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The South Perth peninsula has been a DAP flashpoint in recent months. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Setback for DAP protesters

Advocates for the abolition of Western Australia’s development assessment panels took a hit yesterday, after the WA Local Government Association knocked back two motions that called for the scrapping of the DAPs.

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Alfred Cove
Dear Mr Wilkie. I read your article regarding the ScraptheDAP motion at the WALGA Conference with some disappointment. More than half of it is given over to quoting Ms Alison Hailes of the UDIA, who is given so much space in which to give her opinion on what the DAPs supposedly are and supposedly do. However, no space whatsoever is given to what the DAPs actually are and actually do. In the hope that this comment may be given some space here to help balance the ledger, I would like to respond to Ms Hailes claims and, in the process, inform your readers why so many councils and more than 40 communities are so deeply dissatisfied with the DAP system. Ms Hailes is quoted as saying that it is untrue that DAPs are undemocratic, and that they are made up of "a mix of local government representatives and technical experts." and that this means "they strike a good balance between technical and local knowledge. I don't know what Ms Hailes particular set of scales work like, but mine actually lurch one way when there's more on one side than the other. Each DAP consists of three technical experts, but only two council members. Three against two. Try it out, on a see-saw perhaps. That is not a balance; that is a bias. Secondly, the three technical experts are not elected, yet each has the same voting power as each of the council members. Collectively, they therefore have more power than the elected members. They also always hold the chair, so they also always have the casting vote – unelected as they are - when a decision is evenly split (on those occasions when only four panelists are present) . I challenge Ms Hailes to explain how that is democratic. I grant her that there is an “impression of democracy”, but then again, many an undemocratic regime around the world has done that, but that didn’t make them democratic – far from it, in fact. Thirdly, the claim that there is a “mix of local government representatives and technical experts” is seriously inaccurate. The DAP regulations explicitly refer to the local government members as “members” not “representatives” and studiously avoid ever calling them “representatives”. The relevance of this label is hammered home in the DAP regulations which also explicitly direct “council members” not to take into account the opinions of their councils or their residents in their decision-making. In other words, they are not there as representatives of their council or their electorates or residents. This in effect directs these members NOT to bring to the table their “local knowledge” – i.e. what the residents think, want and know. They are also supposed to ignore the opinions of their Council – so presumably they will also feel compelled to take the Responsible Authority Report from their own council with a pinch of salt. So much for “the mix”. So, let’s see: we have an industry- biased, unelected, undemocratic body making decisions about any development over $2million where even those local government members who do insist on representing their residents are unable to have any impact, yet these decisions seriously impact the communities in which they are built. Perhaps your readers might be starting to get an inkling of the problems the ScraptheDAP councils and communities see with the system. Finally, Ms Hailes claims that regardless of the decision-maker, DAPs or Councils “the [local] planning schemes and policies must be applied.” Yes, those are indeed the rules. The problem is, they are routinely ignored, with guidelines on height, plot ratio, setbacks, and “consistency with the current built form of the locality” regularly by-passed with the excuse that “the local planning scheme provides for such discretionary powers”. I noted with intense annoyance the furphy Ms Hailes has repeated in your article (and which you have not seen to correct), that if Councils or residents don’t like the decisions, change the planning scheme. Blame the Council and the people, in other words. But, for any builder, architect or developer worth his or her salt, we all know that the necessary discretionary powers are already doubly built into the R-Codes, with the Performance Criteria and Judgement on Merit provisions. Changing the wording of the local planning scheme won’t change that fact. To claim otherwise is frankly disingenuous. The crux of the argument against the DAPs therefore is this: If the Council were the decision-maker, they could try to wield the same discretionary powers, but if they did, there might well be a price to pay at the ballot box. For the industry-biased, unelected, and therefore untouchable DAPs, there is no such fear of a community backlash. In a nutshell, they don’t have to worry, and that makes for a very dangerously undemocratic, and readily corruptible system. The solution? Not another review, that’s for sure! The solution is to return the community interest to the centre of the system, and the decision-making to those who are accountable to the people. Bring in the technical expertise and knowledge by all means, but not to the extent that the community interest is cut out of the equation. I mean, you’d have to be, well, dare I say it, anti-community to want that, wouldn’t you? Yours sincerely Geoff Pearson

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