Kevin O’Leary cans Rau’s planning review plan


New government panel on planning reform

Kevin O’Leary, February 2013

Considering the very limited terms of reference for this panel and its narrowly based membership, community groups should seriously consider boycotting it and jointly produce their own report on the reforms needed to the planning system and submit this to the media. The government’s latest initiative has all the makings of the fake consultation processes that were carried out for the 30 Year Plan, the Mount Barker DPA, the Capital City DPA and so on. At this stage the community shouldn’t be restricted to the matters which the government wants it to look at. Given the depth of inadequacies with the planning system it should be able to comment on all of the major problem areas – many brought about by the dominant influence of the development industry on government policy making. These are just some of the areas where there is a high priority for planning reform – most cannot be covered in review panel’s terms of reference:

  1. Population growth. For some time now the development industry has been advocating that our major cities adopt very rapid population growth rates.[1] However, in a major study undertaken of over 100 US cities in 2010, Eben Fodor[2], a US population growth expert, concluded that high levels of population growth do not create wealth and better outcomes for a city. In fact his analysis found that the cities with high growth rates have benefits for some …..‘foremost amongst these are the real estate, financial and land development businesses’, but that …..‘the balance of the community suffers’. The government needs to re-evaluate its population targets in light of this information
  2. Urban sprawl.  The Housing Industry Association is strongly opposed to the use of restrictive urban growth boundaries to contain urban sprawl[3]. The 30 year plan puts in place a nonrestrictive city boundary with the expectation that within 30 years 70% of new residential development will occur within the existing urbanized area and only 30% on the urban fringe. But without a restrictive urban growth boundary in place this target is unlikely to be reached given the major difficulties likely to be experienced with implementing one of the plan’s main  proposals:  the intensification of residential development along many low amenity arterial roads. It’s no wonder that COAG has concluded with respect to the 30 Year plan for Adelaide that … ‘the system remains to be tested and contains some ambitious targets for which the viability has not been clearly established.’ [4] The government needs to consider the establishment of a more restrictive urban growth boundary and the re-targeting of densification proposals away from low amenity areas.
  3. The quality of new development. Although the development industry has generated a considerable amount of hype about the need to fast track development, which the government has blindly accepted, unfortunately the quality of new development being produced is not being adequately monitored.  Professor Buxton (RMIT) has expressed major concerns about the overall standard of development occurring in our cities. Buxton maintains that:  ‘We are designing the world’s worst suburbs, the housing stock is terrible and they have very poor liveability.’ [5]  Similarly, Gary Petheridge[6], president of the Unit Association Owners ACT, has expressed his major concerns about the poor quality of apartment buildings being constructed across Australia, which currently account for 30% of the nation’s housing stock.
  4. Urban densification. There’s now overwhelming evidence to show that there are major health hazards in locating people close to high trafficked roads as per the new Metropolitan Inner Growth plan and in the most recent study, the University of Southern California, has found a high correlation between autism and families who live near main roads[7]. The 30 Year Plan for Adelaide touts a policy which recommends that residential development should be kept away from major road intersections but even this objective has been blatantly disregarded in the inner area growth plan. The whole of Adelaide arterial road network needs to be redesignated either as high volume ‘transit corridors’ or low volume ‘activity corridors’ where residential densification is more appropriate.  Also, there’s no reason why public transport in some circumstances couldn’t be rerouted to areas where higher amenity values exist for denser residential development. Studies of the popularity of apartments in London for example have shown that those which are located close to attractive parks and open spaces are in high demand. [8] However, until these approaches are properly researched and implemented in a comprehensive transport plan for Adelaide it would be inappropriate to proceed with any specific proposals.
  5. Traffic congestion. The Ken Henry Tax Review Committee proposed location – specific congestion charges in our major cities which would vary according to the time of day. In exchange for these charges other charges e.g. fuel and stamp duty tax would be reduced.[9] However, the development industry has indicated its ‘vehement opposition’  to the proposal  following  what appears to be a very narrow analysis focusing on the results from one city (London) and one specific version of the tax. [10] Congestion charging is seen by many  transport experts as the only effective way of reducing traffic congestion in cities – a view reflected in this statement in a Federal Government report on the tax :The declining effectiveness of conventional methods for dealing with congestion has fostered interest in congestion charging.’ [11] The RAA supports the application of the tax here.[12] Given that traffic congestion is projected to cost Adelaide $ 1.5 billion by 2015 and that other mechanisms for reducing it are not working, the most appropriate form of the tax to apply and where it should be applied needs to be worked out in a transport plan prepared for Adelaide. [13]
  6. Job sprawl.  In terms of future jobs and employment the 30 Year Plan for Adelaide follows the Portland, Oregon model where jobs are widely dispersed. Even though billions of dollars have been spent over the past 30 years on upgrading public transport in Portland its use is quite low (12% of total commutes).[14] In stark contrast in Seattle, where jobs are concentrated in major nodes which are well connected with public transport, its use is much higher (21 % of total commutes). This is the model which Adelaide should be following and pursued through an appropriate transport plan.
  7. Council planning powers. The development industry is forever looking at ways and means of fast tracking development and stripping councils of their planning powers. Recently, it recommended that inner city councils no longer have responsibility for projects worth more than $5m or buildings taller than two storeys.[15] It has also sought the replacement of councils with private certifiers to make decisions on planning applications currently dealt with under a residential code. Both proposals are a major concern. The industry’s recommendation  for more major development proposals represents  a major winding down of our third tier of government and the proposed establishment of private certifiers for a range of planning approvals is fraught with conflict of interest and poor quality decision making issues. In NSW one in six private certifiers has been subject of an adverse disciplinary finding and local councils are demanding that the private certification system be dumped. In addition, as pointed out in a submission by the LGSA of NSW[16], the use of residential codes in development assessments severely limits the identification of opportunities for urban renewal in the suburbs – surely not even a desirable outcome for the development industry.


