Poor city planning

Article written for the POST Newspaper by Linley Lutton

Taking on the establishment in parochial Perth is never easy, however our city is deteriorating rapidly and something must be done.

High divorce rates; chronic drug and alcohol abuse; increasing levels of depression, anxiety and aggressive behaviour; and, little permanent cultural expression, are just some of the social indicators pointing to a city on the edge of serious failure.

The future looks bleak as many young people abandon Perth for cities like Melbourne.

Market forces and planning policies are cited as the primary drivers behind city development and after many decades of poor planning policy and opportunistic market manipulation Perth has become the most unsustainable capital in Australia.

Governments endlessly build roads and developers subdivide land for low-density housing while avoiding the harder task of making our city workable and liveable.

The city has become one 80km long unbroken low-density suburb, sprawling far more extensively than any other Australian capital.

There is room between the ocean and the Darling Scarp to develop a normal concentric city however bigger profits can be made developing coastal land.

Traffic congestion, increased commuting time, lack of dwelling diversity, massive houses (the largest average size in the world), extraordinarily high land prices and water shortage are some of the physical problems we now confront.

Now is a critical time for the community and government to work together and plan our city’s future however Premier Barnett has introduced draconian legislation to disempower the community.

Urban environments constantly change and Premier Barnett fails to understand the vital role the community plays in sustaining change.

How different to the 1955 Stephenson-Hepburn metropolitan planning report which urged the need for co-operation and understanding between Government, Local Government Authorities and the community.

A Premier determined to leave his mark on the city and sycophantic public servants provide the perfect opportunity for his government to seize planning control.

The Premier likes to portray himself as a decisive leader making hard decisions, irrespective of public concerns.

This could sometime be a good trait however the Premier consistently makes poor planning decisions then refuses to modify his position even when informed of the problems he is creating.

Simultaneously undertaking three massive CBD redevelopment projects; Elizabeth Quay; the Stirling Highway Activity Corridor; and, Marine Parade building heights are some examples of Premier Barnett’s poor planning decisions.

After warnings not to undertake the scale of redevelopment currently occurring in the CBD the Premier simply responded ‘just watch me’ with the result that this city’s centralisation problem is exacerbated causing even further transportation problems.

Elizabeth Quay has become an icon of insanity and despite every known poll showing the community well-divided on this development the Premier pushes on claiming falsely that 80% want it.

While the Minister for Transport announces short-term road works solutions for long-term planning problems the Premier compounds things by diverting Riverside Drive, regardless of independent warnings.

Last year the Cottesloe mayor and I met the Premier to explain why five storey developments on Marine Parade’s small lots were not possible and why eight storeys on the El Lido site is such poor planning yet the facts completely unmoved him.

The Stirling Highway Activity Corridor is another example of appallingly destructive and ideological planning supported by the Premier.

Development Assessment Panels and the Metropolitan Redevelopment Act are two major pieces of draconian legislation introduced by the Barnett Government aimed specifically at grasping control over the city.

These legislations plus the absence of any legal mechanism to appeal planning decisions is all about community disempowerment.

Development Assessment Panels are completely irrelevant and should be ceased.

The State already has the power to deal with Local Governments struggling with planning matters and there are existing mechanisms ensuring they comply with State metropolitan planning policies.

Most Local Governments engage highly-credentialed Design Advisory Committees and specialists comprising architects, urban planners, landscape architects, heritage architects, and engineers to advise on planning matters.

They also employ an experienced Director of Planning and/or a Director of Strategic Planning plus senior planners.

There are six metropolitan DAPs and in every case the presiding member is a planner and all but one deputy presiding members are planners.

These panels offer no skills or experience already available to most Local Governments.

The Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority (MRA), which is empowered by the MRA ACT, is an arrogant and under-skilled organisation not required to consult with the community on any redevelopment matter.

Its charter needs to be rewritten to limit its unbridled powers and make it accountable to the community.

Premier Barnett treats the MRA as his personal implementation team invoking its name every time he announces a redevelopment project.

The Cottesloe and Scarborough foreshores were his recent targets.

The various redevelopment agencies forming the MRA have a mixed track record of moderate successes and notable failures such as the stalled Midland Railway Yards redevelopment.

Its experience mainly involves converting redundant crown land into development parcels.

The MRA has neither the resources nor the skills to take on every complex redevelopment project conceived by the Premier.

If returned, Premier Barnett will claim a mandate for his poor planning decisions and our dysfunctional planning and redevelopment agencies will be even further empowered.

There must be regime change and a refreshment of our planning agencies if Perth is to improve.

Regime change will send a possible incoming government a strong message not to disempower the community in planning matters.

We live in a democracy and the ability to participate meaningfully and fully in the planning of our city and neighbourhoods is our fundamental right and we must fight to protect it.

This is not a matter of allegiance to any particular political party; it is about long-term survival and maintaining democracy.

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