Ditch the quangos 

IAN ALEXANDER is a geographer, town planner, community activist, former Perth state MP and former City of Perth councillor. In this week’s SPEAKER’S CORNER, Dr Alexander argues that Development Assessment Panels have led to “The Death of Local Planning”.

OVER the past decade or so the WA town planning system has been gradually centralised.

Today any significant development—defined as costing $2 million or more—is determined not by local government, but by state government controlled ‘Joint’ Development Assessment Panels.

These panels have three state-appointed members and two nominees from the relevant local council.

This is the opposite of what was recently advocated in an important 2015 paper, Five Radical Ideas for a Better Planning System, published by academics at University College London, where I undertook my MPhil in planning nearly 50 years ago.

The paper principally advocates subsidiarity: ‘the principle that a central authority should have a subsidiary (less important) function performing only those tasks which cannot be performed at a local level’ (Oxford Dictionary definition).

• Ian Alexander at the Foyle Road site in Bayswater where a DAP-approved development will be built  . Photo by Steve Grant

Since the Metropolitan Region Scheme was gazetted in 1963, the state has set the overall planning framework, leaving detailed matters like local zoning for land uses, setbacks, design, height of new developments and such like to local government. This is how the system worked until the advent of DAPs.

A glaring example of how DAPs work to the disadvantage of local communities is their recent approval of a five-storey apartment block on Foyle Road, Bayswater, on the fringe of the town centre, despite the development being opposed by the city and its planners on the grounds of excess height and failure to meet design excellence standards.

At the DAP meeting little or no attention was paid to a fundamental breach of the Planning and Development Act­—the development is contrary to current classification of the land. It is reserved in the Bayswater Planning Scheme for car parking.

Appeal

This was effectively ignored by the State Administrative Tribunal when the developers, with a similar proposal, unsuccessfully appealed against a previous refusal by the city.

While SAT turned down the appeal on aesthetic grounds, they purportedly sanctioned use of the land for residential, contrary to its reservation.

Changes of this sort can only be made on the recommendation of the local authority or the land owner, and approved by the minister for planning.

Representative democracy has been killed. Unrepresentative quangos—SAT and DAPs—have assumed control.

Local government and the state government planning minister have been sidelined. As radical town planner and town centre resident Greg Smith would say, “0/10 for democracy!”

Examples can be found in nearly all local authority areas. I understand the need for and existence of the “Scrap the DAP’” campaign. I also endorse it.

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