With the ACT Government undertaking a rare review of its planning system, the time for the community to have a say in its preferred vision for Canberra, their district and their street is now. Because once the Bill and new Territory Plan are finalised, investors, developers and applicants will need to be able to deliver projects with certainty, and without the costly distractions of third-party appeals.
The outcomes based planning approach embraced in Canberra’s next planning system will require all stakeholders to adopt a new level of trust. New ways of managing the development approval process must be adopted if Canberra is to meet the sustainable, compact, innovative objectives for the city set by this ACT Government.
The best time for the community to have a say on its preferred vision for Canberra is now when the plans are being developed. Much of the new Planning Bill and Territory Plan will be based on the strategic studies, master plans and development codes that have already been developed by the ACT Government meaning the time for community input has almost passed. Not everyone will be happy with the outcome of these plans. However, ultimately at some point we need to accept the decision of the Chief Planner and move forward.
If, for example, a community member is unhappy with the allowable height of a new apartment building, continuing this opposition from the master plan development through the development application costs the developer, the government, future apartment owners and the community greatly. The risk of third party appeals is one significant reason why developers are not willing to try innovative proposals. Through experience, many have learnt that it is easier to design buildings which meet the Code rather than to try something new, innovative or original.
The role of the Design Review Panel should be reviewed as part of the ACT’s new planning arrangements. The panel members are experts in their field. However, under the current planning arrangements the Panel’s support for an innovative proposal which doesn’t meet the prescriptive rules, doesn’t allow an applicant to proceed with confidence knowing that their proposal will be supported by the planning authority or referral agencies.
The new outcomes based approach will also require referral agencies to find practical solutions to complex development proposals. It will not be possible to achieve the desired 70% of new development in the existing area if we think new buildings can be built on ever decreasing block sizes, retain every tree, allow 12.5m long garbage trucks to manoeuvre in and out of the site in a forward gear, setback from utility easements, without causing some shadowing on adjoining properties. These competing issues require planners to balance all issues a make a development approval decision.
In the new world of outcomes based planning many judgement calls will need to be made by the Chief Planner taking into account the views of various experts and community views. For this system to work, all stakeholders need to back the ultimate decision of the Chief Planner, who has the difficult task of balancing competing views to make a planning decision. That’s what planners do.