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Planning for our Future Growth

The development industry relies heavily on planning systems that provide clarity and certainty.  This is critically important because land costs, particularly in and close to the CBD, are very high; a multi-million dollar decision to purchase a parcel of land for a new building (or series of buildings) or a new subdivision, carries very high risk if the developer is not clear on what sort of project is likely to be approved for that particular site.

The preliminary components of a development such as preparation of plans and compliance with planning requirements are costly.  All costs incurred along the way will be incorporated into the final cost of the property, whether it is a block of land or an apartment.  Hence consumers benefit when the system operates as smoothly and efficiently as possible, because costs can then be kept as low as possible.

For this reason the Urban Development Institute of Australia (NT) has welcomed the approach being taken by the NT Planning Commission to planning for our future growth such as in our inner suburbs, Darwin’s mid suburbs, our rural area and in Alice Springs.  In our view the best planning frameworks have some common elements:

  • There is sound initial research to identify such things as the suitability of certain parcels of land for further development, traffic issues, access to green space, current community amenities and likely future demand for such amenities, infrastructure issues and costs, and public transport issues;
  • There is clear communication with and the opportunity for constructive comment by all affected parties;
  • Draft plans are exhibited to clearly demonstrate what is being proposed;
  • There are adequate opportunities for further comment on the draft plans before final recommendations are identified.

Most people would agree that many parts of Darwin have grown without a strong focus on sound planning.  But even if there has been good planning in the past, circumstances change for many reasons.  For example a series of one-off re-zoning decisions can throw into question the original planning intent for an area.  But there are also changing community needs over time, such as the need for retirement living and aged care facilities as our population ages.

Changing community attitudes towards apartment living, the need for society to address environmental issues such as greenhouse gas emissions, the potential for sea level rise and increased cyclonic activity, the need for more efficient public transport systems as our population grows, changing trends in shopping habits, changing demographics of suburbs (for example a lot of young working people need access to childcare, pre-schools and schools, while older groups may not require the same level of access to employment as do younger groups), can all lead to the need to re-think the design of our living and playing spaces and transport systems.

Since the NT Planning Commission was formed UDIA (NT) believes there has been a progressively increasing level of sophistication in the approach to planning matters, particularly relating to the quality of information gathering and community consultation.

Work on the Darwin Regional Land Use Plan, the Compact Urban Growth Policy, the Litchfield Sub Regional Plan, Darwin Inner Suburbs Area Plan and now the Darwin Mid Suburbs Area Plan is steadily building a systematic and sound planning base for our future growth.

Consultation generates both positive and negative views about particular development proposals, which means it is impossible to please everyone.  But the process almost always identifies additional options; well-run community consultations also provide time for the residents to reflect on the proposed changes and how they might be implemented to provide the greatest overall benefit.

It is important to keep in mind that planning is about the future – it needs to address the future needs of our communities in coming decades, not just what suits us now.  Over time our society will change the way we use motor vehicles, housing choices will continue to change and lifestyles will also change.  Planners need to take all of this into account as they reflect on the best ways to meet the housing, public transport, recreational and community amenity needs of our population in the future.

UDIA (NT) congratulates the NT Planning Commission on the approach that is now being taken to planning.  Hopefully the broader community will support this new, improved way of systematically preparing for our future growth and will provide meaningful and constructive comment on Discussion Papers and Draft Plans.