Complaints about the red tape, slowness, lack of human contact and labyrinthian websites to navigate when dealing with planning at Council, seems to be driving town planners and consultants, certifiers, professional draughtsmen/surveyors, builders and local handymen and women up a tree. 

One professional chap dumped the lot back in his client’s lap with no charge, saying that a simple and straightforward job had become SO complicated with council demands in writing, endless waiting on the phone for a human or one to call back, red tape and obfuscation and obstruction, let alone the complicated and often not working council websites, plus being told he’d be lucky to get an approval in under 15 months or so, that he gave the drawings back to his client and moved to a small town, with a great council, far, far away. 

We are being swamped with ugly treeless jammed together housing estates in the MidCoast that seem to move through council with ease. While some locals are being hamstrung to wait endlessly for the approval of a small handyman type job on a driveway, a deck, a shed, or a wall or a window, then gets knocked back because it’s 10 cms too short, or long, or something really trivial that could perhaps be negotiated or solved on site by a sensible council person. 

Council has lost many experienced planners in recent times which doesn’t seem to help. Other complaints are that some planners are old fashioned and out of date with modern thinking and climate change. 

President of the Gloucester Environment Group, John Watts, offers some ideas.

“As pressure grows on many communities within the boundaries of the MidCoast Council, it is more imperative than ever that strong rules and guidelines are put in place, not just to preserve, but to improve our local environment. These rules and guidelines should not just be applied to new developments but to existing communities.

The planet faces two major and inter-related environmental challenges, being climate change and biodiversity loss. Both of these problems are being caused by human activity and the way we plan our communities has a significant effect on both.

When I use the word ‘development’ I am not just referring to major housing or commercial subdivisions but to all human activities that change the existing environment such as the construction of a building or road within a previously developed area.

When any development is to be undertaken, either privately or by government, there should be two overriding principles to be considered.

1/ In what ways will the development affect biodiversity, and

2/ In what ways will the development contribute to climate change.

So far as the biodiversity issue is concerned the objective should be to make a positive contribution to biodiversity, and if the development will do anything to damage biodiversity it should not be permitted. This is particularly so where it adversely affects any threatened animal or plant species. In this regard the use of, so called offsets, should be recognised as an ineffective way of getting around the issue of biodiversity damage caused by a development. If any particular development will lessen biodiversity then it should not be permitted at all, and the developer should in fact be provided with incentives to make sure that the development contributes in a positive way to biodiversity.

The same principles should also apply to climate change. The objective should be that the development makes a positive contribution to dealing with the issue of climate change and if it will have a negative impact then it should not be permitted.

In relation to areas that have already been developed then the Council should be taking steps to see what can be done to make a positive contribution to biodiversity and climate change. One simple step would be to undertake a wide ranging tree planting program on all public land and to apply tree preservation rules to all Council areas where it has the power to do so. In Gloucester where I live, I am not aware of any street tree planting by the Council in the last 10 years. Recently the Council reconstructed Queen Street which is one of the major entries to the town. In doing so it managed to create a large heat basin area of bitumen and concrete with no tree or shrub planting whatsoever. It is just one example of poor planning where no thought was given to its effect on biodiversity or climate change, let alone the beautification of the area. It was a real lost opportunity.

The planet faces the twin threats of climate change and biodiversity loss. It is all very well for the Council to declare a climate emergency, but making a resolution is easy. Strong, imaginative, and effective action is now required.”

Having just returned from spending time in the city of Sydney, it is heart breaking to walk in grey shrouded streets, constantly shadowed by the claustrophobic towers. 

Where are the plazas, fountains, little parks, open space that make a city a delight.  Planning is what makes a place habitable and enjoyable for the humans as well as the pockets of developers and fat corporate operators. 


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