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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 1 Hansard (12 December) . . Page.. 113 ..

MS TUCKER (10.56): I move:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

Mr Speaker, this bill is an updated version of a bill I introduced in the last Assembly that will restore third party appeal rights against development approvals of overly large houses and house extensions in existing suburbs.

Before 1997, third party appeals were allowed where a development application in relation to a single dwelling did not meet the performance measures in the residential design and siting guidelines in the Territory Plan. However, the former Liberal government removed this provision, thus creating a situation where there are currently no third party appeal rights against single dwellings, apart from houses in heritage areas.

That is quite significant, given the nature of the design and siting guidelines. These guidelines contain generalised performance objectives and criteria, as well as quantified performance measures or acceptable solutions such as specific setback and height controls that are considered to meet the performance objectives. However, a house that does not meet the performance measures can still be approved if PALM considers that the design meets the overall performance objectives. PALM officials are therefore given considerable discretionary power to approve dwellings that cannot be legally challenged by neighbours who might be directly affected by the development.

With the increasing level of housing redevelopment in inner Canberra, including the complete demolition and rebuilding of houses in established neighbourhoods, I have received many representations from constituents who are now living next to huge houses that overshadow their blocks and reduce their privacy, but about which they could do nothing. These people were able to put in objections to PALM on the development applications for these houses; but if they did not think that PALM adequately took their objections into account in approving the applications, they had no avenue of appeal. This system made the planners unaccountable for their decisions.

Appeals may be cumbersome and delay the development approval process, but they also perform a very valuable role in providing the necessary checks and balances to the planning bureaucrats and maintaining the integrity of the ACT's statutory planning system. I am sure that we would all agree on the need to encourage high-quality design in Canberra, but this should not come at the cost of a lack of accountability in the planning system.

In our current performance-based development approval system there is much more discretion in what can be approved. The need to maintain an easily accessible appeal process becomes even more important, so that planners are kept accountable for their decisions and existing residents have the chance to express their views about the appropriateness and impacts of proposed developments around them.

The bill is very short, but to understand how it will work in practice requires an understanding of how the land act regulations work. They are quite complicated. As a simple explanation, let me say that the regulations currently provide a range of exemptions to the requirements in the land act for public notification and third party appeal rights against development applications.

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