reform Taskforce, I have seen the actual draft single scheme. I think it delivers greater uniformity and brevity but I can’t verify the government’s claim of 80% uniformity. Nor do I think that brevity and uniformity equates with simpler, faster or cheaper. Just like sporting rules, briefer can mean the rules are open to interpretation and we get inconsistent rulings.

Fairer is perhaps the hardest goal to measure but the government made it clear what it thought this meant when, in the Lower House debate, Roger Jaencsh explained it meant faster and simpler for proponents. Apparently, rebalancing some perceived unfairness.

The one area where the government has proposed a measurably faster process, reducing the time period for councils to assess permitted developments, it has had strong opposition from the Local Government Association which claims the proposal is unworkable for councils and will fail to help developers.

Apparently the process will also be cheaper for proponents but as this legislation does not address costs of development applications, it relies on processes being faster, simpler and fairer to reduce proponents’ costs. But will costs be reduced if the assessment process is rushed and opposition ignored?

The Government will tell the Legislative Council that it is not going to all this trouble if it wasn’t going to deliver improvements for developers and some business groups will nod in agreement. But I don’t think this is true. The Government doesn’t know how much things will improve, if at all, but will bluff its way through to avoid embarassment. I don’t think it will provide any great benefits for developers except if the minister wants to use his newly gained powers to force through changes or to block local provisions.

If successful, the government will tell us a thousand times until the next election that we have gone from 29 to one planning scheme but not mention any actual concrete outcomes. This is consistent with the old real estate strategy: point out the one positive about the dilapidated house and avoid any mention of the faults.

The media should have jumped on the Liberal Party as soon as the planning policy was released and demanded that more detail was essential for it to claim it as a policy, let alone, claim a mandate.

I sincerely hope the Legislative Council gives this Bill the scrutiny it deserves.

Yours sincerely,

Peter McGlone,

Director,

Tasmanian Conservation Trust

EARLIER on Tasmanian Times ...

PLANNING, Andrew Ricketts: An Open Letter to MLCs

THURSDAY October 29 ...

... and ABC Radio reports that it failed ... with the bill passing ...

SECOND OPEN LETTER TO THE LEGISLATIVE COUNCILLORS

‘Land Use Planning and Approvals (Tasmanian Planning Scheme) Amendment Bill 2015’ - Public consultation greatly lacking

In his 11 October 2015 media release in relation to the above Bill, the Minister for Planning Peter Gutwein said the “legislation has been widely consulted with the community”.

In other media comments Mr Gutwein described the consultation on the legislation as “extraordinary”. Also in the 11 October media release the Minister said that the government will continue to “consult widely” on the development of the schedules, which will form the Single Statewide Planning Scheme.

This is mere media spin. We note that the minister’s media release provides no evidence to support his claims and he fails to even describe the consultation that had occurred.

We make comments below regarding our experience of being inside the consultative processes set up to develop the Single Statewide Planning Scheme. This process is fundamentally flawed. We have no confidence that it will change in the future and it is not likely to match the Minister’s description of it as ‘wide consultation’.

Consultation on the Draft Bill very limited
The state government provided a consultation draft of the ‘Draft Land Use Planning and Approvals (Tasmanian Planning Scheme) Amendment Bill 2015’ for comment for six weeks in from 1 July to 10 August 2015 but the publicity was very limited. We noticed only one advertisement in each of the three major Tasmanian newspapers.

This resulted in only 33 submissions, including only 8 from councils - see attached list. It is of particular concern that the state government did not receive specific submissions from 21 local councils. The limited time period (only allowing one normal council meeting) has been suggested as one reason for so many councils failing to make submissions.

A greatly changed bill (it was sixty pages longer than the consultation draft) should not have gone to Parliament without further consultation. At the very least the government should have sought informed input from each council.

Commenting on only some of the jigsaw
Tasmanians were asked to consider this Bill in ignorance of what the single planning scheme will ultimately look like (a matter also addressed in the TCT’s earlier letter on this subject) and the other changes to the planning system that the government intends, including:
- Planning policies
- Major Projects legislation
- Limiting or removal of third party rights of appeals

In regard to the single planning scheme, we do not know what the codes will look like that will address many important environmental matters such as biodiversity and climate change.

The delineation of rural areas into either Agriculture or Rural Resource Zones is being progressed behind closed doors by the state government, despite Mary Massina insisting to us that Councils will have “total control over zoning”.  Where these boundaries are drawn will greatly affect agricultural industries and environmentally important areas but councils and local communities have little input and the effect of these changes cannot be considered in relation to the Bill.

Planning Reform Taskforce is very secretive
Since June this year the TCT has been on the Environment and Heritage Consultative Group – which is meant to work with the Planning Reform Taskforce, Chaired by Mary Massina, and other consultative groups to develop the Single Statewide Planning Scheme (that the legislation is intended to enable).

The Planning Reform Taskforce is very secretive, with the only publicly available information about it, until recently, being a list of its members on its website and not even an email address provided. On the 29 September a three page information sheet was uploaded to that site.
Until this information sheet was released we did not know of the existence of the other consultative groups. This sort of secrecy is, in my view, unprecedented.

Our Consultative Group has had no communication from the Planning Reform Taskforce regarding its agendas or work despite us making requests and despite the ToR requiring us to work with the Taskforce. We have no idea what it discusses or decides.

Terms of Reference dictated to us
The terms of reference for our group were prepared by Mary Massina and given to us without any opportunity for comment or change.

Our ToR can be distilled down to requiring members to advise on whether the Single Statewide Planning Scheme implements the state government policy. We are not allowed or encouraged to criticise the government’s policy or make suggestions for additional changes. Worse, there are no criteria or definitions too determine whether the scheme will be quicker, simpler, cheaper and fairer, so it is impossible to measure if this is achieved.

Were Taskforce members gagged?
There have been rumours that members of the Taskforce have been gagged from making public comments or even consulting their members. Certainly there was a total absence of public comments from any group represented on the Taskforce during the consultation on the draft Bill.

No individual council had spoken publicly about the proposed laws until the Launceston City Council commented in the Examiner newspaper on 25 September, following the legislation being tabled in parliament. Just a few weeks ago the Local Government Association of Tasmania for the first time voiced its concerns publicly and these have been made clear to the Legislative Council via a submission.

It seems clear to us that the government was insistent on limiting public debate during the critical public comment period.

I hope that these views assist the Council in its deliberations on this most important piece of legislation.

Yours sincerely,

Peter McGlone

Peter Gutwein: New state-wide planning scheme to unlock State’s potential