Written by Ron Norris, Mayor, Town of Mosman Park
My topic tonight is the Development Assessment Panels, commonly known as DAPs. More particularly I wish to discuss the reason why I believe the government introduced DAPs and their impact on councils and communities.
However, firstly I would like to commend the WSA for taking the public stance that it has and for convening this forum. Confronting this government over its current behaviour could not have been initiated from any other part of the metropolitan area. If a group had been formed in, say, the outer suburbs, it would be dismissed as simply a labor party stunt.
I have no doubt that the WSA membership includes what could be called “rusted-on” liberals. WSA is not an anti-liberal action group. It is a group of people who are offended by the manner in which our communities, indeed all communities, are being treated by this government. The high handed disregard to local democracy and the erosion of the right of local communities to determine their own character cannot be ignored.
It is likely that the only knowledge of DAPs most of you have has been derived from our local media. There may be little or no understanding of how they work and the impact they have on our communities. The purpose of this brief paper is to share some experiences and to comment on their impact.
So why did the government foist daps on us? I would like to think it was to achieve better planning outcomes. Unfortunately, that was not the government’s motive at all.
In my view daps are simply the tangible result of this government’s commitment to developers. I have heard of that commitment from 3 different ministers. It has flowed from examples like Cottesloe and Cambridge Councils attempting to achieve planning outcomes which they believed reflected the best interests of their communities.
DAPs have nothing to do with achieving better or quicker planning decisions. In fact, all of the evidence which has been gained since they were introduced points to the reverse. The transparency, cost and time required to process planning applications are all worse now than before the introduction of DAPs.
For evidence I refer to a paper prepared by Ian MacRae, president of the Local Government Planners Association dated 16 August of this year. The paper is titled “DAPs – one year on, the local government perpsective”. Mr MacRae enquired with those local government planners who have had direct experience in the DAPs process. The questions of whether DAPs have delivered increased transparency, consistency and reliability in planning decisions are all answered resoundingly in the negative.
Similarly, looking at the quality of the decisions which have been made Mr MacRae asked, “did the DAP process add value to the decision?” and “would the decision have been any different?” an astounding 85% of the answers were in the negative.
Most significantly, Mr MacRae has finished his paper with the question, “how [could] such a wasteful initiative, so counter to the interests of good planning, with an outcome so predictable, be allowed to happen?”
The answer is, in its blind belief that local government was responsible for delaying development applications the government has given us DAPs.
This is despite the NSW experience where the incoming Liberal government removed the existing daps because they didn’t work. Now we have the empirical evidence provided by mr macrae which demonstrates that daps are a disaster.
Turning now to the question of the impact of DAPs on councils, the next speaker will illustrate the division and uncertainty they have created. Councillors who offered themselves to serve on the DAPs have found themselves caught in a twilight zone. Denied the opportunity to represent their communities and report to their councils and bound by the majority decision of the DAP.
In that regard it is no accident that there are 5 members in a DAPs panel. Typically there are 2 representatives drawn from the local authority where the planning application is being considered. The other 3 are appointed externally. This structure gives the “appearance” of democracy but ensures that the council’s, and through them, the community’s, opinion will not prevail.
Even though the planning application may have a direct and immediate adverse effect on its community, all the council can do is make a submission on a planning application the same as any other interested party.
The council may be legally responsible for how it’s community functions in regard to issues such as traffic, noise and increased residential density but it has no greater influence on a daps’ decision than any other individual. So much for local democracy.
Turning now to the impact of DAPs on our communities, it is a fact that it is left to the community, through their council, to find solutions to whatever problems the approved application may have caused. The new development may significantly alter the character of an area. The developer has made his profit and departed. The council must deal with an unhappy community and, using its own funds, find solutions.
I hope these brief comments have given you an understanding of the impact of daps. As Mr MacRae has demonstrated they have materially worsened what existed before while delivering no additional value and, at the same time, leaving the community with the problems.
The government is to be condemned for creating such a situation and, worse, showing no sign of admitting it was wrong and rectifying it.