JDAPS were a game changer. While they seemed to be planning instruments for planning decisions they were in fact ‘political’ bodies to make political decisions under the direct control of the WA planning minister, removing decisions for developments over a certain value from local governments.
Like cluster bombs on a battlefield, they gave one side an overwhelming advantage.
Dominated by planning bureaucrats and industry ‘experts’ – that is, pro-industry insiders such as town planners or architects – their minority town councillors were ordered not to represent their own council or their residents. How democratic is that?
The big problem with this structure was that the panels worked out of the office of the minister, who also authorised all their sitting fees; that makes it political. This has changed a little with moves to make the panels part of the WA Planning Commission, but they’ll remain dominated by hand-picked appointments by the government.
In one fell swoop, then-premier Barnett turned the open, democratic, council-moderated planning process – which was subject to appeal to the State Administrative Tribunal – into largely WA government political decisions. There’s no surprise that by all news accounts it’s largely favoured powerful developers.
The ensuing land skirmishes that have consumed councils and residents especially in Perth’s richest western and southern suburbs are testimony to the land wars that are about to escalate.
Up-coming council elections in October may well see a resurgence of local political acivity as residents and land owners discriminated against in the three-tier planning system rise up to redress the balance.
Then again, new premier Roger Cook, who days ago withdrew the controversial Aboriginal Heritage Act that has almost certainly finished off the upcoming First Nations Voice Referendum in West Australia at least, may just be moved to sit down with new planning minister and former Vincent mayor John Carey to have a quiet chat over how to avoid the coming suburban land wars.
With the popularity of the Cook government still very fluid we feel it better for the current government to restore a democratic planning process than be reflecting on the reasons for their return to the Opposition benches sooner than they would like.
by ANDREW SMITH