State government warned over role of local councils

STATE government has been warned that councils aren't rubber stamps after the launch this week of a "Planning Healthcheck" pilot project.

The project was announced at an Urban Development Institute of Australia function in Brisbane by Premier Campbell Newman who said it would build on the planning reform already rolled out by the government.

The Newman Government made an election commitment to give local authorities back control of planning decisions but it is becoming clear that will be within tightly defined boundaries.

"We will keep improving council planning systems this year with the roll-out of three regional plans, the introduction of a State Planning Policy and a State Assessment and Referral Agency, plus a review of the infrastructure charges framework,'' Mr Newman said.

"Now we're looking at the issue of cultural and attitudinal change so we can create Australia's most efficient and effective planning and development system."

Deputy Premier and Minister for State Development, Infrastructure and Planning Jeff Seeney said while industry had embraced the reform agenda, some local governments needed to improve their planning processes.

"The concerns raised include excessive approval timeframes, minor matters being bogged down through requiring applications, fees that bear no relation to the cost of assessment, and development standards that are 'gold plated', or excessive," Mr Seeney said.

"The pilot scheme will be used to create a simple system for a council to assess their processes against the State Government's expectations of best practice, identify areas for improvements and report against meaningful key performance indicators.''

LGAQ president Margaret de Wit however has made it clear that any robust planning health check must also measure the satisfaction levels the community has with outcomes declaring it the ultimate end user.

"While we support this pilot 'health check' we trust this is only a first step, because there needs to be a broader framework of performance monitoring," she said.

"Throwaway comments about councils' 'gold plating' - or using excessive - standards don't reflect reality, on two accounts.

"Firstly councils only recover between 60 and 70% of the true cost of providing new capital infrastructure to support housing, commercial and industrial development and are not in the business of poking themselves in the eye - it fails the logic test.

"Secondly, it's the State Government, through legislation, that sets the actual standard for water, sewerage, garbage and drainage infrastructure standards.

"If they really believe the standards are 'gold plated', it's in their power to reduce them."

LGAQ CEO Greg Hallam said planning did not occur in a vacuum.

He said the community was the ultimate purchaser and if it thought decisions were wrong or made without the appropriate opportunity for them to comment that was the issue.

"A model system is not just about churning out approvals but about good decisions made within appropriate time frames without court action,'' Mr Hallam said.

"We are not a sausage factory with a rubber stamp at the end."