PIA SA Blog - Why did this get approved there and not somewhere else

5th Jul 16

It is not uncommon to hear people query why developments are approved in certain places, but not others; especially when a development which may attract community interest and support and may be considered to be a “good” development is not approved; or when a development is approved on a site where such development is not expected by the community.

Our present planning system enshrined in the Development Act 1993 emphasises the need to achieve orderly, economic and sustainable development through careful and considered planning policy. 

The Act requires that a Planning Strategy be prepared and maintained for the State by the planning Minister of the day.  The Planning Strategy (which currently comprises the 30 year plan for Greater Adelaide, numerous regional plans and the objects and/or objectives of certain environmental and character preservation laws) outlines the Government’s direction for land-use and development and is reviewed every five years.

Development applications are not assessed against the Planning Strategy; rather they are assessed against the Development Plan which applies to the area in which a development is proposed to occur.  Development Plans are required to “seek to promote the provisions of the Planning Strategy” and contain the fine detail against which a development is assessed on its merits.  Presently, there are 72 different Development Plans, one for each of the 68 council areas in South Australia and the remaining 4 covering areas not within council areas.

Development Plans divide areas into Zones, policy areas and precincts, each with their own desired character and guidelines for appropriate development.  Development Plan provisions influence community expectations for development in their area with residential development being expected in a residential zone and so forth.

Amendments to Development Plans may be initiated by a council or by the planning Minister of the day; however it is only the planning Minister who can approve an amendment initiated by a council.  Development Plan amendments require considerable time, resources and effort to develop, finalise and approve – with good reason; it is the provisions of a Development Plan which shape the way in which our places grow and develop for many years into the future. 

Given that this is the case, Development Plan amendments which are considered a high priority may be approved considerably quicker than those that are not.  Further, the planning Minister has the ability under the Act to declare that a Development Plan amendment come into operation on an interim basis when it is released for public consultation.  These mechanisms are necessary to ensure that our planning system can react to urgent development needs, where required.

In the eyes of the community, this can cause confusion and perceptions that the planning system is “unfair” in that some areas which may be considered in greater need of policy change remain unchanged whilst areas that are not considered by the community to require change; are and are changed – in their eyes – relatively quickly. 

The challenge to the planning profession is to educate our community about our planning system.  Often, responses to public consultation on changes to the Planning Strategy and Development Plan amendments are fairly dismal; our community often does not appreciate the importance of these documents and their impact until a development occurs under that Development Plan which affects them. 

The Planning, Development and Infrastructure Act intends to tackle this issue through mandating the creation of a Community Engagement Charter.  The basis of the Charter is to improve public consultation practices and outcomes including by emphasising community engagement at an early stage of the formation of planning policy.

The PDI Act, whilst being assented to, is still some way off being implemented. It is also reasonable to expect that the Community Engagement Charter is some years off.

In the meantime, it is encumbant on planners to continue to educate our community about our planning system, why our Planning Strategy and Development Plans are important, how they are changed and how the community can participate in providing feedback on proposed changes.

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