The ACT Government invited submissions on the new planning and development bill. A submission was sent in by the GCC. It appears in this blog because it seems that it has been “filed” by the Government and this is one place to give it a wider audience. It is also part of the theme of this blog dedicated as it is to empowering citizens though information and control of information.

The submission proposed that governments produce statistics to help citizens judge the results of government policies such as a Planning and Development Bill.

It is an unfortunate fact of life that “safe” electorates of whichever side of politics appear to receive less capital investment for community facilities as there is little point in trying to bribe an electorate when you are sure of the outcome – whether win or lose. One way of making the results of these electoral influences clear is to build into government reporting systems measures that reflect the results of expenditure.
The Gungahlin district of Canberra is in the one of the safest electorates for Labor in Australia. In the Territory Assembly Gungahlin is divided into two so making sure that even if Gungahlin residents were mobilised on local issues it would be unlikely to influence local election results. The result has been a policy of treating Gungahlin as a cash cow of new land sales with little money spent on community facilities and a policy of restricting commercial leases to obtain the higher prices for the few commercial leases made available.
The GCC has for some time proposed that a set of measures called “social sustainability” be formulated and reported on as part of the planning regime. During the formulation of the Bill submissions were invited and the GCC sent in a submission that addressed this issue.
What appeared to be a form letter was sent back saying they had received the submission and it would be considered. There was no invitation to explain further and it is highly unlikely that this modest low cost proposal was seriously considered beyond a cursory glance in an inbox somewhere. This is a typical response to suggestions made during so-called consultation processes. You go to a lot of trouble to make submissions, they are said to be considered but you get no indication that they have been considered, no reasons are given on why they are not taken up and you get no chance to debate the propositions. It would be interesting to know how many submission suggestions ever get taken up.

The submission that was sent follows.

The Planning and Development Bill does not address the issues that have resulted in poor planning outcomes in Gungahlin. The mechanics of how planning is done and how it can be made more efficient are addressed but the overall policy directions and strategic emphasis is quiet on the important principle of social equity that has directly lead to poor planning outcomes for Gungahlin. The bill has included new environmental sustainability principles yet surprisingly has not explicitly included the notion of social sustainability. However, a good framework for including these principles has been established with the inclusion of the concepts of zones and codes. The GCC believes the Bill can be amended to include social equity concepts and so reduce the probability of poor planning outcomes. Suggestions are made on how the Bill can be modified to make the Plan result in both environmental and social sustainability outcomes.

Include the concept of District Zones

The front cover of the Planning and Development Bill includes the five district zones of Belconnen, Gungahlin, Central, Tuggeranong and Woden Valley as a way to make sense of the plan. In the future other zones may be established but currently these district zones are an important part of the way residents view and understand the City. Planners already use this spatial division as part of their planning processes and the concept should be explicitly acknowledged in the City Plan with the addition of district zones.

Include the concept of Social Equity codes

In the same way that codes have been developed to specify width of roads, codes for land clearance, codes for water use, codes for signage so codes can be developed to measure social equity. These measures of social equity are goals not prescriptions and are ways of highlighting the inequities that are increasingly apparent to Gungahlin residents.
Social equity code measures can be based on district zones and on a population head count. They can include such things as open space sporting facilities per head of population, indoor recreation community facilities, police presence, school places, shopping facilities, places of employment, public transport availability, general practitioners and health workers etc.
Without this approach the districts that “have” will continue to attract community facilities while communities that are poor in facilities will continue to be unattractive to developers and planners. For example the GCC believes that without explicit social codes on employment Gungahlin will never get a viable sustainable employment base because the planners will not leave enough land for employment opportunities.
The codes do not mean that every district has to be the same. They could specify ranges that are acceptable and deficiencies in one area can be compensated with extra facilities in other areas but the aim will be to measure the overall social equity as represented by community facilities so that all districts of Canberra can be seen to share in the community wealth.

Changes to the Bill

The GCC believes it is important to get the principle of social equity incorporated in the Bill. One way of achieving this is through District Zones and Social Codes. The following are the few changes that need to be made to incorporate these concepts. The numbers refer to the paragraphs within the document.
47 add “equitable” after safe.
50 – in (1) (d) include the word district before areas.
50 – include a new section in (2) which says (a) identify broad district zones
51 (1) append to the end “and social equity”.
52 new section (3). Policy objectives must be consistent with social equity codes.
54 include new section after (4) A code that defines a social equity outcome for a district is a social code.
55 include districts before zones,
55 add (2) At least one territory map must show social codes.
99 change “and sustainable” to “sustainable and socially equitable”
It is unnecessary to define social codes in detail in the bill nor is it envisaged that the codes would ever become prescriptive. What is envisaged are that social inequities will become visible through the publication of the territory map. The correction of these inequities will be a political and social process in contrast to a regulatory prescriptive approach. It is envisaged that the social codes will be a guide to planners and help give direction to them. The objective of the inclusion of social codes and the production of a map showing the social codes will highlight areas of social inequity.

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