On Wednesday 27 November 2019 the Upper House passed the Planning, Development and Infrastructure (Transparency) Amendment Bill. The Bill seeks to provide greater transparency to the decision making process of the State Commission Assessment Panel (SCAP), the delegated planning authority responsible for assessing some of the most significant development applications in the State.
The Bill was introduced by the Labor opposition and supported by the Greens and SA-Best. Whether it passes the Government controlled Lower House remains to be seen.
The Bill follows reforms announced by the State Government last year following a review of SCAP by the State Planning Commission. That review by the Commission did not involve widespread consultation. The previous changes included the grant of limited public access to parts of some SCAP meetings so that developer presentations and public representations are open to the media and public, and the maintenance of a publically accessible register containing development applications and associated documents.
The Bill proposes public access to all SCAP meetings, including those where deliberation and decision-making take place (other than those where commercial confidence, security or legal proceedings are in issue). The Bill would also require SCAP to publish copies of all development applications and any related materials, such as expert reports, on the SA Planning Portal within 2 days of receipt. Those pushing the Bill hope this requirement will address SCAP’s current practice of requiring all document requests made after consultation periods go through freedom of information requests.
Although this is a Labor opposition Bill and supported by the Greens and SA Best, many in the development industry (including developers) have been frustrated at the SCAP practice of hearing submissions but then excluding all but Department and Agency staff from their deliberations. Developers are denied the opportunity to correct or supplement any statements or assertions made behind closed doors by staff of the Department or any referral agency (such as the EPA, Government Architect, Coast Protection Board etc). Likewise, the discussion or debate about the merits of a proposal is kept secret. Where proposals are refused, this secrecy makes it very difficult for a developer to understand exactly why or what could be done to improve the project.
Putting the politics to one side, open access to the decision process by developers (and the public and media at large) can only be a good thing. Whether by this Bill or simply by the Commission amending its procedures, it is high time that the entirety of SCAP deliberations occurred in public view. Transparency will show how the SCAP genuinely and carefully assesses projects and avoid the conspiracy stories of the anti development brigade. It might even reduce ill informed criticisms from every home grown armchair architectural expert with access to the pages of the newspaper or Facebook. It is also a very good thing for those professionals who regularly appear before SCAP and for the development industry to know and understand how and why the decisions are made.