HG Alert: Planning and Development in Queensland: The rise of a two-speed system - 26 May 2010

The Queensland Government has released the first part of its response to the Growth Management Summit, ahead of its official response, which is due out soon. The Premier issued three press releases today announcing the following:

  • The establishment of an Office of Growth Management, charged with delivering a “focussed and coordinated approach to growth management in Queensland”. The Office of Growth Management also has responsibility for “expanding green space, open space and affordable housing”. Additionally, the Office of Growth Management is required to create timetables for delivery of land supply and accelerate the development of in-fill sites and the delivery of priority transit-oriented development precincts.
  • A new Queensland Infrastructure Plan, which is to integrate the existing Roads Implementation Program and the South-East Queensland Infrastructure Plan and Program, “as well as other State infrastructure planning documents”. The intention is to plan for and deliver infrastructure where it is needed to support growth “within the existing urban footprint”. The press release states that the Government forecasts investment in infrastructure of $18.2 billion in 2009-2010.
  • Vesting of responsibility for three major greenfield development parcels at Ripley Valley, Greater Flagstone, and Yarrabilba in the Urban Land Development Authority, with the intention of “driving population growth west” so as to “take the pressure off precious environmental areas and our sensitive coastal areas”. These three areas will be declared Urban Development Areas under the Urban Land Development Authority Act 2007, and the Urban Land Development Authority will have 12 months to deliver master plans for these areas.

This is the first part of the Government’s response to the Growth Management Summit, which was held to address concerns from various sectors about growth pressures in South-East Queensland (SEQ) and the difficulty of delivering residential land supply in response to demand because of systemic failures in the development assessment system. The issue is politically charged and has its roots in a conundrum: is community dissatisfaction caused by lack of infrastructure, or is the community opposed to population growth in SEQ per se? If it is the latter, should the planning and development system be used to regulate growth by directing it to particular areas in SEQ, or away from SEQ on the basis of arguments that there is simply no more room for growth within the designated urban areas? Is the basic premise correct and, even if it is, should the development regulatory system by used in this way, which potentially involves shifting the goal posts in respect of some parts of the urban footprint?

There was a time when the planning and development system in Queensland was able to deliver land for housing, industry, commerce and other urban purposes, accompanied by the necessary social infrastructure such as schools and hospitals. The statutory development system, within which private land owners operated, did this satisfactorily for several decades. Almost everything we see around us today has been produced through that system. Then it failed. The failure appeared to begin not long after the Integrated Planning Act 1997 was enacted. It is unclear whether it was the Integrated Planning Act itself which caused the failure, or whether the seeds of failure were there under the previous legislation. The previous development system was criticised and blamed for process delays and complexity, but for those who have lived under both the current and previous systems, we definitely operate under a much more complicated, costly and slower regulatory system today.

The Sustainable Planning Act 2009 replaced the Integrated Planning Act last December, but essentially retained the same structure, with some minor process refinements. This was accompanied by significant increases in the State’s powers to regulate and intervene in the development process.

It is ironic that after all the time and effort spent trying to create a “coordinated and efficient” system, it seems that the only way to deliver land to accommodate necessary growth is to circumvent the Sustainable Planning Act, and bypass the local governments which administer planning schemes under it, through the State itself in effect taking control of the development of key land holdings and dealing with them outside the statutory planning and development framework.

What does all of this mean for the vast majority of land owners whose holdings will remain outside declared Urban Development Areas?

As matters stand at this point, two systems for the development of land in Queensland are emerging. One system, which operates under the auspices of the Urban Land Development Authority, is intended to be the “fast track”. By necessary implication, all other development will follow the “slow road”. Perhaps the slow road is one which will become even slower in the future, possibly even leading, in some instances, to a dead end, if the strategy is to suppress development in some parts of the urban footprint. In saying that, it must be recalled that 85 percent of SEQ has been placed outside the urban footprint and is off limits for development in any event.

The Office of Growth Management has apparently been charged with improving development approval processes. If this is a key part of its role, then it needs to be given sufficient clout to ensure that the regulatory processes are looked at across the whole of Government. This is necessary to ensure that there is a common and consistent view at all levels of Government as to the delivery of appropriate outcomes in the public interest, rather than having single issue or one dimensional regulatory instruments inserted into the system without proper consideration of the economic and social consequences. It needs to be remembered that there are three parts to the ecologically sustainable development equation, and that they all need to be balanced and integrated to achieve sound planning outcomes which improve community well being. Unfortunately, over the last few years, we have seen the “slow road” beset with barricades, diversions and, unfortunately in many cases, dead ends in circumstances where a more balanced approach to the regulatory process would be capable of producing good ecologically sustainable development outcomes.

Hopefully the Office of Growth Management will be adequately resourced and given sufficient authority to properly coordinate reforms of the Integrated Development Assessment System across all Government departments. Unless this happens, a two-speed development system will become entrenched.

For more information on the Queensland Government’s response to the Growth Management Summit, please contact HopgoodGanim’s Planning and Development practice.