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The Forum > Article Comments > Curbing the political abuse of development approvals > Comments

Curbing the political abuse of development approvals : Comments

By Alan Moran, published 1/2/2006

Alan Moran unravels the links between property development, politicians, planning approvals and regulation.

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the most ridiculous system on earth is this one.

As a developer, you can get anything you want passed if you know and fund the right people. All the big boys do it.

The barrier to entry for the smaller player is then created, and council seems to love excercising muscle on the smaller guys who dont have the cashflow of legal backing to go through the appeal and court processes. The big boys simply ask for what they want, if they dont for some strange reason get it they bend the council over in court and get their solution, and as council know this often they come to the party to aviod it. Disgusting.

The day that council members are elected without party affiliations and by making it illegal for developers to donate to campaigns, charities and the like, is the day that we will have more of the right people pulling the strings, not the developers.

This costs us plenty. We have created transit based cities with under utilised or poor infrastrucutre, environmental degradation and often mini ghettos of cheap investment properties.

Planning is the single most important legacy we can leave as a generation. The problems we have created dont need a bandaid approach, we dont need new tunnels or new ways to encourage the problem, we need people not motivated by money, not motivated by particular beliefs such as greenies etc, we need people who can integrate new urbanism with enviromental sympathy and bustling commerce. Simple, pay those in there more money so as to attract better candidates, keep a solid council vision and do not alter due to outside pressures, make donations illegal and with hefty penealties (including prison), and reduce developer contributions.
Posted by Realist, Wednesday, 1 February 2006 11:22:22 AM
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That’s a great article, but I wouldn’t be holding my breath waiting for benefits to flow through more generally in NSW. The state government has been working away to impose even greater control over development by way of zoning regulations. On 30 September 2005 changes to the EP&A Act commenced – changes that will ultimately force all councils into zoning straight-jackets, but with an exemption, of course, for projects declared “state-significant”.

What many don’t realise is that before 1950, Sydney essentially had no zoning. Development was driven, as it should be, by opportunity and demand. Then the socialists and planners took over. Zoning, they said, would benefit us all, by allowing local communities to protect and maintain the character of their own neighbourhoods.

It only took a few short years before the wishes of local communities were completely removed from the equation. As Alan Moran points out, zoning is now simply an instrument which authorities use to regulate the flow of wealth. At the stroke of a pen, those with power and influence see their dreams come true, while the rest of us are compelled to sit on the sidelines as opportunity slips through our fingers. And just to make sure we get distracted from the main game, we are continually reminded that we need zoning to prevent someone building a nuclear power station next door to us, blithely overlooking the fact that these sorts of things didn’t occur when there was no zoning in Sydney, and don’t occur today in Houston, a city which has no zoning laws.

The solution is to either remove zoning controls altogether and let market forces and private covenants determine where development occurs, or if that appears too radical, return the power to determine the characteristics of zones back to local neighbourhoods where they belong.
Posted by Winston Smith, Wednesday, 1 February 2006 11:44:11 AM
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I wont add again but i will respond to you Winston.

Without zoning laws the problem would get worse, not better. Residents can not sit easy with any knowledge that the environment around them will be preserved or protected, especially for the affluent suburbs who often have generous residential lot sizes, a natural environment and so forth.

Zoning protects land values, you rarely hear of zoning decreasing values as usually it will increase densities and development potential (if applicable) for the owner. Without perameters to work with and be entreprenurial with, a free for all and lack of speculative investment will be created.

Houstons principles cannot be applied here, it is like chalk and cheese.

Even if you were to drop zonings, in effect whatever replacement protections are put in place such as a regional plan etc will do a similar job to zoning anyway, just with more work involved, a change in the already daunting system, and more council fees generated (as many landowners may 'have a go' at an MCU or DA with no real chance)

Part of the philosophy of zoning is that it 'supposedly' steers development (and developers) to the required and highlighted growth or development areas (if the right areas were designated of course)

Without perameters for developers and local home owners, nothing would be easier. Yes zoning may merely be a small obstacle for some major players, and its validity is questioned when looking at large players and their ability to develop at will, but toughening the stance on zoning is the answer not dropping it completely.
Posted by Realist, Wednesday, 1 February 2006 12:18:12 PM
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>>A resourceful and innovative business like SACL is showing itself fully aware of the synergies that can amplify the profits of its main transport infrastructure business.<<

Resourceful? Innovative? There's an understatement.

