Today Mark moved a motion on behalf of the Greens in support of a petition signed by 13, 928 residents of South Australia concerning the impact of planning laws on the environment, heritage and community rights.
1. That the petition signed by 13,928 residents of South Australia concerning the impact of planning laws on environment, heritage and community rights tabled in the Legislative Council on 30 April 2020 be noted.
2. That this council agrees with the petitioners and commits to:
(a) advocate for an independent review of the operation of the Planning, Development and Infrastructure Act to determine its impact on community rights, sustainability, heritage and environmental protection;
(b) advocate for an independent review of the governance and operation of the State Planning Commission and the State Commission Assessment Panel;
(c) urge the government to defer the further implementation of the Planning and Design Code until:
i. a genuine process of public participation has been undertaken; and
ii. a thorough and independent modelling and risk assessment process is undertaken.
(d) legislate to ban donations to political parties from developers similar to laws in Queensland and New South Wales.
Just by way of explanation, it was brought to my attention that, whilst I had faithfully reproduced the words from the petition into the motion, it would be better to modify the words slightly to better reflect the functions and powers of this chamber, so the amendment simply replaces the word 'undertake' with the words 'advocate for'; otherwise the motion is the same.
It was my pleasure in the last sitting week to table a petition signed by 13,928 South Australians calling for real and meaningful planning reform. This petition is one of the largest ever in South Australia. Thanks to the heroic efforts of hundreds of volunteers, the petition has reached the 10,000 signature threshold required to ensure that it will be investigated by the parliamentary Legislative Review Committee. That is a great result and I extend my congratulations to Professor Warren Jones and members of the Protect Our Heritage Alliance, also the National Trust of South Australia, the Community Alliance and all the other groups and individuals who made this petition such a success.
Of course, it is one thing to table a petition but another thing altogether for members of parliament to take it seriously. That is why I have introduced this motion. In short, the motion says to the petitioners and to other South Australians, 'We hear you and we agree with you. The planning system is flawed and it needs to be fixed.' That is what this motion is about.
There is nothing like being stuck at home during a pandemic to focus the mind on the importance of good planning. As we self-isolate, work from home or teach our kids from the kitchen table, we are more conscious than ever about our domestic surroundings. Can you see greenery out your window? Do you have enough space? Is there somewhere for the kids to run or kick a ball? Are the services that you need nearby or accessible? These things are now more important than ever before.
What people are starting to realise is that the suitability of our housing, the quality of our natural environment, the accessibility of our neighbourhoods and our general quality of life are largely determined by planning. For many of us, it was planning decisions that were made decades ago but for others it is planning decisions that were made yesterday or that will be made tomorrow. If we get planning wrong the consequences can last a lifetime; if we get it right it benefits us all.
This petition has three main elements. Firstly, it calls for a review of planning legislation, planning policy and planning authorities. Secondly, it calls for a deferral of the next stage of the Planning and Design Code. This is the stage that covers country South Australia and metropolitan Adelaide, and it covers the area where 99 per cent of us live. Thirdly, the petition calls for a ban on political donations from property developers similar to laws in New South Wales and Queensland.
These are topics that all very close to my heart. I have spoken about them many times in the past, both in my 14 years in parliament but also my previous 16 years as a conservation campaigner and environmental lawyer. I have introduced many bills, amendments and motions on this subject of planning, yet many of the problems identified when I started this journey 30 years ago still remain today, so rather than just hearing from me today, I thought it was important for the parliament to hear from those who signed the petition.
You might ask: how do I know what they think? The answer is that I asked them. What I received was a flood of correspondence from dozens and dozens of South Australians, most of whom I do not know and had not corresponded with before. Some were very surprised to hear from a member of parliament. For example:
Thank you for your email. It is unexpected to receive a progress report. This is both unusual and most welcome. Thank you for taking the trouble to update me.
I will say at this stage that in the interests of the confidentiality of constituents I will just be using first names. I did not get a chance to ask everyone who wrote to me whether they were happy for their full identities to be disclosed in parliament, so it is first names. Here is another comment from Barrie:
Too often I only hear from a member of parliament when they come around begging for my vote. Again, thank you for bothering to keep me informed on this topic.
What was also apparent was that for many of the people who signed this petition it was a topic that was very close to their hearts. Another stated:
Keep up the good work. I sign few petitions, but this one is particularly important to me.
That is from John. Similarly:
I must say it is a surprise to hear from you. I am too used to the concerns of constituents succumbing to the political wasteland of greed and corruption, which I expected would become the fate of the petition I signed for the lady in Hahndorf a while ago.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for not being one of the majority and actually doing what would appear to be something positive in regard to this fiasco. I hope that you have the resolve to keep up this fight, and actually cause a rethink within the rabble who wish to push through with the changes, no doubt for their own monetary gain at the expense of decency.
