Special issue: Time is running out to do something about the White Paper

Planning and Infrastructure Director-General Sam Haddad last week conceded that the White Paper process has “gone further than the government intended” in reducing the community’s ability to fight bad decisions.

He also conceded that Department of Planning staff may have unintentionally spread “inaccurate or misleading information” about the changes.

What a mess. Originally easily characterised as dismantling the checks and balances of the current system to provide free kicks to developers, this most recent confession can only confirm the worst.

It seemed pretty obvious right from the start that the Government was trying fool the communities of New South Wales by hiding the slashing and burning behind a boast of a more consultative process which would allow greater input at the beginning - so that everyone had an opportunity to be involved in the process of what could be built and where.

But the dreaded page 57 of the White Paper gave it all away by providing an illustration that showed that applications that didn’t come within a bull’s roar of the locally arrived at development instrument, could still be assessed on a merit basis by a Council, or a planning committee or some other faceless people.

Why bother, unless all you’re trying to do is to hide that the real intention was to abandon historic protection of heritage areas; misrepresent that all planning would have biodiversity at its core, when it did no such thing; and quash effective and consultative town planning practices and set up a free for all where developers could build anything, anywhere they wanted?

While Councils (and many of you in developing these documents) have identified fundamental flaws in the overriding strategy as well as the details of the legislation, it fell to the Better Planning Network to squeeze the confessions from Director-General Sam Haddad. A voluntary organisation with a tiny core of activists, but more than 400 affiliated community groups, had nailed the Government on something when no one else had been able to land a blow.

But we know, because members tell us about their experience in discussing these things with officials of the Department of Planning (probably including those whom Sam agrees may have unintentionally spread inaccurate or misleading information) that local government concerns and observations about the effect of the White Paper have gone right over the heads of planning bureaucrats.

The BPN also nailed the Director-General on their claim that “ecologically sustainable development” was enshrined in the draft legislation when, Haddad subsequently agreed, these principles were not “expressly referred to” in the bill. The Sydney Morning Herald quotes Sam as describing an earlier departmental response to the contrary as “regrettable”. Regrettable has to be the biggest understatement. And similar allegations can be made about the way they have incorrectly responded on the protection of heritage and the role of the Heritage Council.

Well, it is a mess and the whole fiasco should be put on hold and they should start again.

We like the Better Planning Network. A tiny core of activists has blitzed the Government and the media and identified the fundamental flaws in a way that Councils couldn’t. After all, the Government already thinks the councils only respond to the White Paper to protect their own turf, so why would they listen to them?

Here is a link to Sam’s confession and here is a link to a general article about the fiasco in the Herald last weekend.

And everyone should remember that while you might be local government employees you are also citizens and residents and have an interest in making sure that some boofhead, money-hungry developer doesn’t build some monstrosity next door to you.

The Committee of Management resolved on Friday last week to forward to you all a link to the BPN petition. Here it is, print it, get it signed and get it in ASAP.

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