For the first time I have a guest blogger. From here on, the words are from Cr Dan Bull.
For quite some time now many, many members of the public, along with numerous local Councils and Councillors have been protesting against the undemocratic State Government Development Assessment Panels and State Administrative Tribunal.
This is an example of the de-democratisation of our neighbourhoods which impacts on amenity.
However there is a bigger issue. A sleeper issue that will have the effect of handing over any power locals and local governments thought they had to shape the future of their suburbs, to private developers, and the State Government’s Western Australian Planning Commission (WAPC).
And that sleeper issue is the legal right for a land owner to submit a structure plan (a plan that up until recently would have traditionally been prepared by a local government, and which sets the strategy for changing the land use of a precinct, generally through allowing for greater density (i.e. blocks of flats/apartments)) for an area in which their land is located (subject to meeting certain criteria). That right is not only for their land, but also YOUR land. A right that was introduced through regulation by the State Government on 19 October 2015 –two days after a Local Government election day – a time when Local Governments would have been focused on preparing for a new Council – traditionally a very busy time.
This is an ironic date given the effect of the regulations was to rip democracy away from locals.
The impact of these new regulations is being felt for the first time (that I am aware of) through a proposed structure plan application being made by a private developer in the train station precinct of Meltham, in Bayswater.
That is, a private developer has decided to put a structure plan together independently of the Local Government.
Why is this a problem? The local government is an organisation that must act in the best interests of ratepayers and residents. A private developer/land holding company however must act in the best interests of its shareholders. In this instance the developer’s/land holding company’s shareholders are not in Bayswater – meaning their best interests do not lie in creating, protecting or contributing to the amenity of Meltham.
What is more, under the State Government regulations the City of Bayswater must run a prescribed, very limited consultation process under these new regulations, which comprises an extremely short advertising period of between 14 days and 28 days. The City has no choice.
It is worth mentioning that the City did write to the WAPC to request for an additional month of consultation to allow residents in Meltham more time to digest the complex structure plan and formulate their views and submission. The WAPC chose to ignore the City’s request and grant only an additional two weeks. Why, I ask. What is the rush?
The feedback that I have received from locals who will be effected by the proposed structure plan is that in the most part they are open to, and accept that density around a train station such as Meltham makes sense, and that the Meltham Precinct is due for redevelopment. However, the same people are angry and confused as to how such a system could exist. A system where a private enterprise with a small land holding and no primary interest owed to the local community can request the WAPC to approve a plan that could change the face of their neighbourhood forever. A system that prescribes nothing more than token consultation with the very people who will be directly impacted by the outcome forever more.
So, what’s the answer? The planning system in WA needs to be reformed in a way that puts power and democracy back into the hands of locals. Additionally, accountability of decision making needs to be reintroduced into the process which has been taken away given the decision making body is an unelected State Government body (the WAPC). And the ability to initiate a structure plan process should not be put in the hands of enterprises or individuals who have no primary obligation to the very people who will be directly affected by it: local residents.
While the issue of DAPs and SAT are real and valid issues, the ability for a land owner to completely change the land uses of precincts is a game changer – potentially a game changer for the worse.
(These views are my own and are not endorsed by the City of Bayswater.)
Dan Bull – www.facebook.com/danbullforwestward/