PIA SA Blog - Assessment & Public Participation

3rd Aug 16

Engaging the community in a mature discussion about the development of planning policy is notoriously difficult.  Yet when a development is proposed which will adversely affect the amenity of residents in close proximity to the development site, the community will often become highly focused and engaged against the development.  Rarely do we find resident communities participating in support of a development proposal.

The current Development Act has, as one of its key objectives, the provision for appropriate public participation in the planning process, including the assessment of development proposals.  In the new Planning, Development & Infrastructure Act, one of the driving philosophies is to enhance public participation across the planning system.  To that end, one of its key objectives is the provision of a charter of community participation focused not on development assessment, but rather the initiation and development of planning policies and strategies.

The new Community Engagement Charter, to be prepared by the State Planning Commission, will focus on “early” engagement with the public in the preparation or amendment of planning strategies and policies.  It is claimed that the Charter will replace the current “prescriptive” statutory requirements in the Development Act with a more flexible and tailored approach.

Engagement of the public in development assessment matters will be significantly scaled back and limited under the new Act.  Notification will be directly linked to three new assessment pathway categories, namely accepted, code assessed and impact assessed development.

Performance assessed development (a sub category of code assessment development) is closest to what we know today as merit development.  Public notice of this category of development will be limited to an owner of occupier of adjacent land (newly defined to be land that is no more than 60 metres from the subject land) and to members of the public by physical notice placed on the subject land.  The extent of public notice in this case is broader than the current Category 2 development since more people will receive direct notice given i) the expanded concept of “adjacent land” and ii) the added potential for other members of the public to view the physical notice placed on the land.  While more people are likely to be made aware of such a proposal, there appears to be no provision in the new Act to enable representors to appear before the relevant Authority to be heard on their representations, effectively curtailing the public’s involvement.  In addition, the new Act allows for the exclusion of specified classes of performance assessed development from the notification requirements.

Consistent with the desire to limit and curtail public participation in the assessment of development proposals, the only circumstances where broader notification to the public at large will be required will be in the case of impact assessed development that is classified as restricted development (what we know today as non-complying development).  While there will be a new applicant right of appeal against a refusal on the merits of a restricted development; third party rights of appeal in the new planning system will be limited to appeals against decisions of the State Planning Commission on applications for restricted development only.

Given the desire to significantly decrease the number of applications that are subject to merit assessment, one might assume that we will see an increasing number of developments that will be designated as accepted or code assessed deemed to satisfy.  Whether the public will ultimately be satisfied with a significantly reduced involvement in development assessment will depend on the capacity of the Community Engagement Charter to properly involve the public in a meaningful discussion of what State planning policies, Regional Plans, the Planning and Design Code, design standards and practice directions and guidelines should look like.

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