So, passions are running high in this topic. Whilst the scope of the petition is broad, one of the most common issues raised by petitioners was a concern for the fate of our built and natural heritage. It was also a common thread that people thought that the institutions they relied on to protect our heritage were not up to scratch and that they needed to be reviewed and reformed. For example, Jayne wrote:
Dear Mr Parnell,
Thank you for letting the petitioners know the current state of play. I have fought for heritage issues most of my life and it is heartening to know that it has not perhaps fallen on deaf ears this time. I have spoken at a so-called community forum on public input to heritage issues a few years ago in the city, only to have one of the government employed panel roll their eyes at my plea in a most unprofessional manner. The whole event was a fait accompli and designed to appear as if true democracy was in progress.
This is very disheartening behaviour to those who attempt to put their case for careful consideration of that which so many South Australians value. If ever there was a time we need to value our fast-disappearing built heritage, our environment and our enviable lifestyle of parks, gardens, space, our wildlife and natural world, it is now during the crisis that has clearly shown that unbridled growth at any cost, crowded living and an emphasis on the economy, over and above human life in much of the world, has resulted in an unprecedented disaster that we have yet to see the end of at this point in time.
Another person wrote:
Thank you for your email in reply to my signing the petition! I am very distressed when I see so many beautiful homes and buildings in the city and all across the state being destroyed, complete gardens as well, to build the truly ugly new types of homes! They are being built with very poor materials and not designs that suit our hot summers! They are all squashed together, with no gardens!
I cannot believe the total disregard for trees! especially old established trees that were here long before we were! People are so greedy for money there doesn't seem to be any thought for anything else! Adelaide was always known for its beautiful homes and gardens, but they are fast disappearing!!
A common theme in many of the emails I received from petitioners was that they welcomed new development, but they wanted it to be good development. For example, this one from Nicholas:
Thank you for your email. I am lucky to be living in a beautiful suburb with lots of gardens and trees, and in almost every street we see sad changes. There are beautiful homes being removed, with the gardens all flattened, including established trees, and new single or multiple residences being built, taking up most of the land, minimal gardens and hardly any trees are also the result.
As a designer I do love the look of modern houses. We have recently had a new home built on one side of our residence, and it is well placed on the block of land, trees have been planted and there are reasonable eaves and we believe a concept used for the doors and windows to assist with natural ventilation in the summer.
On the other side is a two-story white monolith that is being built to our boundary. The footprint is huge, with a narrow strip of open space front and back, no eaves and, sadly, the owner has removed a beautiful native garden which was easy care and attracted wonderful bird life and was beautifully cool in summer and sheltered in the winter. The major elements of the garden could have been kept and would have actually enhanced the home because in my opinion it needs it. The owners do not intend to plant trees because in their opinion 'trees are trouble'. Very short sighted.
I know that it is common to put people into one particular box or other when it comes to planning. A former planning minister was quite notorious for putting people into simplistic pro or anti-development camps, but that is unhelpful as most of us have very mixed views on how we can protect the good things of the past whilst planning for a better future. One local councillor from the southern suburbs wrote to me, and he said:
Thanks Mark for the Reply and your support for the community who are very nervous about the scale of the Planning and Design Code changes.
Our Council have responded by suggesting areas where smaller block sizes would be Ok. Those areas are in the proximity of shopping centres and public Transport hubs.
However block reductions below the current 450m2 for semi detached and 500m2 for detached dwellings invite demolition of suburban liveability. As the councillor for a Ward which covers some of the loveliest areas of older established suburbs with tree lined streets and a corridor of magnificent…red Gums, my community is generally opposed to this densification.
All these liveability features are under threat by un fettered development.
However our Council does lack affordable housing options for lower income groups.
Hopefully by identifying areas around the Train Station, bus routes and Shopping Centres for densification this appetite can be satisfied.
So, it is a complex issue, and most people are not simply in a pro- or an anti-development camp. It was interesting to hear—this councillor did not use the words 'transit-oriented development', as that phrase went out of fashion, but it was a concept that had a lot of merit, although it is not much talked about now. Whilst the majority of the people who signed the petition have strong feelings about what they like and do not like, some of the people who wrote to me were clearly far more knowledgeable about the institutions and the processes of planning, and the planning review in particular. For example, Elizabeth wrote to me:
Thanks for this and I will watch Parliamentary debate on Wednesday with interest. It's great you are communicating in this way to those of us who are concerned and have signed the petition.
The key issues are
1–ensuring community can comment on and provide input on the revised code BEFORE it is turned on. Councils have NO IDEA if their submissions are going to be reflected in the corrected/improved code—there has been no feedback given to them despite their huge efforts with the submissions sent in Feb 28th.
The 'What We Have Heard' report is still not issued summarising submission content (promised for May—no date given). There were apparently 1720 submissions!
2–delaying the implementation of the Code—beyond July 1st for Phase 2 and end September for Phase 3. How can Phase 2 be turned on when umbrella policies which also apply to Phase 3 are not yet resolved (eg heritage provisions and many other policy issues).
Another reaction from someone who has unsuccessfully tried to engage in the process was this response from Philippe:
In mid-February, we submitted for consideration our comments with regards to the proposed Planning and Design Code. In particular, we highlighted many of the detrimental impacts of the change on zoning on the beautiful and peaceful suburb we live in, namely Black Forest.
