Planning, Development and Infrastructure Bill

28 October 2015

Mr SPEIRS ( Bright ) ( 12:14 ): I rise to put forward my contribution to the Planning, Development and Infrastructure Bill which is before the parliament today.

I do so as one of a long list of speakers from the opposition, and I think that in itself is telling, because there is obviously significant interest among opposition members who are here representing their communities. I think that reflects considerable concern amongst communities and amongst stakeholders about the legislation which is before the parliament today. It also reflects the importance of planning reform in South Australia.

I have spent quite a lot of time, in my relatively short period of time in this parliament, speaking about a couple of areas which I believe are ripe for reform in this state and which could trigger significant economic gains for relatively low amounts of effort and/or expenditure by the state government. One of those is local government reform, which I think is intrinsically tied to planning reform, and would like to have seen occur alongside planning reform as a parallel process.

The other item that I have talked about at length during my time in parliament is the need for planning reform in South Australia. There is no doubt that planning reform is a trigger for economic activity. If done properly, it can be a trigger for economic stimulus, and it can be used to create jobs. There is no doubt that is something that we are desperately in need of in South Australia. However, what we have before us, in my view, is something of a disappointment.

I think that the Planning, Development and Infrastructure Bill is undercooked. I think it has not lived up to the hopes that I had for it. I did hold out hopes that this was an opportunity for some significant reform which could really shift South Australia's planning regime into the 21st century. However, what is before us is a body of legislation which has some good parts to it; it has, in my view, some very bad parts to it; and it has some mediocre elements as well.

As such, we have been left with a real camel when it comes to legislation: it looks a bit odd, it does not really seem to fit together in a logical way necessarily, and I am not sure it has the outcomes that the opposition and I hoped for. I am not sure it necessarily has the outcomes that the state government and the Public Service would have hoped for as well. I think it is legislation which leaves a lot to be desired and has a lot of gaps in it. Not only does it have a lot of gaps but there is also significant level of uncertainty.

I remember when I was at law school and studied a subject called Statutory Interpretation. We talked at length about the importance of creating legislation which had certainty around it. There is no doubt that certainty is missing from this legislation. The gaps in the legislation are really open either to interpretation in the short term, by those who need to implement it, or will require government to come back and make changes to it or create a further legislative framework around regulation to bring this legislation into working reality.

I think it is telling that the government has already had to table 74 amendments before the parliament. Before we even have the bill debated on its is present form, we have 74 amendments, so I think the government's confidence in its own legislation is quite shaky with regard to this bill. I see this bill as unfortunately a thing of significant lost opportunity.

I think there was a really positive opportunity for the government here to get things moving with regard to planning reform, but from my point of view and certainly from the point of view of the people in my community who have contacted me about this legislation, that has not been the case.

We have heard from a number of my colleagues about specific examples that have been read into Hansard, letters which they have received from constituents and stakeholders. I have to be honest, I have not had a lot of representations from residents who I represent in the area. I have had a few conversations with councillors and people who have a particular interest, but I do not think I have had the same number as perhaps my colleagues have had, and that is despite the seat of Bright having had some fairly difficult planning situations, certainly during my 18 months holding this position. Planning is something I have learnt quite a bit about since coming to this role and was also a significant part of my previous role as a local councillor and deputy mayor in the City of Marion.

I want to just go through several issues that I will call threshold issues with regard to this bill and just provide a bit of commentary on my views, concerns and interests on those particular items. The first is the bill's desire to move the urban growth boundary into legislation. Some people have spoken against this and have raised their concerns. From my point of view—my opinion on this might differ from some of my colleagues—I actually am broadly supportive of an urban growth boundary and broadly supportive of it being moved into legislation. I know there are arguments that it will drive up the cost of housing and reduce housing affordability, but I would have to say that that has not been proven to me yet and I would like to see some evidence that that would be the case.

I think there is a risk with a city such as Adelaide that we become an incredibly long, low-density city which stretches from the Barossa Valley to Goolwa and Victor Harbor and really spills a tsunami of Tuscan villas across some of our prime agricultural land, particularly on the Fleurieu Peninsula. So, on that basis, I really am supportive of an urban growth boundary and would certainly give consideration to the government transferring that into legislation. I think areas such as the Fleurieu Peninsula and the food bowl to the north of the city, stretching through the Northern Plains towards the Barossa Valley and above, are really one of the things that makes South Australia incredibly special.

We should be doing everything that we can as parliamentarians to protect that prime agricultural land and also the prime environmental lands that make up this state. Perhaps the preservation of an urban growth boundary in legislation is something that will assist with that, so from my point of view that is something I am open to. I know that is not something that everyone, including my colleagues on this side of the house, will necessarily agree with, but I am definitely open to seeing that happen.

I believe strongly that there is a case for growing up instead of out. I think our distant outer suburbs can be at risk of becoming geographical underclasses, and that presents a range of social problems as well which we could do without in this state at the moment. I do see some inconsistency with this in the government's approach to planning—difficulties that they have presented around Mount Barker and obviously Buckland Park as well, and even some of the outer suburbs to the south of the city which have been put in place not necessarily with the appropriate infrastructure coming alongside them. However, as I have said and will repeat again, the urban growth boundary is something which interests me and something which I would certainly personally be open to providing some support to.

I also want to discuss another threshold issue, and that is the community engagement charter, which is canvassed in this legislation and which, like too many aspects of this legislation, does not actually have any more detail surrounding it than pretty much the title of community engagement charter. I think this was put in the bill because of the frustration that was heard by the expert panel on planning reform which helped shape this legislation or, at least, fed into this legislation in the early process around 2012 to 2014.

When the panel went out into communities and heard from people, time and time again they heard from communities that there was significant frustration with people feeling that they could not feed into the planning process. They felt shut out of the planning process; they felt that the state government was traipsing all over them and making decisions without regard to the communities' desires.

