September 18, 2018 12:10am

THE issue of council amalgamations has been a consistent talkfest in Tasmania over more years than I care to remember. Indeed it will be a political maelstrom for any government to force local government reform.

However, the time has come for action rather than words, particularly in the area of planning approvals.

The latest suggestion for voluntary amalgamations has dismally failed, so where to from here? I prefer to see a system of restructure of local government rather than all-out amalgamation, particularly on planning applications. A regional approach should be implemented immediately to deal with planning fiascos that have been occurring in local government.

There is clear evidence politics is playing a role in planning decision-making. This is not good governance. Those who are making planning decisions based on lobbyists, or indeed their own views, are not being honest with the community they say they represent.

When a qualified officer’s planning advice is overturned, most of the time it’s a short-term win. We have repeatedly witnessed these decisions are short-lived because the independent authority, the Planning Tribunal, is called on to deliberate on many decisions.

It’s clear planning must go beyond a group of elected aldermen who are simply worried about where their next vote is coming from or pleasing their own vested interests.

It’s my strong view an independent planning authority must be established following the upcoming local government elections to deal with planning clearly, with all the evidence at hand and within the law. I am not saying local government cannot administer planning. This can remain as is. However decision-making on applications must be taken away from elected representatives and given to the independent authority.

I get tired of hearing “but I am representing my community” yet the Land Use Planning and Approvals Act is clear on the direction we should be taking. We should be making decisions based on the Act.

Council planning decisions should not be based on personal or biased views. It’s extraordinary that we are provided with professional, qualified officer planning advice which includes advice from external professional bodies such as the Heritage Council as well as the council’s own Heritage Department, all recommending a project approval, yet a group of elected aldermen, with no formal qualifications in these areas, can throw out this advice in one council vote.

This decision-making is not what either side of a development application should be subjected to. The only winners are the next level of planners, and the lawyers who represent either party at a tribunal hearing.

A regional planning authority consisting of qualified professionals would consider the officer reports based on the planning scheme and make decisions according to existing planning rules with no interference from lobbyists. The process would be open and transparent and demonstrate good governance.

If we cannot have some serious action on council restructure in the short term, I urge our legislators to immediately act on the establishment of regional planning authorities so at least this area is dealt with by professionals and without vested interests.

Hopefully, we will see this restructure move to a point that would deliver other benefits to ratepayers, in rate capping, traffic solutions and the needs of all of the community.

Marti Zucco is a Hobart City Council alderman and is standing for lord mayor in the local government elections.

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