South Australia’s State Government has been pursuing the introduction of a new planning system since 2015. In the new system being proposed, there are two key elements which accompany this significant change.
Firstly, the Planning and Design Code (the Code) is the central component of the new system and will replace all local government development plans with a single ‘rule book’. Secondly, new technology will allow development applications to be processed online – this computer-based program is referred to as e-Planning.
A major change for the state
The City of Unley Development Plan
is the established, long-standing planning policy for Unley. A series of Development Plan Amendments (DPAs) have aimed to support strategic growth for development along main transport corridors and within suitable specific precincts, while also striving to preserve Unley’s unique character.
The proposed planning reforms in the Code represent major changes in how all developments are managed in our cities and neighbourhoods.
Council’s administration has worked closely with the Local Government Association (LGA) and other peer groups to develop a comprehensive understanding of the draft Code and has identified a range of issues for the City of Unley regarding the proposed changes. The size and complexity of the Code has challenged both professionals’ and the community’s understanding of the impending changes.
The City of Unley’s submission
The submission being put forward to the State Planning Commission (the Commission) is primarily a technical response to the technical conditions laid out in the Code. Council’s review of the Code identified issues with general policies and some of the detail around zoning changes.
Key points of concern outlined by the City of Unley in the submission are:
The scope and scale of the proposed reforms and Code is substantial. Fundamental changes to many established Development Plan policies have been identified through Council’s review and testing of the Code.
Unley Council is concerned about the lack of engagement on detail and has encouraged the Commission to undertake an additional proofing period to ensure that issues which have been raised can be appropriately addressed.
While a recent three-month deferment has been announced, we believe more time is required to review the revised documents - after all consultation has been taken into account - before the new planning system is introduced.
The City of Unley believes that councils should maintain a lead responsibility and strategic control over the process governing Code Amendments, and landowners should be directed to collaborate with councils to facilitate local interests as part of a broader strategic approach.
The Code has introduced an overarching spatial layer (called an overlay) which is a type of zone that recognises areas with historic buildings and character features.
While this broad recognition is positive, Council is concerned that policies on demolition and renovation will not provide appropriate protection to these historic areas, and that these elements need to be improved within the Code. In addition, the City of Unley considers that councils should have the discretion to apply to the Minister for approval of local heritage zones, and the ability to make decisions about development applications in those zones.
High Density Interface
While some councils have not raised concerns with the height of buildings on boundaries and interfaces between properties, Council believes that, in its neighbourhoods, the angle at these interfaces should be limited to the current 30 degrees, not increased to 45 degrees as proposed in the Code. The smaller angle means that taller multistorey developments have to be set back further from property boundaries, so their scale and overshadowing of neighbours is limited.
Trees and Green Canopy
Experts continue to warn about urban ‘heat island’ effects with the loss of trees.
In the Code, a requirement for 15-25% of ‘soft landscaping’ and 1 tree per dwelling is positive, but Council feels this should be applied more broadly to all forms of development, and a stipulation for ‘deep soil’ areas, which allow for planting of large trees, should be increased from 7% to 15% in medium to high-rise developments.
The Code currently provides for neighbourhood areas to be reclassified for different types of development, and Council is very concerned that this could potentially allow multistorey buildings and businesses into residential areas. Council thinks this mix of development types in areas that are residential is inappropriate and wants the Commission to re-examine the classification of a number of zones.
These five themes are not the only issues Council has highlighted. There are other points of contention with the Code outlined in the full submission. Broadly speaking, Council would like the nature of the zones in its current Development Plan to be maintained and wants the Commission to revisit its zone classifications.
As one example, Council sees Adelaide Showgrounds at Wayville as an iconic location with unique business activity over a large site, and believes it needs its own specific zone.
Other issues include building design elements, such as heights for privacy measures and the recommended width of garages and carports. There is also the issue of how much public notice neighbours are given about new developments, especially those which have the potential to impact nearby residents.
Council has expressed the view that the role of the State Commission Assessment Panel (SCAP) should be limited, and Council Assessment Panels (CAP) should be involved more in development assessment to take into account local context and local considerations that apply specifically to Unley.
Consultation and Communication about planning changes
In considering the State Government’s aim to establish a one-size-fits-all planning ‘rule book’, Council is concerned that local circumstances, contextual sensitivity and the refined policy thinking that has been evolved over generations by local councils will be largely lost. This is not seen as a positive for our communities.
The content, accuracy, level of community awareness and unrealistic timeframe for the introduction of the new Code, with its significant implications, fall far short.
In Council’s view, the public consultation process has been inadequate, and is not likely to have met the intended principles and goals of the Commission’s Community Engagement Charter.
While the release of the Code has been delayed by three months, there has been no extension of the time for consultation, which would have allowed the public more opportunity to be informed about proposed changes and to provide vital feedback.
Council believes that understanding and respecting community aspirations is a key foundation for successful transition to a new system, and that the process is being rushed through with insufficient communication, information, preparation, testing or genuine engagement with local government or the South Australian public.