GREENS BILL: Commencement of Planning and Design Code

Today Mark introduced a Greens Bill to give the Minister for Planning the ability to postpone the introduction of the Planning and Design Code for South Australia.

Planning, Development and Infrastructure (Commencement of Code) Amendment Bill 2019

This is a simple bill. It only does one thing: it gives the Minister for Planning the ability to postpone the introduction of the Planning and Design Code for South Australia. The Planning and Design Code is quite simply the new name for the bulk of planning policy in this state that is currently contained in tens of thousands of pages of individual local development plans. Development plans also cover areas that are outside councils, such as the outback and coastal waters under state control.

At the most basic level, these development plans are the documents that guide what you can and cannot do in relation to development in South Australia. Development plans consist of maps showing various zones and then written material which explains what kinds of development are envisaged in each zone. Of course, there is a lot of detail, including height limits, setbacks, minimum allotment sizes and a multitude of other rules.

The development plans also help determine who gets notified about development proposals and what rights you might have to object. To give a really simple example, if you propose to build a normal house in a residential zone, or a factory in an industrial zone, or an office in a commercial zone, then you will probably have little difficulty getting approval. On the other hand, if you apply to build a house in an area dominated by noxious industry, or if you apply to build an abattoir in a residential zone in Prospect or Mitcham, the answer quite properly will be, 'No you cannot.' That is the planning system in operation.

Under the new Planning, Development and Infrastructure Act, the policy in these individual council development plans will be transferred to a new Planning and Design Code. The Planning and Design Code is legislated to come into operation fully on 1 July next year. In fact, some of the code is already in operation in relation to the outback, and other parts of the code will come into operation in April—that is, rural areas—with the bulk of the code for Metropolitan Adelaide coming into operation on 1 July.

The reason for the 1 July implementation date is quite simple: it is what Parliament decided when it legislated the transitional arrangements. Back in 2017, that seemed like plenty of time to get this document right, but now that we are getting closer to the deadline, it has become apparent to me and to many others that the job is nowhere near complete and is unlikely to be complete by 1 July next year. That means one of two things: firstly, either we are lumbered with a Planning and Design Code that is incomplete, inaccurate, full of errors and generally not fit for purpose; or, secondly, Parliament could grant an extension in order to allow time to do the job properly.

This bill takes that second approach. It allows the Minister to defer the final implementation of the Planning and Design Code until it is properly ready. I have resisted the temptation to identify an alternative date to 1 July next year in the Bill. Instead, my bill gives the Minister a discretion as to whether or not to order an extension, and also how long an extension to grant. It does that quite simply by removing all references to 1 July 2020 and replacing them with reference to a designated date, which is something the Minister has complete control over.

I know it would have been potentially embarrassing for the Minister to have to come back to Parliament and asked for this himself, so I am doing it for him. After all, I am from the Greens and we are here to help. I fully expect that this bill will find favour with the Legislative Council before the end of this year, then of course it will be open to the government to decide whether or not to take advantage of it in the new year.

It may be that the government decides to better fund the implementation program for the Planning and Design Code. The Minister might decide that it is better to employ more planners to do this incredibly complex job of work and to stick with the original time frame rather than having to eat humble pie and take the extension that is offered by this bill. I understand that there is a very dedicated team working on this difficult project, but clearly not enough resources have been deployed.

I for one will not criticise the Minister for taking longer to do this job properly, but I will criticise the Minister up hill and down dale if some of the mistakes identified so far are still in the Planning and Design Code when we get to July next year. I am not going to go through all the gaps, the errors and the inconsistencies in the version of the Planning and Design Code that is currently out for consultation, but I want to give some examples so that people can see why this bill is necessary.

The question that we need to start asking ourselves is: does the current version of the Planning and Design Code that is out for consultation accurately and unambiguously tell you everything you need to know about all the planning rules that apply to developments in a particular location? That is the question. The answer for now is clearly no. In fact, not all of the planning policy has been written yet. There are still gaps. There are important overlays and other key documents that are missing.

There are also clear errors in the Planning and Design Code's maps. For example, and I have raised this before, just about every national park in the state has the wrong zoning. I first discovered this in relation to the outback. When I pointed out that most of the National Parks and Wildlife Act reserves were zoned 'remote area' rather than 'conservation'— in other words, they were all zoned in exactly the same way as pastoral leases that are used for grazing sheep and cattle—then people did start to pay attention. Even the wilderness protection areas did not get conservation zone status under the Planning and Design Code.

I will say that, having raised this many months ago, I have had assurances from the department and the Planning Commission, as recently as last week, that this will be fixed, but it has not been fixed yet. Even though they assure me it will be, it has not yet happened. The problem I have is that, whilst I can accept their assurance and I can accept that it is genuine, that they are going to try to fix it, we do not know how and we do not know when. In the meantime, public consultation on that document has finished. There are no more opportunities for people to comment. Hopefully, no harm will be done by these errors in the outback iteration of the Planning and Design Code, but it is a very poor way to implement planning policy.

The problem I raised with national parks and conservation areas in the outback is exactly the same—the same error has been replicated—in phase 2 of the Planning and Design Code. When I looked at maps for Flinders Chase National Park on Kangaroo Island, for example, some were zoned for conservation and other parts were lumped in with zones that were the same as those for private farmland. The same applied for the Seal Bay Conservation Park.

Public comment on these parts of the plan closes at the end of this month, and it is 100 per cent certain that not all the errors will even be found by the time public consultation closes. For my part, when I get a spare moment I dive into the Planning and Design Code and every time I dive in I find mistakes and things that are wrong.

The metropolitan part of the plan is the same again. The eastern part of Scott Creek Conservation Park is in the Adelaide Hills Council area and is zoned conservation, but the western one-third of the park is in Onkaparinga and is zoned peri-urban. Parts of the Onkaparinga River National Park are zoned rural. It goes on and on.

But it is not just about conservation areas. If we look at established urban areas, there are also mistakes and inconsistencies. For example, I have been looking at the Planning and Design Code for parts of the Charles Sturt council area. It is an area that is former industrial land being earmarked for redevelopment.

What that investigation showed is that for the one area I was looking at, the current planning rules provide for a maximum of two storeys, but when you go to the Planning and Design Code maps you find that the maximum building height is now set at eight storeys. It is currently a two-storey zone and they have set it at eight storeys. But it gets even better than that because there is another maximum building height built in, which says the maximum building height is four metres.

It makes no sense at all. You can build eight storeys, provided you do not go higher than four metres off the ground. Even with a two-storey zoning, four metres makes no sense. You cannot actually fit a two-storey house in a four-metre height zone unless you bury most of the ground floor under the ground. When it comes to an eight-storey building that is subject to a four-metre height limit, we are talking about a hotel for guinea pigs. We are talking about eight levels in four metres—half a metre each level. Take into account the building material and guinea pigs and mice are the only inhabitants of a building constructed like that.

Let me make this clear: these are clearly mistakes. I am not suggesting for one minute that they are deliberate policy decisions that have been made. They are mistakes, but they do need to be fixed and they need to be fixed before the period for public consultation ends. That is in February next year for the metropolitan area.

In conclusion, clearly the Planning and Design Code is not ready. It needs more work and the public needs more opportunities to examine it and to challenge its provisions. My bill enables the minister to postpone the commencement date until the job is done properly. The minister might choose not to, but I want to at least make it easier for common sense to prevail. I commend the bill to the chamber.

Download a copy of the Bill here.