Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 10 Hansard (25 November) . . Page.. 2832 ..
MS TUCKER (continuing):
However, without any notification to the residents, the landowner applied for a minor amendment to increase the height of the building by about 600 millimetres to almost back to the original plan. PALM approved this, again with no notification to the residents. The next-door neighbour only found out about this amendment by chance after construction work had begun. The 600 millimetres increase in height may sound minor, but for the next-door neighbour it meant that he lost all the sunlight to his backyard on mid-winter afternoons. It was certainly a major impact on him that PALM had not taken any account of.
The former Planning Minister, Mr Humphries, acknowledged in the Assembly last December that this matter had not been handled well by PALM. He said:
... it was unwise of PALM to amend the original approval without going back and talking to the original objectors. It was apparently within the power of PALM to make the decision, but it was, I think, unwise to make the decision without having consulted with those who were clearly stakeholders in this matter by virtue of their objection to the original building height for the proposed structure. I have indicated to PALM that this should not recur and have instructed that procedures in PALM are to change to address such situations in future.
My Bill will ensure that this situation does not happen again by putting into the Land Act the consultation requirements that Mr Humphries referred to. My Bill provides that PALM must give notice of an application for a minor amendment to each person who objected to the original approval of the development application and make available copies of the application for inspection. The objectors then have 14 days in which to provide comments on the application. The objectors will also be notified of PALM's decision on whether to amend the development approval; but, given that it is still a minor amendment, I have not gone as far as providing appeals to the AAT. Hopefully, the public exposure that minor amendments will receive from these amendments will put sufficient pressure on PALM to make responsible decisions. I have also tightened up the criteria by which minor amendments can be granted by ensuring that the amendment not cause any increase in detriment to any person or the environment.
I turn now to the other part of my Bill relating to third-party appeals. My Bill amends those parts of the Land Act which relate to reviews of decisions on development applications by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Prior to the Government's amendments to the Land Act at the end of 1996, any person who had submitted an objection to a development application could lodge an appeal with the AAT - or the planning appeals board in those days - if they were unhappy with the decision to approve the application. However, the Government amended the Land Act in 1996 to restrict appeals to persons who are "substantially and adversely" affected by a decision. This means that virtually the only people who are entitled to appeal against a development are the neighbours. A person who does not live near the development but who may have a personal or professional interest in planning matters or who may be concerned about the broader impacts of the development on the overall planning of Canberra is not able to appeal.