Local Area Planning Advisory Committees

Thank you for your circular letter and questionnaire of 26 March 1999 about Local Area Planning Advisory Committees (LAPACS). I have been asked to make a preliminary response.

Mr Lincoln Hawkins

Executive Director

Planning and Land Management

PO Box 1908

CANBERRA ACT 2601

 

Dear Mr Hawkins

Thank you for your circular letter and questionnaire of 26 March 1999 about Local Area Planning Advisory Committees (LAPACS). I have been asked to make a preliminary response.

Weston Creek so far does not have any LAPACS and is unlikely to need one in the near future. The reason for this is that there is currently a moratorium banning further development in Weston Creek for the next five to six years. The moratorium was imposed by the then Planning Minister, Mr Bill Wood, until the future of the Mt Stromlo Observatory became clearer. Mt Stromlo was, and is still being, affected by street and commercial lighting in Weston Creek.

Since the imposition of the moratorium the Observatory has sought to secure its future at Mt Stromlo with the establishment of the Exploratory tourist facility to encourage visitors and our guess is that by the end of the moratorium the Observatory will still not want to close down. The Observatory is an asset for the ACT and the Community Council’s present policy is to do what it can to keep the Observatory.

Without this moratorium there is no doubt that there would have been much more development in Weston Creek and a need to establish a LAPAC.

Given this background it is very difficult to answer a questionnaire about a process with which we have had no practical experience although we have received some comment from people who have. Nevertheless I have filled in the questionnaire to the best of my ability and this is an attachment to this letter. Many of the questions in the questionnaire raise issues which have not been discussed at our meetings and there is no time to do this before your deadline is due. For this reason many of the answers are my own personal opinion and you should keep this in mind in interpreting the answers I have given.

Thank you for the opportunity of presenting our views.

Yours sincerely

 

 

 

Bob Sutherland

Chairman

WCCC

 

 

RESPONSE FROM THE CHAIRMAN OF THE WESTON CREEK COMMUNITY COUNCIL TO THE QUESTIONNAIRE

QUESTION 1

I disagree that recognition of LAPACs role by Government and PALM will lead to recognition by community and industry. LAPACs should be restricted to an advisory role because they are not a democratically elected body. Official recognition of their role could ultimately lead to them becoming a de facto third tier of government in the ACT. I have no doubt that the present two tier system (where the ACT Government combines local and state government functions) is much better than the situation applying in the other states and the Northern Territory.

I believe that the ACT Government (through PALM) and LAPACs should be more proactive in the sense that areas be identified for development and then call for expressions of interest from reputable companies in building the new development. Contracts to proceed with development should proceed on the basis of the companies past record in development, the quality of its submission and plans and its financial stability.

I don’t know what the present arrangement in the ACT is but I believe it is on the basis that a development company has put together a parcel of land (ie by persuading current leaseholders to sell to the company) and then trying to persuade the Government that they should be allowed to redevelop the site. Thus the development company is arguing that it should be allowed to proceed on the basis of its real estate skills and not on the basis of its prior development history. This process leads to all kinds of abuses with a common one being the original developer putting forward a plan which will hopefully lead to acceptance by the Government and the community, then selling the developing rights to another party who then calls for an amendment to the original plans (if possible without public consultation) to build something substantially different to what was originally proposed. In effect the first company is being paid a “spotting fee”.

(I have had personal experience with this process in a local government area not a million miles from Canberra. As an advocate for an existing property holder I raised objections to a particular development proposal with the local council and represented him at the inquiry meeting. During the inquiry I managed to glean from the developers that they were a $5 company, they had little in the way of financial resources, they had not secured a loan from a recognised financial institution, they lived in a country town three hundred kilometres away, they had not agreed to buy anything except if their development application was successful, they had little experience in development with only one other project, they could not or would not provide references from neighbours to this development as to whether it was satisfactory or not and they agreed that the plans put forward were only preliminary. Other parties to the inquiry pointed out that there were errors in the plans including the fact that the sun diagram was incorrect and if the shadows formed by the building were not as shown they reserved the right to sue even if council gave approval to the project. The Town Clerk gave evidence that this was a most imaginative proposal and met the town plan fully although he admitted he had no building or architectural training. Council nevertheless approved the project. However, the developers withdrew because they admitted that they were scared off by the threat of legal action.)

