People power can fix planning

Ben Lawver, Felicity Newman and Sue Foster are all members of the Hilton Organising Committee which formed to encourage community participation in how the Hilton Town Centre grows and develops.

AS many of you are aware, the much-loved local IGA in Hilton was recently pushed out by a landlord/developer to be replaced by a 24-hour major supermarket chain, iquor outlet and uninspired café. 

This development was approved by what can only be considered a broken planning process. The process was riddled with errors, inconsistencies and blatant disregard for what the local community wished to see developed in our town centre. The Fremantle Council itself voted against the development, yet it was approved at state level. 

The news that the McGowan government is currently seeking community input to improve the development process is highly welcome. 

This government will find no better example for why reform is needed, than what recently occurred in Hilton.

Having experienced the incompetency of the process first-hand, we would like to offer the following suggestions:

Community consultation needs to be real and involve back-and-forth communication.

Consultation

Currently developers tick the community consultation box by posting a notice on site for two weeks. By definition, ‘consultation’ refers to an exchange of information and a back-and-forth dialogue. 

The developer/landlord of the IGA site was allowed to repeatedly ignore the local community’s requests for consultation – even after over our strong evidence.

Our initial optimism was extinguished when three of the people deciding the fate of our town centre admitted to having “profession dealings” with the developer’s hired gun (a JDAP panel member for over 11+ years) and had no real stake in our community.  

At the hearing presentations from members of the public were limited to five minutes while the developer’s hired gun and his mates were given ten minutes each to make their points. 

Regardless, we pressed on and gave evidence showing the traffic report provided by the landlord/developer was inaccurate and demonstrated exactly where the proposal failed to meet several of the criteria set forward in the state government’s Planning Policy #7. 

Our evidence was ignored by the three developer members of the panel, and the application was approved by a 3-2 vote with the local councillors opposing.

Transparency

There should be truth and transparency in applications.

An application should only be made for uses which are currently legal, and any impact from additional uses (for a set period of time) should be considered cumulatively with the original application.

The application in Hilton was approved for a change in use, to 24-hour trading. Our objections to this change were dismissed because the new tenant is currently restricted by the Retail Trading Hours Act. 

However, if in the future the Retail Trading Hours Act is amended to allow for greater opening hours, then the developer will be automatically legally allowed to trade 24-hours, and the local community will be forced to put up with it.

Members of the public need the same right to appeal decisions as developers. 

An independent review of the developer/landlord’s traffic impact assessment not only confirmed the evidence we had submitted to the JDAP panel was accurate, but also found an additional 36 items that had been ticked off which were either not provided in the assessment or had used woefully inaccurate or out-of-date information.  

The review clearly stated the development would have an “unacceptable impact on the residential Paget Street” and recommended further study on how to mitigate those impacts. 

Unfortunately our proof the approval was granted based on flawed and inaccurate data did not matter at all because the only party with a right to appeal decisions is the applicant (developer) and only when their project is rejected. 

This is grossly unfair. 

At a bare minimum third parties need the same rights to appeal a decision as developers, especially when there is evidence approval was granted based on inaccurate reports. 

It is good to see the McGowan government is willing to hear from the public to fix this broken system, and hopefully this restore some balance between development in our communities and the right of those impacted to have a say in their future. 

The time is now for local communities to have a say on this broken planning approval process. We encourage everyone to learn more and have your say by visiting http://www.dplh.wa.gov.au/planning-reform.

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