Mount Barker urban sprawl - who's looking after the public interest?
In 2010, in an arrogant and appalling move that rode roughshod over the local community and Mt Barker District Council, the SA Government rezoned large tracts of land adjacent to Mt Barker for housing.
When the review of land use zoning around Mount Barker was first announced, the Greens were immediately concerned about the influence private developers and their consultants were having on State Planning Policy.
The State Government was unable to see that there is a conflict of interest when planning consultants act for BOTH the government AND private developers in giving advice over the SAME pieces of land.
Through asking questions in Parliament, Greens Leader Mark parnell MLC was able to discover that land developers in the consortium that has convinced Planning Minister Paul Holloway to open up Mt Barker to new broad-acre development have donated over $2 million to the Labor Party over the last 10 years.
See Mark's response at the time here. The Greens believe that we should ban political donations from property developers, as you can see here.
"Mount Barker was traditionally a farming area, and many of the lots just outside the town area are farming lots, although some of them have been replaced with new subdivisions in recent times."
"... one of the fastest growing areas in the state. Mount Barker is close enough to Adelaide that many people commute there on a daily basis, although it is far enough away from the city that people call it "The Country".
Battle for critical re-zoning documents
When the fast-tracking of Mt Barker re-zoning was first announced in 2009, the Greens sought to find out more by applying under Freedom of Information for the correspondence between the Mt Barker developers, the Planning Minister, and the Planning Department.
After the Department refused to release the information, Mark Parnell appealed to the SA Ombudsman, who found in his favour.
To read the Ombudsman's determination, click here.
The Mt Barker Consortium appealed against the Ombudsman's determination and the matter ended up in the District Court.
Following a battle with the Mt Barker developers in the District Court, Greens MLC Mark Parnell has finally received a batch of documents that confirm many of the community's worst fears.
In response, the Greens have moved a motion in Parliament calling for the Mt Barker DPA re-zoning to scrapped. To find out more click here.
Since June 2009, when Planning Minister Paul Holloway first announced that land use zoning around Mount Barker was being reviewed as part of the 30 Year Plan, the Greens have been pushing for local residents to have a bigger say in the future of their community.
Unfortunately, the Minister has continued to ignore their views. The Mt Barker DPA only exists because a direct request was made to the Minister by a consortium of developers, and it reflects their vision of a greatly expanded land supply for housing, at the expense of the rural amenity of the District.
This DPA allows for a doubling of the population and a loss of highly valuable farming land. To make matters worse, there is an appalling lack of infrastructure planning. It is no surprise the Government's plan is so unpopular that it is has been unanimously rejected by the District Council of Mt Barker.
On May 6th Mark Panell raised the issue of consultation on the DPA with Minister Holloway in Parliament, by asking a Question Without Notice. He was also asked about this by David Bevan and Matthew Abraham on 891ABC, and you can see a transcript of that interview here.
Like almost 98% of the submissions, I opposed the Government's controversial plan. View my media release here.
Question Time at the public meeting I organised in Mount Barker in 2009
Mt Barker DPA Public Meetings
On 31st August 2010, Greens MLC Mark Parnell spoke at a public meeting in Mt Barker, held by the SA Development Policy Advisory Committee (DPAC) to hear submissions regarding the Mt Barker Development Plan Amendment (DPA).
In his speech Mark raised concerns about the flawed process, the impact of the proposed development, urban sprawl and loss of prime agricultural land while expressing his overall objection to the DPA. This meeting was attended by over 300 members of the community and all of the other speakers also expressed their opposition to the proposal.
Click on the video below to see the highlights of Mark's speech.
Mt Barker Development Plan Amendment approved
Despite the widespread community concern, the Government announced the approval of the Mt Barker Urban Growth Development Plan Amendment.
This dreadful decision ignored the overwhelming view of planning experts and the local community.
After the Minister's decision, the Environment, Resources and Development Committee of State Parliament reviewed the decision.
All of the transcripts of evidence before the Parliamentary ERD Committee were recorded by Hansard and are available on the Committee’s website: http://www.parliament.sa.gov.au/Committees/Pages/Committees.aspx?CTId=5&CId=174 [Note: you will have to navigate down from Documents / Amendments to Development Plans / ADPs 2010-11 / Ministers Mt Barker Growth DPA and then scroll to the bottom of the screen for the list of documents.]
