Call for urban infill rethink as SA planning review nears end

Submissions to a review of the state’s planning system have called for urban infill targets to be reconsidered and for greater council and individual involvement in development decisions.

Dec 22, 2022, updated Dec 22, 2022
New housing development in Mount Barker. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

New housing development in Mount Barker. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

More than 600 groups have made a submission to the expert panel’s review of South Australia’s planning system, which is examining contentious aspects of the Planning and Design Code such as urban infill, heritage, character and trees.

The panel, led by planning consultant John Stimson, concluded public consultation last week and will present the state government with a final report in the new year.

Planning Minister Nick Champion said the state government would consider the report’s recommendations and “make any legislative or regulatory changes that we deem necessary”.

“Obviously the community’s got a list of concerns which have been around for some time: heritage, trees and density typically top the list,” Champion told InDaily.

“You would expect to get a reasonable level of engagement given that we’re talking about a system which does involve the built form, so it has a sense of permanency to it that I think the public, consumer groups, councils, industry groups are always going to have a fair degree of interest in.

“We’re going to get down to the brass tacks of change, so that’s an important moment and we now have to consider what the future will be.”

John Stimson (left) and Planning Minister Nick Champion at the expert panel’s first meeting in August. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

According to the state government, the expert panel has now held 14 workshops and heard deputations from 23 community groups about the planning system.

The public consultation period ended on Friday, December 16, although councils can still provide submissions until January 30 due to last month’s local government elections.

Representatives from the local government sector have already expressed frustration about various aspects of the new planning code, which was rolled out in 2021 and consolidated all 72 council development plans into one statewide system.

The City of Norwood Payneham and St Peters has spoken out against a code provision that allows developers to construct buildings 30 per cent above maximum height limits if they include affordable housing, arguing it leads to “non-strategic and non-transparent” development.

The council also lamented a “substantial loss of local policy” under the new code and said their previous affordable housing policy – a mandated 15 per cent affordable housing for developments with more than 20 dwellings – offered greater “certainty”.

But Champion argued there was still sufficient space under the new system for councils to influence planning policy.

“I think there’s been different approaches by different councils,” he said.

“Some councils have heavily leaned into strategic planning within the code, I think the other councils have taken a more reserved position and I think that hasn’t had such a good outcome.

“There is a role for councils to play in heritage, character, trees and strategic planning, and we want councils to be involved in that – they can be under the existing code, and I as minister particularly welcome their engagement because I think they can change things and can have a big influence on things they choose to.

“But they’ve got to do that detailed strategic planning… councils have a big role to play in our planning system, and they’ve got to step up and do it.”

Opposition planning spokesperson Michelle Lensink asked the expert panel to reconsider the urban infill target in greater Adelaide.

She said a 2017 goal for 85 per cent of all new housing in greater Adelaide to be built in established urban areas by 2045 should be reviewed.

Housing in Seaford. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

“The increasing subdivisions in residential areas has resulted in the loss of established trees and gardens, increased stormwater run-off, pressure on existing council infrastructure, lack of on road carparking, and concerns in the community about the changes to the amenity and liveability of neighbourhoods,” she wrote in her submission on December 20.

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“COVID has impacted on the way and where people are choosing to live and in the development of the new regional plans for South Australia, the Commission should reconsider the 85 per cent infill threshold.”

She also highlighted criticism of a State Planning Commission determination in 2021 that found there was “adequate provision of land in Greater Adelaide to accommodate housing and employment growth over the next 15 years”.

The determination meant the boundaries of South Australia’s Environment and Food Production Areas – agricultural land protected from urban development – would remain largely unchanged, limiting land supply for new dwellings

“The data upon which the (State Planning) Commission determined there was adequate land supply for 15 years has been criticised by key stakeholders as being outdated and reliant upon pre-COVID assumptions,” Lensink wrote.

Lensink, who was Minister for Human Services in the former Marshall Government, told InDaily there was land within the food production areas that is “suitable to be built on [and] not arable”.

The LIberal Party has called for the Planning Commission to consider opening up more land for housing.

“This review really needs to provide some answers about where the new dwellings are going to exist,” she said.

“South Australia like all of Australia is suffering from a housing supply issue, and people can talk about more public housing… none of that is going to rectify the market.

“The supply issue feeds directly into the market – it’s the most critical issue in South Australia as far as housing and our housing crisis is concerned.”

Lensink’s submission’s also argued that the local government sector and community members feel “removed from the assessment process and that their input into planning policy and decisions in their local area have been eroded”.

“There remains genuine concern that in the consolidation of council development plans into a singular Code, localised planning has been eroded by policies developed in consultation with communities over many years,” Lensink wrote.

“A shift to performance-based assessment of development which can be subjective and inconsistent has also created greater uncertainty in the community about what might be approved in local neighbourhoods.

“Councils should be afforded the opportunity and supported to review and contribute more localised policy detail into the Code to better clarify and preserve the desired attributes local communities value regarding the amenity of their suburbs, the ‘look and feel’ of their neighbourhoods, so that new developments enhance, not diminish them.”

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