Other high priority areas for reform are current planning public consultation processes include disconnected land use and transport policies (because we don’t have a transport plan), major project and  interim development control legislation and the current makeup of  state government planning advisory and decision making authorities.

If the government was to adopt this wider planning reform agenda it would  be able to regain some level of public respectability by distancing  itself from  ‘development-at-any-cost’ mantra of the development industry and supporting  population growth and planning policies which will be of social and economic benefit to the whole community.


[1] Developers push for bigger cities . The Australian Financial Review. Mar. 2011.

[2] Relationship between growth and Prosperity in 100 Largest US Metropolitan Areas, Eben Foder, Dec 2010

[3] HIA Policy.  Managing Urban Land Supplies.  P2

[4] Review of Capital City Strategic Planning Systems. COAG Reform Council 23rd  Dec 2011. Overview. P7

[5] A worrying glut of properties in Melbourne’s outer suburbs › … › Featured Commentary

[6] Unit owners want better standards. Domain 29th March 2012

[7] Study links traffic pollution and autism.The Conversation

[8] A CIty of Villages: Promoting a Sustainable Future for London’s suburbs. Greater London Authority.

[9] Australia’s Future Tax System :Final Report, Part 2, Detailed Analysis, Enhancing social and market outcomes, Road transport taxes

[10] Congestion tax- no thanks . Property Council of Australia26th Feb 2008.…96

[11] Moving Urban Australia: Can congestion charging unclog our roads? Australian Government. Department of Infrastructure, Transport Regional Development and Local Government . Working Paper 74

[12] The Advertiser 18th Feb. 2013

[13] State Strategic Plan P.46

[14] Commuting in Portland and Seattle.  Sightline Daily. 28th Feb 2012.

[15]Adelaide’s development lobby plan to strip councils of power’. Sunday Mail 16th March 2013.

[16] Submission on the Draft NSW Housing Code. Local Government and Shires Association of NSW. July 2008.

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