Opinion: Planning laws must be upheld in staff shake-up

What does it mean to be easy to do business with? 

This is the thrust of the council’s latest restructure, more specifically the reconfiguration of the Growth, Strategy and Culture portfolio to simply Planning and Environment.

In plain terms it means clearing the hurdles and empowering staff to make decisions that don’t hold up developers. General manager Warwick Bennett says many are very frustrated by delays and ‘lack of clarity’ in requests for further information. We don’t doubt the truth of this.

But while Goulburn Mulwaree’s growth is a prime consideration, planning laws must also be upheld. They are not there just for developers but to give residents a fair say, a right of appeal and to protect the environment. They should not be subverted or compromised in a headlong push to generate economic development just for growth’s sake or to meet a KPI.

Far fewer development applications are decided by councillors due to legislation changes. It means more power is placed with planning staff to decide projects. It’s a heavy responsibility but in this they are guided by the law. They do not have the discretion that councillors sometimes exert when it comes to complex or controversial DAs.

General manager Warwick Bennett appears to be now “giving them rope” to make decisions.

The remarks should not be seen as a comment on the previous director. Louise Wakefield was a competent planner with a big workload under Growth, Strategy and Culture. As revealed at council meetings, resources were often stretched.

There’s an inherent contradiction in Mr Bennett’s remark that this portfolio wasn’t too large, but that the new environment and planning directorship would provide focus. We also note with interest that he’s agreed to more resources for the planning department.

What must also stop is the continued departure of staff from the council, and the planning division specifically. They leave for many reasons but current upheavals are not helping. 

As each one departs, a wealth of experience and local knowledge also go out the door. This cannot be plugged by short-term contractors.

It’s in everyone’s interests, including our councillors’, to create a workplace in which employees feel nurtured and supported.

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