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Minister accuses SA councils of ‘falling behind’ on planning

Planning Minister Nick Champion says several South Australian council areas are at risk of “failing to meet their potential for well-planned communities” and has released a list of councils he believes need to plan better for future growth. See the list

Mar 22, 2023, updated Mar 22, 2023
Planning Minister Nick Champion has "strongly encouraged" councils to do more planning for future growth.

Planning Minister Nick Champion has "strongly encouraged" councils to do more planning for future growth.

Champion sent letters to the state’s 68 councils on Friday urging them to “proactively advocate” for land rezonings in their area, conduct more investigations into local heritage and better manage local car parking issues.

The intention of the message, Champion said, was to “make clear the responsibilities [councils] have in strategic planning for the future growth, development and management of their local communities”.

The letters also told councils that planning for future growth is part of their “core business”.

“Councils have an important role to play in understanding the scope for future growth and change and proactively planning for where and when that growth and change should occur,” the letter states.

“Councils have historically fulfilled these functions, and this has not changed with the implementation of the new planning system.”

The letter comes amid frustration from the local government sector about their role in the new planning code, which rolled out in 2021 and consolidated 72 council development plans into one state-wide code.

Some councils have complained the new system limits their influence, with the City of Norwood Payneham and St Peters saying it has caused a “substantial loss of local policy” and created incentives for developments that “[exceed] Code parameters in a non-strategic and non-transparent way”.

In a statement to InDaily, Champion rejected that the role of councils was limited by the new code.

“The Planning and Design Code did not alter the role of metro or regional councils in the exercise of these powers and functions, rather it empowered councils to lead local development through proposed zoning changes to ensure growth reflects community expectations,” he said.

“That work should be actively progressing, and I commend councils who are already engaging with residents and investing in the resources required to carry out their long-term strategic planning.

“However, there are councils who are falling behind – and as a result risk failing to meet their potential for well-planned communities with a considered approach to future generations and the challenges associated with their growth and density.

“I urge these councils to re-assess their development plans, infill targets and strategic plans in conjunction with their communities.”

Champion distributed two sets of correspondence to the state’s 68 councils on Friday, either commending them for their strategic planning or telling them they have more work to do.

Twenty-three councils received commendation letters while 45 received “more to do” letters.

A list of councils and what letter they received is available below:

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Asked to comment on the Minister’s correspondence, the Local Government Association of South Australia (LGA) said councils had been “stripped” of their powers under the new planning code.

It also said key community concerns around infill development and heritage came back to “poor state-based decisions”.

“Councils know their patch better than anyone, but for years have been stripped of many decision-making powers on matters of planning since the introduction of the new Planning and Design Code and legislation,” an LGA spokesperson said.

“It’s essential State Government works with Local Government as a partner in preparing for the next iteration of regional roles and engages councils to help address some of the key concerns which have arisen from poor past state-based decisions relating to infill development and heritage.

“We welcome the resourcing already committed by the State Government to consult with SA councils on the ongoing review of the state’s eight strategic regional plans, including the 30-Year Plan for Greater Adelaide.”

It comes at an inflection point for the state’s planning system, which is currently subject to an expert panel review that will provide recommendations for reform on issues such as urban infill, heritage, character and trees.

It also comes as the State Planning Commission prepares the next iteration of the 30-Year Plan for Greater Adelaide, which will map out a planning vision for Adelaide’s urban form until 2053.

Champion has previously hinted at his frustration with council planning.

In an interview with InDaily last month, he said community angst about increased suburban housing density can be partly attributed to a lack of strategic planning by some metropolitan councils.

“I think one of the issues around general infill is that there are some councils which are doing the strategic planning to accommodate for that and to talk to the community,” Champion said on February 14.

“Mitcham Council have just recently gone through this and set out where they want growth and density and where they don’t.

“Now some councils have not done that, and they need to do it.”

Champion said at the time he wouldn’t name the councils but “anybody who’s driving around the city can probably tell”.

Those comments also prompted a rebuke from the LGA, which argued the new planning system has put greater resourcing demands on local government and “significantly reduced the amount of say councils have in developing nuanced planning policies”.

“For the past three years, councils have invested significant time and resources implementing the state’s new planning system and meeting the reduced development assessment timeframes that it has imposed,” LGA president Dean Johnson said on February 20

“This may have resulted in greater efficiencies, but not necessarily the quality outcomes we would expect from our planning system.

“Shortages in planning staff and limited local tertiary education pathways in the built environment professions has exacerbated this and Minister Champion has recognised that these issues need addressing.”

The findings of the expert panel review are expected to be handed to the planning minister before Easter.

The head of the review, planning consultant John Stimson, has already flagged there will be “dozens” of recommendations for reform.

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