A New Planning Approach to Community Participation

1 December 2013 | Posted In: #119 Summer 2013/14, Civil Society Issues, Community Engagement, Planning Campaigns, Planning for People and Social Issues, | Author: Geoff Turnbull

The NSW planning changes promise improvements in the Government’s engagement culture and its future community participation processes.

By Geoff Turnbull

The White Paper promises “People from all walks of life will now contribute to shaping their community through ground breaking arrangements for community participation. A significant and representative proportion of the community will participate in the development of long term strategic plans for their area. The planning system can move from combative to collaborative.”

The Planning Bill 2013 presented to Parliament sets out in Part 2 and Schedule 2 the key requirements for community participation in planning. At its heart is a Community Participation Charter comprising the following:

  1. The community has a right to be informed about planning matters that affect the community.
  2. Planning authorities should encourage the establishment of effective and on-going partnerships with the community in order to identify meaningful opportunities for the community to participate in planning.
  3. Planning information should be in plain language, readily accessible and in a form that facilitates community participation in planning.
  4. The community should be given opportunities to participate in strategic planning as early as possible to enable community views to be genuinely considered.
  5. Community participation methods should be appropriate having regard to the significance and likely impact of the proposed development.
  6. Community participation should be inclusive and planning authorities should actively seek views that are representative of the community.
  7. Planning decisions should be made in an open and transparent way and the community should be provided with reasons for planning decisions (including how community views have been taken into account).

If the Bill passes, this charter will form the basis for Community Participation Guidelines designed to provide tools and materials to help ensure representative community views are taken into account. Planning authorities, including local councils, will be required to prepare Community Participation Plans describing how and when the community can be involved in decision making. Councils will be able to choose how to engage so as to avoid a one size fits all approach.

An independent Community Participation Advisory Panel will be established to provide advice to councils on the preparation and operation of Community Participation Plans and to make recommendations to the Minister on community participation in planning.

Councils or the Minister will be required by law to publish the reasons for decisions and to explain how they have considered submissions in reaching a decision. According to the fact sheet anyone will be able to challenge in the Land and Environment Court as to whether these requirements have been followed. However the Bill clarifies that a planning authority is assumed to have acted consistently with the Community Participation Charter if its community participation plan has been prepared in accordance with the Bill and it complies with the relevant community participation requirements under the legislation and the authority’s participation plan.

Under the new system, communities must be consulted about State Planning Policies, Infrastructure Plans, Community Participation Plans as well as regional, sub-regional and local plans in addition to development applications that require exhibition. New 3D visualisations and plain English descriptions are aimed to assist the community understand what is proposed.

The Department engaged UTS to run deliberative forums made up of randomly selected participants during the White Paper engagement and it sees this as a way of getting broad representative input in future consultations. The validity of such processes is dependent not only on the selection process and enough time but also on the participants having access to a range of views and not just that of the proponent. This must be seen to be the case if the community is to accept this process. The Department must resist the temptation to cherry pick voxpops from such events to just support its views as appears to be the case in its Planning For Our Future publication.

The Minister and the Department will need to resist the urge to argue their case at all costs as they did during the White Paper road show. They will need to demonstrate a willingness to be open about any shortcomings of their proposals and to listen to alternatives if the community are to remain engaged.

While the new system will take a while to roll out, residents have recently requested and received agreement from the Department of Planning and Infrastructure and UrbanGrowth NSW for this new approach to community participation in planning to be applied to the recently announced Central to Eveleigh Corridor.

The success of key parts of the new planning system hinges on the success of up-front community engagement. Minister Hazzard aspires to engage 1 in 4 people in decisions about their neighbourhoods. To achieve this there will need to be a major change in planning culture, a lot of opportunities for community participation and resources to help people make truly informed contributions.

After years of ‘tick the box’ consultation, the community will be watching to see if the new system results in both a more engaged government and a more engaged community that might see better community outcomes.

In the meantime the opportunity is there to push government to deliver real community engagement improvements in line with the aspirations of the new planning system. n

As we go to print the Planning Bill 2013 is still before Parliament. Inner Sydney Voice will run more on the planning changes when the legislation is finalised.

Originally published in Inner Sydney Voice Issue 118 Summer 2013-14