Black Forest, 5035, has been earmarked for transitioning into the General Neighbourhood Zone. The allowance for infill on small block sizes will severely impact our suburb and contradicts the assurances of the Hon Stephan Knoll, Minister for Planning, Transport and Infrastructure, in which the transition to the new zoning will occur with little or no change to the existing zoning.
That is the so-called like-for-like approach that the government promised but which has clearly not been delivered. The process was sold to us as one of procedural change when, clearly, some of the most important features of planning, such as zoning, block sizes, set-backs, building heights and open space, have been fundamentally changed. This is not like-for-like. Philippe, as others did, also reflects that the current COVID-19 pandemic should give the government cause to reflect. He says:
The Planning and Design Code was based on premises that existed before COVID-19; it needs to evolve and fit the new world we are heading to and not impose inadequate planning and design rules which are not conducive to good physical and mental health of individuals and families.
I have another one from George, who I have not met but I recognised his name and I know that he is a very senior figure in South Australia's tourism industry. George writes:
Dear Mr Parnell,
I am very concerned that the Code if implemented in its present form will seriously compromise the very values that South Australia stands for. Particularly in relation to our built heritage, which is so valuable to our tourism industry. We cannot afford to compromise any of that.
Rushing this imperfect code through Parliament at this time does not represent a responsible government. We look to our parliament to implement sound principles of dealing with community issues, not the imperfect code that is being proposed. I'm aware that the code is still being developed, and for this reason urge you to convince other parliamentarians to defer the implementation of the code, particularly at this time of crisis, in its present form, until it has been further reviewed and restructured. In its current form, the Code will disenfranchise Councils, Communities and individuals and erode the protections that have been fought for decades to achieve where we are so fortunate to be at the present time.
There are some petitioners who sheet home responsibility for planning problems to local councils, but most appreciate that the state government holds the whip hand. Overwhelmingly, the petitioners wanted local people to have a say in the future of their neighbourhoods. For example:
Thanks for your email. I live at Robe and I see our heritage buildings under threat here and everywhere in SA. It makes sense that locals should have the largest say in development as they are the people who are affected most. And let's keep vested interests out of the argument such as developers. Let's keep our history and be excited about our new developments.
In some areas, residents are starting to band together, specifically around responding to the new Planning and Design Code. For example:
Dear Mr Parnell,
I live in Mile End and the houses on the northern side of my street ended up in the 'Urban Corridor' zone back in 2015—which really means just about anything goes from a 'development' point of view. A four storey apartment building is proposed to be built diagonally opposite my house. I don't mind some infill,—but this building is too bulky and there is no meaningful provision for any type of greenery.
There is a group of residents who hope to have this section of our Street changed back to character policy area—or in the new zoning, a suburban neighbourhood.
Our area has become so much greener over the last 36 years we have lived here—it would be awful to see it go backwards.
The need for the new planning system to do much better in relation to water management was another common theme of submissions. Stephanie wrote:
For years it has concerned me that we just open up land willy nilly for development of predictable housing, without thought to water retention, swale guttering, rainwater tanks and grey water recycling, let alone all the other prerequisites of a thoughtfully constructed dwelling that serves people, community and planet.
The final part of the petition related to political donations and this, as all members would know, is an issue that has done more than any other to discredit the planning system, especially in other states. Planning officials and ministers have ended up in gaol, and the ICAC in various states has had many open corruption files for many years. Corruption, politics and planning have always appeared to be natural bedfellows.
So it is now time, in my view and in the view of the petitioners, to nip this in the bud, and one way to do that is to ban political donations from property developers. If we look at how much influence developers have, another resident of Black Forest, Steve, wrote saying:
Thanks, Mark, I never sign petitions unless it's something I genuinely feel about.
I am very distressed about the pandering to greedy developers, they only think of one thing, profit, and leave de-greened suburbs whilst taking that profit. Their behaviour is a disgrace. They manipulate planning codes wherever they can. There are bad stories about developers almost daily in the press.
My suburb of Black Forest is a wonderful community of nature loving and environmentally aware people who believe in sustainability. We have dozens and dozens of magnificent shady trees in backyards and lots of wildlife. Black Forest in the new code is being rezoned to allow denser infill development, which will lead to wholesale destruction of this beautiful suburb.
The premier in his '2020 Vision' speech in January talked about planting more trees in Adelaide to moderate the heat of summer. Talk is cheap when his government is sacrificing Black Forest to greedy developers.
Thank you, Steve.
For some people, this issue of planning and the accountability of the government to the people is a vote changer. Another person—and I have not met this man—who is 71 years old, by the name of Bob, said:
From my perspective, if the government does not move considerably away from its current direction, for the first time in my life I will not vote for the liberal party.
Best regards, Bob.
In conclusion, I would like to thank again all those who have signed this petition and all those who took the trouble to collect those signatures. I will again the make the point that, despite the distractions of the COVID-19 pandemic, the community and citizens are still paying close attention to this planning reform process. I very much look forward to the Legislative Review Committee considering this petition. I look forward to the Environment, Resources and Development Committee considering the Planning and Design Code, when it eventually reaches that committee. I also look forward to further debate on this motion when it resumes next month.