12/12/2006 - 22:00

Local planning issues a concern

12/12/2006 - 22:00

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The shortage of skilled planners and the lack of long-term strategic planning have been identified as two of the major issues facing the local government sector.

Local planning issues a concern

The shortage of skilled planners and the lack of long-term strategic planning have been identified as two of the major issues facing the local government sector.

Prominent architect and company director William Hames said many councils lacked the necessary skills and experience.

“The level of expertise at council level, and the decisions they are asked to make about major projects – they just don’t have it,” he told the roundtable luncheon.

Mr Hames, who runs architecture firm Hames Sharley and is chairman of Cedar Woods Properties, said another problem was the statutory focus.

“The skill level in planning is fairly abysmal, and it’s primarily statutorily based; that is, it’s based on why not, rather than a positive outcome.

“Overall, we need to look at a much more visionary approach of what is this city going to be.”

City of Fremantle mayor Peter Tagliaferri does not envy the challenge facing planners.

“I don’t think local governments anywhere in the state are equipped to deal with the planning issues they are facing,” Mr Tagliaferri said. “I reckon planners have a more difficult role than the mayor.”

Town of Victoria Park chief executive John Bonker said planning was a challenge for both staff and elected councillors.

“Planning issues are the most difficult for councilors to come to grips with. It’s extremely difficult for the elected members,” Mr Bonker said.

Victoria Park has tackled the challenge by engaging external experts.

“We have successfully handled at council level a $700 million residential development on the Burswood peninsula with little or no government interference.

“The way we went about that is that we recognised our shortcomings and engaged a team of consultants who represented the town, and matched it with the developers application, and together they have come up with a good product. We have continued that for any major application.”

WA Local Government Association president Bill Mitchell said it was important to recognise that local councils had to work within the constraints set by the state government and the WA Planning Commission.

“Councils in some cases are handcuffed,” Mr Mitchell said.

He believes formal training in town planning, as well as disciplines like governance, accounting and business procedures, would help.

“I personally believe there should be compulsory training for councilors; that goes hand in glove with increased remuneration.”

Shire of Augusta-Margaret River president Steve Harrison believes local councils need to develop long-term strategic plans to complement their statutory planning activities.

“I was absolutely staggered when I became shire president and found that we were only planning year by year, there wasn’t a long term plan,” Mr Harrison said.

He said the shire has hired several town planners from South Africa, who were experienced in working with 30-year concept plans covering spatial, social and economic development.

This provided the context for short-term planning decisions and also helped businesses with their long-term planning.

Mr Harrison also highlighted the need for local councils to work effectively with neighbouring councils and the state government.

“Three layers of government can work effectively in a country this size but only if there is a clear understanding of the different and complementary roles.”

Mr Hames, who is an adviser to Curtin and Edith Cowan universities, said it was critical that the next generation of town planners received appropriate training.

He noted that the private sector had poached many university lecturers, but had since recognised the problem and agreed to provide staff in a teaching role.

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