Below is an extract from a letter Mark Parnell sent to the hundreds of people who contacted him over Mt Barker after the dreadful approval of the Mt Barker DPA:
I am sorry this is not a happier report, but I believe you have a right to know how this matter was finally resolved. I’ll finish by outlining some of the reforms that I think are necessary to fix up the planning system in this State.
First, let me say what a fantastic effort it was for the people of Mt Barker and their supporters to rally the community AGAINST bad planning and FOR sustainable communities. Hundreds of you wrote submissions and turned up to an unprecedented 5 public hearings. More recently, representatives from Mt Barker Council, the Mt Barker & District Residents’ Association, Stop Urban Sprawl & Mt Barker Sustainable Communities Alliance gave evidence to a Parliamentary Committee. The Parliamentary Environment Resources and Development Committee was the last opportunity to kill the rezoning. I would like to thank all the witnesses who provided persuasive arguments as to why this rezoning was flawed. We had to convince the State Government that quality development doesn’t mean destroying farmland and adding to urban sprawl.
On behalf of the Greens, I moved that the DPA be rejected. The government members on the Committee used their numbers to defeat this motion. I then moved that the Committee suggest changes to the DPA, along the lines of those proposed by the Mt Barker Council. Again the government used its numbers to defeat the motion. Predictably, the final motion was to accept the DPA, which I voted against, but which passed.
No doubt you saw, read or heard some of the media coverage where the overwhelming emotions from the community were of disappointment and anger. I feel the same way.
So, where to next? Inevitably, there has been talk of a legal challenge. As a lawyer, I know how hard this is. Whilst it is possible to take matters to the Supreme Court, it is very expensive and the rate of success is very low. I don’t think a Court challenge is likely.
So, how do we prevent poor planning decisions like Mt Barker in the future? Apart from the obvious answer - at the ballot box, it is clear that law reform is desperately needed. People power is vital, but you need the legal and political tools to stop powerful vested interests calling all the shots. The Greens in State Parliament will be working on the following:
Property developers continue to be big donors to both the old political parties. Walker Corporation (Bluestone) & Daycorp gave thousands to Labor. Fairmont Homes gave thousands to the Libs. These companies are not charities. They want something in return for their largesse. The rotten smell of undue influence forced the government in NSW to ban donations from property developers. In Qld, cosy fundraising lunches with developers paying to sit with Ministers have been outlawed. But in SA, it’s business as usual - where the same lobbyists work for both the developers and the Government at the same time! SA has the weakest political disclosure laws in the country. Federally, the government has agreed with Green demands to review the electoral funding regime this year, with legislation to be introduced next year. Without these reforms, we’ll be stuck with the “best democracy that money can buy!”
Development Policy Advisory Committee
Many of you were frustrated at the DPAC submission process and the secrecy which surrounds it. It was also frustrating that there was no opportunity to debate or question the authors of the DPA. Clearly the government had poor information about important matters such as soil quality and population projections.
In Parliament, I managed to get the government to agree to release the DPAC report, but only after the final decision is made. The Minister did not personally read the submissions and did not attend any of the meetings. I seriously question whether we get any real value from the DPAC process. It needs a thorough overhaul.
The biggest joke in this system is that the Parliament doesn’t get to examine a rezoning until it has already been approved and is in operation! By the time the ERD Committee got to look at the Mt Barker DPA, applications to subdivide 500 house lots had already been lodged. I will be again moving in Parliament to reform the system so that no rezoning comes into effect until AFTER it has been considered by Parliament.
There is no right of appeal against a rezoning, even it if doesn’t match the Government’s own Planning Strategy. This was particularly frustrating for those people who went to great lengths to expose the inconsistencies between the Mt Barker DPA and the Thirty Year Plan. The best way to keep the government accountable is to allow for appeals against bad zoning decisions.
So, we all have our work cut out for us. I’ll be raising these matters in Parliament and also with the new Minister for Urban Development & Planning, Hon. John Rau. I am also waiting for the District Court to hand down its decision as to whether I am entitled to see the communications between the property developers and the Government over this rezoning. The developers are fighting tooth and nail to stop my Freedom of Information request being granted.
I think the community of Mt Barker and its supporters throughout SA can feel proud that you have given this campaign a red-hot go. We may not have succeeded this time, but the issues are not going away. I will continue to work for better planning in South Australia and to hold this government to account for failing to work with the community for a sustainable future.