According to Greens MLC Mark Parnell, a modification to Development Regulations is about to make citizens’ access to prevate certifiers reports easier – and partly because of advovcacy by the Alliance and its members. In a recent issue of news letter Parnell states (in blue) :
No more fob-offs at the Council planning counter
Here’s a good news story. Actually, it starts badly, but has a happy ending. Recently, the Government introduced legislation to hand over decision-making over minor development matters to “Private Certifiers”. These are the same people who currently handle most “Building Rules Consent” applications (eg. depth of footings, strength of roof trusses etc etc.). In many ways this is a privatisation of the development assessment process and we have to be vigilant that they don’t extend this power to more contentious forms of development. That’s the bad bit.
Now for the good news. As part of the debate in Parliament, I took the opportunity to move amendments to strengthen the right of members of the public to be able to inspect and get copies of planning documents held by private certifiers, so that they were treated exactly the same as local Councils. Accessing documents held by Private Certifiers was a problem first brought to my attention by Community Alliance member, the Western Adelaide Coastal Residents Association.
To cut a long story short, my amendment looked certain to pass the Legislative Council, which meant that the Government had to negotiate or potentially delay the Bill until next year. In my discussions with Departmental and Ministerial staff, I managed to convince them that the real problem was much broader than documents held by Private Certifiers. In many cases, it was Local Council or DAC staff who refused to allow members of the public to inspect development applications, even for Category 2 & 3 developments! The root of the problem was that the Development Regulations (Reg 101) gives Councils a “discretion” whether or not to allow access to documents. Often the Councils would defer to the wishes of the developer in deciding whether or not to make plans and other documents available for public inspection. It was a real lottery whether or not you got to see the documents. Councils can also impose an “inspection fee”.
The compromise that was reached was that I would withdraw my amendment if the Minister made a commitment in Parliament to close this loophole and reform the “access to information” provisions of the Development Regulations. Shortly, the Regulations will be changed to give citizens a right to inspect documents free of charge and a right to obtain copies at a reasonable cost. Exemptions will be limited to the bare minimum, such as to protect building security.
This outcome is a good one for the community. Whilst it doesn’t mean that better decisions will be made, it does mean that the fob-off that many of us have received from DAC or Local Councils when asking to inspect documents, should be a thing of the past. Reforms of this nature were a key part of the Community Alliance’s list of reforms. I’m delighted to have helped bring it about.