Don’t shaft locals

BAYSWATER councillor BRENT FLEETON is furious that the WA government is considering taking planning decisions away from local government. In this week’s SPEAKER’S CORNER he argues there is no substitute for local knowledge.

AS my favourite footy commentator says, “Boy, oh boy!”

A whole new front just opened up in the planning battle in Perth.

I agree there’s a strong argument to be made that key precincts across Perth require the state government to come in with extra resources and take the lead on planning and development, especially for future Metrohub sites.

If that doesn’t happen, we’ll look back in a decade and wonder what happened to that great idea of Metronet.

We need to accept the City of Bayswater can only achieve so much alone.

What I don’t agree with is that local councillors should be shut out of assessing development applications.

In Bayswater—because of years of inaction by previous administrations with respect to structure plans and other key strategic planning documents being either non-existent or not suited to the modern climate—council has been playing catch-up since 2015.

We have tried to re-engage with people who want to have their say on the future of their area.  We are close to seeing a structure plan on the table for Baysy and we are seeing more and more density projects coming through in other suburbs.

Recently we approved two infill projects in Maylands after reviewing the city’s recommendation, listening to deputations and taking into consideration what that local community thought.

Faceless bureaucrat

More often than not council agrees with the city’s planners.

When we disagree with our own officer’s recommendation we must have good reason based in planning law, and those reasons are often tested at the State Administrative Tribunal.

I won’t go into which decisions I agree with or disagree with and on what basis, but I will elaborate on “amenity”, as it is often given careful consideration by SAT.

It’s defined in the Planning Regulations 2015 as “all those factors which combine to form the character of an area and include the present and likely future amenity.”

I never like reading a definition of a word that includes the word itself, though it’s abundantly clear the best judge of the character of an area are those closest to it.

How can an unelected, faceless bureaucrat know the amenity of an area better than a local councillor and the people in that street/community?

So, that’s my long-winded position on this government proposal. Yes to the WA government taking the reigns on planning for Metrohubs. No to local councillors losing their ability to judge development applications.

There’s no value in disconnecting the decision-makers from those who will be impacted and from those who we are ultimately accountable to.

It would be better to improve access to quality real-world training on how our planning system works for all parties, what we need to plan for and invite a more visionary approach to land-use.

That would be of greater benetit than just shuffling councillors through money- spinning courses provided by the WA Local Government Association and ticking boxes saying “training completed”.

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