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On Monday night 29th of April a forum on planning issues was held in the Norwood Town Hall. Sponsored by Community Alliance, residents from across Adelaide heard politicians, planners and conservationists talk about their vision for Adelaide and problems with the current planning system.
Speakers included Nick Xenophon federal MP, Vicky Chapman Liberal Party spokeswoman on planning, Mark Parnell Greens Party MLC and John Rau Minister for Planning. Nick Xenophon said new housing development should be focussed on the City Centre square mile, not on the inner suburbs. Vicky Chapman acknowledged that there is a problem with the current planning system with many people feeling angry, bewildered and disenfranchised. People want to be involved in the planning for their areas at the start, not at the end, she said.
Mark Parnell presented a case for a better planning system. "Respectful engagement" with local people means you get a better outcome. This is a fundamental part of democracy. The present public consultation is a "sham" said Mark. The authorities only do it because the legislation says they have to. He spoke about the secrecy of the Development Planning Advisory Committee (DEPAC) which advises the Minister on final decisions on Development Plan Amendments (DPAs).
Mark also spoke about the failure of parliamentary scrutiny where the Environment Resources and Development committee of Parliament, which reviews all new DPAs, has never, in 16 years, ever rejected any DPA, despite residents making representations to it. Mark was pleased that his Bill to require councils to write to all residents affected by DPAs had passed the Upper House.
John Rau was the prize speaker for the night. It was only at the last minute he turned up. We understand that some of his departmental staff were in the audience. This is a good sign as it shows that the State government, facing an election in March 2014, is starting to grasp that the multi-storey flats planned for the inner suburbs and beyond, is an issue which is damaging its public standing and could damage its chances of re-election.
Mr. Rau said that he could only speak generally. He re-iterated his opposition to urban sprawl and said that in his personal opinion it should stop altogether. He was pleased that he had legislation passed to protect the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale areas from housing development. He said he was committed to quality outcomes for all communities and "we need to find a way for communities to be more embedded in the process". He said hoped that the review of the planning system being conducted by Brian Hayes QC would show the way for a better planning system.
Mr. Rau spoke of SA's population growth being 16,400 p.a. now and a rate of growth of 1.2% projected over the next 30 years. He said he believed that the "2 for 1" housing development is "more corrosive of community" than high density growth. (The "2 for1" housing densification occurs when one house is knocked down and replaced with 2 dwellings. This is the type of urban consolidation State planning bureaucrats have subjected Adelaide to for over 20 years. Mr. Rau lives in a sandstone villa in Henley Beach, according to the Advertiser, and so he would have seen the often sad impacts of this type of housing densification in his local area.)
The Minister said that consultation and transparency were very important. In September he intended starting a conversation about integrated transport and an urban development strategy.
The main speakers were followed by a panel of experts who spoke briefly and fielded questions and statements from the audience. Among the more interesting contributors was Professor Norm Etherington president of the National Trust. He said that Adelaide's city centre held some 40,000 people in 1900 but only about 20,000 now. Adelaide's centre never had any high-rise flats. What it had was many small cottages. Many of these were destroyed. Professor Rob Fowler president of the Conservation Council said that our current planning system was "terribly inadequate" and he thought that it was ironic meeting in the Norwood Town Hall where former Premier Don Dunstan would have been very sad to see the present state of the system, with its severely curtailed rights of public notification.
Kevin O'Leary, a planner and critic of the government's 30 Year Plan for Greater Adelaide, spoke about limiting multi-storey flat heights. Transforming Australian Cities, a new book, suggests that 6-8 storeys is the maximum height we should go in existing suburbs due to traffic congestion, embedded energy and other concerns. Several architects have told Kevin that we can increase densities without very high-rise.
The audience put questions to the panel and there was much discussion. Sandra Kanck president of Sustainable Population Australia said that Australia's high population growth rate of 1.7 per cent would see our population hit 100 million people in 85 years and questioned panel members on the sustainability of this rate of growth. A representative of the Stop Population Growth Now Party also raised the issue of population growth.
Residents who want to have their say on the review of SA's planning system can register their interest at Think Design Deliver. We urge people to become involved in this so that a better planning system can come out of this review. "