20/09/2005 - 22:00

Consultation can be catch 22

20/09/2005 - 22:00

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Community consultation has become something of a catch 22 for developers.

Consultation can be catch 22

Community consultation has become something of a catch 22 for developers.

Those who fail to consult with the community do so at their own peril, but the increased profile and influence of community groups can lead to significant delays and frustrations in the development process.

The high-profile opposition to development on Cottesloe and Scarborough beaches stifled several potential developments and became a highly contentious political issue.

Some community groups are extremely well organised and sophisticated, mounting Supreme Court challenges to developments and attracting significant media attention.

However, there are those who question how accurately these groups represent the community’s views, along with the concerns that if vocal minorities make enough noise, then their views will be held to be those of the majority.

According to GHD business development manager Ian Johnston, the issues in Cottesloe with residents were understandable, but not those in Scarborough.

“It is just illogical at Scarborough where you don’t have the residential pressures that you have at these other places like Cottesloe, and it goes counter to a policy saying we need increased densification,” Mr Johnston said.

“Generally, how you get increased densification is you go higher and put more on the land, yet we are saying we won’t do it, and I would have thought Scarborough would be a prime area.”

Satterley Property Group managing director and chief executive Nigel Satterley said on-the-ground research in the local communities had found the key issues of concern were density or high rise, ensuring a quality built environment, and the desire that the area be free of Homeswest or Landstart rentals. 

Mr Satterley added that, although consultation had come a long way, there were people in the process who “waste time” and had obstructionist agendas.

He even claimed incidents of physical intimidation and urged the authorities to take action against such “unacceptable” behaviour.

Phillips Fox special counsel and former principal of the Town Planning Appeal Tribunal (TPAT), Belinda Moharich, said she was sceptical of public consultation.

“Often at the TPAT local government would be too scared to make a decision that went against some of these interest groups, so we would ask them to come along to the tribunal to understand what their concerns were,” she said.

“If you got to the nub of the issue it was that they didn’t want development at all, so you wonder how much benefit you are ever going to get out of community consultation.

“I think sometimes it is not community consultation that is required, but community education.

“There is a right for a landowner to build something on land, and you should work with them to try and ensure they build something you can live with rather than having an unrealistic expectation that nothing will ever be built there.

“I think that is a real problem in WA that people become incredibly self righteous about the fact that they have been living with a very large backyard, and because nothing has been built on the block next door for 30 years they expect it to stay that way into the future, notwithstanding the fact they have never owned that next door land.”

According to ATA Environmental partner Paul van der Moezel, there are right ways and wrong ways of undertaking consultation, but it was a necessary process, particularly with a highly public-sensitive area.

“I was involved in Smith’s Beach, and it is a great case study in whether or not you do community consult and how you do it,” Dr van der Moezel said.

“The plan that has gone out has had an enormous amount of community consultation, to such an extent that the comments in the paper by the Smith’s Beach action group, which was formed four years ago to stop the last proposal, are nicely positive. 

“Four years ago the consultation that was done, if any, was so poor that it was very easy for an action group to get started, and it’s a great case study in how to not do consultation well in a sensitive area and now hopefully how to do it well in a sensitive area.”

From a local government perspective, City of Wanneroo deputy mayor Sam Salpietro said Wanneroo had a consultation policy but admitted that it was not clearly explained.

“I agree that some of it is a public education process, but some people seem to think that because we consult them, as long as they object, that it is sufficient,” Mr Salpietro said.

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