We don’t want to see this kind of thing in Canberra. In another part of Australia the local council and state government have co-operated and identified surplus state buildings which should be re-developed. Tenders were called and the company that won the tender was selected on the basis of the quality of its proposal and its successful track record with other developments. In an interview with a newspaper the principal of this company said that they had only a few previous developments but in each case the company had responded to an invitation to tender and had never sought a re-development application. This seems to me to be the better approach. As I said before LAPACs should be proactive and identify re-development priorities.

This should even apply to dual occupancy applications. In one part of Canberra I have been told about a person who buys houses, lives in them for a while, builds a dual occupancy and moves on to the next property. He wants to retire early apparently. The problem with this approach is re-development is being done by people who have no commitment to the neighbourhood in which they live. It should be possible to establish a policy which restricts dual occupancy to houses where the impact on neighbours is minimal.

QUESTION 2.

The development of a community values statement is consistent with being proactive. Once a development proposal has been put forward any public consultation is too late. The community, through the Government should be offering re-development for tender. If this is done the public consultation process is much easier.

(NOTE I have used the term “re-development” to mean constructing new buildings on existing built-up property.)

It is the experience of the Weston Creek Community Council that there is a lot of opposition to greenfields development in inner Canberra.

QUESTION 3.

I have no doubt that industry will see my suggestions as being an obstacle. However, if there are sufficient proposals to tender for then this may also be welcomed. I believe that ownership of an existing lease should not give any prior rights to developers. If re-development was to proceed, tenders should still be called with the sale of the lease included in the tender process if need be. In other words if you apply to redevelop your lease and you want a change to the lease purpose clause you should also agree to relinquish the property for a fair, pre-determined price if your proposal is not as good as others who also might be interested.

QUESTION 4.

I believe that all community value statements should relate to the Territory Plan.

QUESTION 5.

I have already mentioned the fact that LAPACs are not democratically elected and it suits some people to obstruct the process. However, if they are going to work at all they should report on the negative and positive aspects and receive the best information possible from PALM.

QUESTION 6.

The emphasis on LAPACs should be that they are advisory. It should be made clear that they don’t usurp the power of elected governments to decide these issues. I think that ACT Housing would be able to provide appropriate comment in the LAPAC process.

QUESTION 7.

I cannot speak from experience but it seems to me that there is a fundamental conflict of interest. It is in the developer’s interest to withhold as much information as possible and it is in the community’s interest to know the maximum amount possible. Given this background it is easy for people to adopt pro and anti development stances. It is going a bit far to say that LAPACs have uninformed views about the value of development. One of the difficulties of the process from the community’s point of view is the fact that the work is done by community volunteers and the time and work involved is enormous. For this reason getting the right people to represent the community is a very great problem and this is an advantage for the developers.

QUESTION 8.

I can’t comment on whether PALM’s support is inefficient or not.

QUESTION 9.

In the case of dual occupancies see my comments above. However, it may be useful for them to appear and argue their case personally to the LAPAC if this is not already happening. While the comment that there should be sufficient time to letterbox the community is appreciated there may be advantages in consulting at the regular meeting of the community council. This is important because it is a fact that people adjoining developments are not always the only people affected by them. (Currently there are 5 community councils in Canberra with two unrepresented areas.)

QUESTION 10.

I have no idea.

QUESTION 11.

The question of training members of LAPACs raises the question of the role of a LAPAC. If it is to rely on professional attendees then you have to ask what does a LAPAC do that can’t already be done by PALM. I believe that LAPACs have a role of consulting non-professional opinion – especially the opinion of the people who have to live with the re-development.

QUESTIONS 12.

If you are going to check the bona fides of objectors (and this may be a good thing especially as rival developers could use objections to another project as a way of favouring their own) then the bona fides and track records of developers should also be equally open to scrutiny.

QUESTION 13.

No comment.

QUESTION 14.

I agree.

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