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Mayor Robert Bria has written a letter to the editor titled Public Hearings in which he outlines his plan to close the planning workshops to attendance by the public. SPRA is disappointed by Mayor Bria's attempt to further reduce the information available to residents and their involvement in the DPA process. The proposed motion is available in the Council Meeting Agendas 2013 on page 2.
A major concern of residents is the lack of social planning that is associated with the DPA. Many of the streets most heavily impacted by the changes are favoured by young families because they are quiet, yet the council acknowledges in it's FAQ that apartment dwelling is not favoured by these families. In his letter to editor Mayor Bria focuses on built form, whereas best practice is that planning should start with workshops with residents to understand the social fabric of each local community. It is of major concern that Mayor Bria states in his "Reasons for Support of Motion":
With regard to part (c) of my Motion, a number of submissions have referred to issues related to and associated with the draft DPA, that are not of a planning policy nature, but rather related to the liveability of our City and in particular, the area adjacent to the River Torrens Linear Park.
It is great to see that Mayor Bria understands people are concerned about impacts on the Linear Park, but SPRA questions how liveability can be separated from planning. SPRA will be asking Mayor Bria if liveability of the city is not considered part of planning policy, then what is the purpose of planning policy? This might be a question for the State Government's recently formed Expert Panel on Planning Reform.
While Mayor Bria may believe that information sessions are more informative and transparent, the experience of residents is that these events tend to be tightly controlled. At each of the information sessions the meetings were closed while residents still had questions that they wanted to ask, as evidenced by the FAQ. This FAQ included double speak gems such as:
It is all too easy for information sessions to turn into promotional events, while the real discussion occurs in workshops. Residents want to know what their elected representatives are going to do about residents' concerns over the rezonings in the DPA. To this end it is vitally important that residents can attend workshops open to the public to hear their representatives debate these issues.
The fact that residents are not permitted to speak at an informal gathering is listed as a major shortcoming. Residents are not able to participate in council meetings and council committee meetings, yet are still able to attend. Is the next step to close council meetings because residents cannot speak? SPRA does not regard the ability to attend a public information session as a better outcome. SPRA does support additional information sessions after the workshops and for more detailed and specific information to be supplied to residents.
It is great to know that Mayor Bria now wants residents to be informed of how they will be affected by the council's decision (or is it State Government demands?). However SPRA are concerned that by closing the workshops, that the process will be less transparent, leading to residents being significantly less informed about the reasoning behind the council's decisions. The council has sought to actively limit the amount of specific information available to residents and has not surveyed residents for their opinions.
It is highly likely that if the initial workshops for the residential DPA had been open that better choices would have been made by the council in preparing the draft and that community concern would be much less. The council makes this statement about Council Decision Making:
Local government is quite often referred to as "grass roots" democracy, that is, the sphere of government that is closest to the people and where members of a community have the opportunity to participate in the decision-making process.
SPRA urges councillors to reject Mayor Bria's motion and to promote meaningful, detailed and specific information being provided to residents about the Residential DPA.
Result of Council Meeting
Mayor Bria was absent from the Council Meeting and the motion was not moved by a councillor.