The expert panel's point of view was that we needed something in this legislation to actually point to that says that government should be engaging and that community engagement should be a central part of changes to planning in communities. However, I do not know if the government's commitment to move engagement to the front end of planning, as opposed to more towards the end process, will actually have the impact the government wants.

I think it is incredibly hard for individuals, stakeholders or communities to front up at an engagement process when there is nothing tangible for them to engage with. Often during rezoning opportunities and when areas are first being developed, without seeing plans and without seeing drawings, it is very hard for people to be able to interact with what is going to happen down the track because of particular planning changes.

While it might sound like a good idea to empower people at the front end of the planning process by engaging them in what their communities will look like in the future—and I am not going to talk against that per se—you cannot then remove engagement from the end of the process either, because that is the point where the rubber hits the road. That is when people start to envisage what a particular building might look like, what form a shopping centre might take, what particular infrastructure might be part of their community.

It is not until those plans, those drawings and the scale and density of these things start to become familiar to people that they grasp what is headed for their neighbourhoods, and it is at that point that we do need to retain effective engagement and retain the community voice actually helping to shape the end product. There is some merit in bringing some of it to the beginning, but we definitely need to see it retained at the end of the planning process as well.

The opposition supports the spirit of the community engagement charter, but our concern is: how can you pass something into legislation if you do not actually know what it will look like? There is no actual charter attached to this legislation. We have no idea what it will look like in reality.

Another threshold issue I want to briefly mention is the essential infrastructure levy. I have significant concerns about this. I know people I have spoken to in my community do, and, certainly, the councils I have consulted with had concerns about this as well. It is again something that might look good on paper. We are going to create the opportunity for these levies to be gathered by councils in order to pay for essential infrastructure, but we do not know from this legislation where you draw the line with essential infrastructure. Is it roads, is it sewerage or is it stormwater infrastructure?

We might think that it is acceptable to pass that cost on to people who are purchasers of blocks and houses through a future levy, but what about the local ambulance station or a school or a new police station or something like that? Where do you draw the line? At what point do you stop shifting those costs into a levy? If a community is up in arms about a particular issue—it might be closure of a police station or something like that—does the government come back and say, 'Well, you can have your police station, but you're all going to be paying for it for the next 10 years via your council rates through this essential infrastructure levy.'

To me, that is shifting another cost onto households, and South Australian households, to be sure, have enough costs confronting them at the moment. For the government to even suggest another cost of living pressure be hurled onto South Australian households is something that I just could not possibly support, especially when there do not appear to be any accountability measures around the essential infrastructure levy and how it is actually levied.

There seems to be a view that this would reduce the cost of housing up-front and make housing more affordable, particularly for younger people and families who are entering into home ownership for the first time. I do not buy that at all and I think that developers would simply charge the same amount but be able to offset their other costs against this essential infrastructure levy. So it just has a whole range of concerns for me and is something that I am strongly against.

Another item that I want to discuss is the role of the Coordinator-General and the $3 million threshold which kicks in and allows developers to transfer the decision-making and approval processes around an application for a development deemed to be $3 million or more in value that can be flicked from local council to the state government and, in particular, the Office of the State Coordinator-General for him to essentially clear the barriers out of the way and ensure a streamlined approval process.

That does sound good on paper and there definitely is, in my view, a place for this in legislation and in the development industry. However, the $3 million threshold is something that I have a significant problem with because it is too low. There are properties in my electorate, along The Esplanade—houses, residential homes—that would be captured by this threshold. No doubt there would be those sort of properties all across the state. If you have a residential property which could potentially be captured by the $3 million threshold and be fast-tracked through the Office of the State Coordinator-General, that is something that just does not sit well with me at all. I think a better threshold for that would be $7 million, $10 million or perhaps $12 million—I am open to suggestions—but much higher than $3 million

I recently had an issue in my electorate in the City of Holdfast Bay in South Brighton where a Hungry Jack's development was proposed to the council: the council knocked it back. It had a value of around about $1.9 million at the time and the council knocked it back. The developer appealed to the ERD Court that said, 'No, this development is not going to work in this area. There are major traffic issues; we are going to reject it.'

It was rejected by the council and rejected by the ERD Court and so the developer looked around—as the developer is entirely entitled to do and should do from a good business point of view—and said, 'We can go to the Office of the State Coordinator-General'—but they could not because their value was $1.8 million $1.9 million to start with.

I do not know what happened but through the process of getting rejected by the ERD Court and then making an application to the Office of the State Coordinator-General, the value of this project rose to $3.1 million. I am not sure if they added the Whoppers and chicken wraps and things in for the first year or two to boost that value, but the value did rise from a 1 million figure to a 3 million plus figure. The Coordinator-General welcomed them through his front door and gave them the stamp of approval, having been rejected by the council and the ERD Court.

You can imagine how my community felt about that. There was a significant level of angst about a fast food establishment coming to that part of Brighton and there were a whole range of arguments around what the market will allow should something like that be allowed in that area. I am going to leave the arguments of the marketplace to one side and just look at the fact that this project rose significantly in value after having been rejected by two planning authorities, and construction will start in a few weeks' time. That is a significant concern for me.

Finally, I want to briefly canvas in my remaining seconds the removal of local government members on development assessment panels. I think that local councils, obviously, have significant concern about this, and we have seen a public campaign from the Local Government Association. Having been on local council but having not served on a development assessment panel I am open to local government members being removed from development assessment panels. I think that it removes the concern of conflict of interest, and also I have always got capacity concerns about local councillors on these matters. Again, I am open to seeing that happen.

I will conclude my remarks, and I look forward to this bill progressing so it can be given freedom of analysis.

Extracted from Hansard