Don’t laugh, this is precisely what the White Paper can do to you. In depaNews in August we ran with the theme that the new planning system was all about certainty for developers and the removal of protection and checks and balances for everyone else. But that’s what everyone said. Apart from the developers and their lobby groups, who sat quietly and smugly for fear of revealing their excitement.

The Green Paper released last year was an opportunity for a new Government to step aside from the sycophantic kowtowing to developers, the tawdry partiality and the political favouritism that had been the hallmark of the latter years of the previous Government. One of the O’Farrell Government’s first initiatives in planning, to repeal the infamous Part 3A, was welcomed as a qualitative change - restoring the primary role of local government in establishing planning instruments and managing development within the terms of those local plans, and not having the big jobs ripped from their grasp.

But the Green Paper didn’t deliver on restoring planning control to local government and preserving checks and balances for the community. It pushed the removal of both public consultation and input into individual applications and the need for a re-zoning for a development that didn’t comply with the planning instrument. As you all know, something that doesn’t comply with the planning instrument faces checks and balances to require a Council to consider a rezoning application to allow it. And a rezoning application allows the community to have a say.

But the Green Paper made it abundantly clear that the current system didn’t provide the sort of certainty that developers wanted. As expected, responses to the Green Paper from the community and local government were overwhelmingly antagonistic - and who would have thought otherwise? Everyone has a legitimate interest in what happens where they choose to live. Or to work.

There is nothing wrong with the concept of people wanting to look after their local area. The last refuge of the developer wanting to create something dreadful is sneering “NIMBYism”, and thereby trivialising the legitimacy of having an interest in your own local area, where you choose to live, have families and educate them, and establish a good quality life.

Or a Government intent on giving developers a free kick.

1997 vs 2013

Planning Minister Brad Hazzard MP is responsible for all of this. The Minister has been around a long time and watched Labor, with Minister Craig Knowles, crash through and reduce community consultation and environmental protections through the Environmental Planning and Assessment (Amendment) Bill 1997. You know, the piece of legislation which, amongst other things, introduced exempt and complying development and fostered private certifiers.

This is the legislation that depa and a selection of other local government and environmental groups fought so vigourously and, amongst other things, resulted in us being pilloried by Minister Knowles in his Second Reading speech on 15 October 1997 - claiming that our concerns that the White Paper “reforms would diminish opportunities for public participation and objection and would reduce the role of local government” were both “wrong and misrepresent the facts.” Gee Craig, history showed we were right.

But while we have had a consistent response to a cascade of reforming processes, others haven’t. Like Brad, for example. Sometimes it’s good to have a mind like a steel trap and lurking in our office was an extract from Hansard on 17 October 1997. Just sitting quietly and waiting for its moment in the sun. You can see the extract here, but here are some things Mr Hazzard said, and probably wishes he hadn’t:

  • The Minister the Urban Affairs and Planning would be concerned to find that the development next door to him has been constructed which he wished he had known was going to be built so that he could have some say in it. That is a key issue in respect of this legislation. It is about the community’s right to know what is happening in the local area.
  • There has to be more that satisfies local residents that they will have an ongoing say such that they can approve or not approve of a particular development on their very boundary.
  • The single biggest challenge for New South Wales is to get the planning right, such that our environment is protected.
  • The environment has to be an absolute priority.
  • We also want to ensure that the environment is given priority. What is the point in having jobs and development if people do not have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink water or to use in myriad other ways?
  • I was extremely disappointed that the Minister did not take into account community concern and environmental concern.
  • They are good. They are the protectors of the environment of New South Wales - an observation in relation to the Total Environment Centre and the Nature Conservation Council and we can’t wait to see what those two bodies say.
  • The Minister should hang his head in shame. He should have been embarrassed to introduce this legislation into this House.
  • But the legislation will not guarantee that any development undertaken by the Minister’s next-door neighbour will suit him. In effect, the Minister has killed community consultation.
  • When a private certifier is ticking off the boxes for some development next door to the Minister, the Minister will acknowledge that he got it wrong.
  • We will be out in the community with environmental groups making sure the world knows that the Carr Government has failed in appropriately marrying environmental protection with development.

Ooooh Minister, that’s a bit embarrassing. We like the old Brad and to use another of his quotes in that debate where he was referring to Craig Knowles, “the Minister is not a bad bloke, but he has simply got this legislation wrong”.

What is it about politicians? How can they get it right in 1997 and so obviously get it wrong in 2013? We challenge the Minister, what do you really think, what you said in 1997 or what you are saying now?

If you changed your mind, and the environment, and the community, and the rights of neighbours are now less important, please explain. We will publish your response unedited.

We do, however, reserve our rights on illustrating it.

Copyright © 2017 The Development and Environmental Professionals' Association (depa). All Rights Reserved. Webdesign: Dot Online