ACT Minister for Territory and Municipal Services and Greens environment spokesman Shane Rattenbury will discuss controversial changes that have been proposed for the Planning and Development Act, at the North Canberra Community Council meeting on 16 April.
These changes have been the subject of two articles by Canberra Times reported Kristen Lawson, who says that the laws will allow the government to fast-track particular projects and will eliminate the Tree Protection Act and the Heritage Act from a place in major planning projects.
According to Ms Lawson:
The new laws will allow the government to declare special precincts and major projects, and to fast-track approval in those zones. Not only will heritage and conservation laws be almost eliminated from the equation, appeals to tribunals and courts against decisions on those projects will be abolished in all but very limited circumstances.
Attorney-General Simon Corbell has identified the planned rail line from Gungahlin to the city and the secure mental health unit as two projects for fast-tracking.
Rattenbury says the legislation is better than the existing situation where a minister can use “call-in” powers to approve a project to speed up the process and put an end to objections.
He accepts the government’s argument that the new planning laws are more “democratic” and “transparent” because they require a project to be put before the Assembly for “disallowance” – albeit disallowance in a tight timeframe, and by an Assembly in which Labor, with Rattenbury, has a majority.
The call-in powers to which Rattenbury objects do allow appeals, which the new laws do not.
The government points out that projects must be out for public comment, and that comment is sought also from the Conservator of Flora and Fauna and the Heritage Council, but again, the timing for public comments (30 days) is tight.
And there is no mechanism beyond making a comment for the public or the heritage and conservation officers to play a part, since appeals are abolished.
More fundamentally, though, the call-in powers remain in place as well, so Rattenbury’s support for the new system on the grounds that it’s better than projects being called in is, to an extent, moot.
The Planning Institute has raised concerns about the new laws, in particular the way they shift planning into the political arena and remove an important separation between politicians and developers.
The ACT Heritage Council is concerned that heritage nominations over buildings on either side of Northbourne Avenue will be effectively annulled once planning laws are passed by the ACT Assembly next week.
The Northbourne Avenue corridor looks set to be declared a special precinct to allow the Capital Metro rail link from Gungahlin to the city to be fast-tracked. The Heritage Council now wants to know how far the boundaries of the special precinct will extend into buildings either side of Northbourne Avenue, since heritage nominations in the precinct that are under way but not completed will no longer be able to go ahead.
A spokesman for Environment Minister Simon Corbell said no special precinct had been drawn up to cover Northbourne Avenue yet and no decisions made about the boundaries of a special precinct.
“Light rail is under consideration as a project of importance once the legislation is passed, but no special precinct has been drawn up to cover Northbourne Avenue yet and as such no decisions have been made about boundaries.”