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Planning critical for our future

 

Whatever happens at the 2016 Northern Territory election, there can be no doubt that the establishment of an independent Planning Commission by the current Government has been a very positive step.  Announced as a key initiative by the then Opposition in the lead-up to the previous NT election, the Planning Commission has proven to be a resounding success and has done some excellent work on providing for our future growth.

 

The Urban Development Institute of Australia (NT) welcomes current Opposition Leader Michael Gunner’s advice that Labor will retain the Planning Commission if the party is successful in the coming election.

 

Sound planning with bipartisan support allows the development industry to operate efficiently over the longer timeframes generally required for development and that often span successive election cycles.

 

Planning decisions, strategies and initiatives inevitably draw criticism from a broad range of people.  This is hardly surprising because planning can and does affect all of our lives.  The general assumption is often that planning merely serves to meet the needs of self-interested parties, but planning is also the art of communal thinking.  The fire and enthusiasm of one person or group’s drive for or against something needs to be held to account with the common good.

 

One of the key things a professional planner needs to do is evaluate this highly personal and sometimes emotional input from community and other stakeholder consultations and balance it along with a wide range of other broader social, economic and environmental considerations, which might include:

 

-          housing affordability;

-          jobs creation;

-          transportation;

-          greenhouse gas emissions due to commuting vehicles;

-          costs of providing new infrastructure;

-          social issues;

-          public safety;

-          proximity to and protection of natural green space;

-          management of water run-off and potential pollutants;

-          accessibility of employment options;

-          changing demographics and housing needs; and

-          land availability and suitability.

 

The perceived ‘hurdles’ and ‘red tape’ of planning are the system of checks and balances that help to ensure all planning decisions are weighed against these broader issues.

 

The classic misconception is that individual views carry more weight if expressed loudly and often.  While it is generally true that the more people express an opinion, the more likely it gets heard, planning seeks to listen out for the people and issues with less, or sometimes no voice.  Good consultation can help to draw out the specific issues embedded within objections and collaboratively develop an agreed set of guiding principles for development that address and manage specific concerns.

 

Some of the loudest criticism of planning outcomes relates to urban infill, including proposals for dual occupancy that could well relate to changes for the lot next door.  Higher density living can create interface issues and these should be treated and controlled carefully.  Yet city planners are also grappling at the same time with the growing need and desire for people to live in smaller dwellings that are close to where they work, socialise and play.

 

This is more than just a ‘trend’ or preference - it is a cumulative response to a number of the broader social challenges listed earlier.  While higher density living might not be where or how we choose to live (right now), we must respect the opportunity of others to take up a different housing choice and acknowledge that our housing needs can change over time.

 

Planning responds to the day-to-day decisions of how, what and where to build - but also sets the stage for a city and its people on a longer-term journey into a collective future.  Change at the city scale is generally implemented gradually and not always consistently.  In established areas, individuals may fail to notice the incremental, yet significant changes taking place over longer, generational time frames.  Good strategic planning helps our city and its people to evolve and thrive in a future that takes time to come about.

 

A good planning framework has a similar and embedded flexibility that allows it to respond meaningfully to change and listen to the range of communal voices.  The Urban Development Institute of Australia commends the Planning Commission on its work thus far and looks forward to assisting with Darwin’s journey into our collective future.