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Good planning is not about politics

 

Lately some urban planning decisions made by the NT Government have been seen as controversial, with some commentary suggesting outcomes have been politically motivated, or based on favouritism.

 

It has been implied that decisions are bad because they do not accord with the views of the majority of people who have made submissions.  This suggests some opponents to the proposal believe planning should depend on which group has the loudest voice.  The Urban Development Institute of Australia (NT) does not support such an approach to the critically important task of planning for our city’s future growth.

 

Good planning should be based on an objective and impartial analysis of what is in the best interests of future generations.  It should take into account local, national and intergenerational trends in housing preferences, and it should lead to development outcomes which are ecologically sustainable when assessed against environmental, social and economic measures.

 

Despite the best efforts of opposition parties to put planning matters into the political arena, decisions are not usually based on political ideology.  This is because Ministerial decisions are usually based on recommendations of a highly qualified and experienced public sector which is aware of trends in housing preferences and world best practice in urban planning.  The decisions consider matters such as proximity to public transport, employment centres, relevant infrastructure, green space and public amenity.  Additional amenity a new development or “urban renewal” project might add to a suburb is also relevant.

 

Examples of improved amenity could include such things as restaurants, convenience stores, coffee shops, walking / cycle trails and playgrounds.

 

In a past work role I once had the pleasure of accompanying then Chief Minister Clare Martin and several senior public sector employees on a very productive delegation visit to Melbourne to examine aged care and retirement living.  Shortly after our return to Darwin the then Government announced that a new retirement village and aged care complex was to be built on the old Waratahs Oval site in Fannie Bay.

 

Most people would now agree this was an excellent decision and has provided significant (and much needed) additional purpose-built accommodation for senior Territorians.  But few would know that if the Government of the day had listened to the outcry from some locals, the development would never have proceeded.

 

Criticism of the project included the standard complaints about noise, dust and traffic during the construction phase, perceived impacts of significantly increased traffic on the quiet suburban streets, potential for all the residents to be drowned during a storm surge event and in one case, even a claim that the crocodile population in the local creek would be feasting on our seniors!

 

Achieving infill development is important for a variety of reasons, including social equity (it is not equitable to expect future generations to live further and further from employment with limited access to infrastructure most of us take for granted); environmental considerations (long commutes and new, long public transport routes add significantly to greenhouse gas emissions); and economics (installing new infrastructure for new, distant suburbs is highly expensive – it is much cheaper and more efficient to make better use of existing infrastructure close to or within existing suburbs).

 

As more and more Australians, including Territorians, make the move to apartment living in or near their CBDs, they are looking for affordable housing and proximity to employment, public transport, green space for relaxation, shopping, entertainment, restaurants and the like.  The Planning Commission’s current initiative to identify the most appropriate areas for infill will take all these factors into account.

 

An objective analysis of recent planning decisions for Quarry Crescent in Stuart Park (a rejection of a development proposal) and Blake Street in The Gardens (approval of a re-zoning application), taking into account all the factors identified above, will clearly demonstrate that the decisions have nothing to do with politics – they are based on good planning principles.

 

This is exactly what Darwin needs as it strives to grow into a modern tropical hub as we head towards the middle of the 21st Century.