Sydney airport has rapidly become one of the most expensive on earth, thanks to its monopolist position. Two bucks just for the privilege of catching a cab. Another four fifty if you head back into town. Four bucks for a luggage cart. Thirteen bucks for forty minutes in the car park. Not to mention the landing fees, up 150% since they were granted the monopoly....

Apart from that, what price another Sydney airport now, with the political might and muscle of Macquarie Bank firmly set against it? Competition? No thanks!

I'm not entirely sure what connection this has with planning approvals, it was just the "resourceful innovative" bit that blew me away.

Apart from that, I'm in complete agreement with Realist on this one.

There, that surprised you.
Posted by Pericles, Wednesday, 1 February 2006 4:53:34 PM
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Very good article Alan. The other aspect of this issue is that these powers have been delegated to a layer of government that is not recognised under the Federal Constitution. The voters rejected a referendum in the 1980's to recognise LG under the Constitution and that should have applied the brakes to any further expansion in local government powers. But that is not the case.

The expansion of Local Government powers has continued by stealth and without mandate. And there is certainly not the slightest evidence that this expansion has taken place in a context of "informed consent" from the community. Indeed, council planning departments have taken this abuse of their power to extraordinary extremes.

For example, a Council on the Qld Sunshine Coast recently presented a 900 page local plan. In it was a provision that gave the council the power to resume parts of people's land as a condition of any minor, and unrelated entry into the consent process. So a person who wanted approval for a shed could be compelled to hand over, under a new separate title, the entire length of his frontage to any creek, with the actual boundaries to be set by an officer, after the condition was agreed to.

The Mayor himself had no idea such a provision was in the plan and one can only conclude that the use of so much paper was for the sole purpose of misleading the community by hiding this and other provisions in 900 pages of bumf.

The only solution is to reinvigorate federalism by creating smaller regional states and eliminating the cancer of local government altogether.
Posted by Perseus, Thursday, 2 February 2006 11:07:34 AM
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Alan, thanks for elucidating some of the connections and feedback loops between the decision-making politicians and the all-powerful developers and big business operators. This sort of thing has been strongly evident in north Queensland for a long time, and not only in Cairns with its massive development and population growth over the last two decades.

What is the answer to getting our pollies to make impartial decisions? Cut ties with big business as far as possible. Make political donations illegal. Give more power to the people, especially regarding any decision that could possibly be against the majority view. Take the relevant issue to a local referendum, or depending on the scale of the proposed development, to a regional or statewide referendum.

Former Qld premier Wayne Goss was on the right track in giving more power to the people when he introduced optional preferential voting in about 1990. Unfortunately, he lost his way with that momentum. Peter Beatty was also very conscious of the problems of making top-down decisions that the majority might strongly disagree with. His bottom-up approach to the Tree Clearing Legislation is an excellent example of attempts to empower the people more, and thus reduce vested-interest decisions. Unfortunately, he hasn’t advanced with this sort of approach.

But no government has come anywhere near dealing with the issue of political donations or other feedback loops.

A 2-tiered government system could work better than the current 3 tiers, with the lower tier being about mid way between the average size of local and state govts, perhaps with an average population of about 300 000, which would give us approximately 65 ‘provinces’ across the country. This could considerably improve administrative and regulatory efficiency.

However, this in itself will do precisely nothing to reduce the abuse of development approvals. It may even be a negative move, as the entities that most resemble this regional govt concept; super-councils such as the Gold Coast - are arguably the worst offenders, while the really small ones are much more tightly under the scrutiny and influence of local residents
Posted by Ludwig, Thursday, 2 February 2006 2:53:34 PM
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