An EPA Act for Better Community Engagement
After almost 40 years, the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act is getting a well-deserved upgrade. Since the EPA Act was established in 1979, we’ve seen communication capabilities skyrocket with the birth of mobile phones, emails, SMS messaging, and video conferencing. In the past ten years alone, we’ve seen the rise of social media with 8 out of 10 Australians actively using sites like Facebook on a daily basis.
A lot has happened since the days of bell-bottoms and the wide-collar shirt, so you’d think the act would’ve had a comprehensive overhaul sooner, what with the ease in which we now connect with each other.
The Act was designed to promote the social and economic welfare of communities after all, and what better way to do that than to interact with the people who make up our neighbourhoods?
So, it’s hopeful to see that changes have been made; however, whether our invested interests in stakeholder engagement will really be taken into account, we’ll have to wait and see.
We are hopeful though as you do get the sense that engaging with our communities is at the heart of the new and improved EPA Act.
The Department of Planning and Environment have emphasised enhancing community participation which hopefully will lead to better strategic planning, integrity in decision making, and straightforward, faster planning. The Act also ensures all planning authorities prepare community participation plans – something that will undoubtedly lead to positive change in stakeholder engagement, if implemented correctly.
So, what can we look forward to? What’s really changed for purposes of stakeholder engagement?
COMMUNITY PARTICIPATION PLANS
We don’t need to tell you that without listening to your communities, your plans are doomed to fail. The government has thought long and hard about how they might be able to avoid situations where communities feel ignored, or disenfranchised, and in turn, create better planning outcomes. And their recommended approach is for planning authorities to listen to their stakeholders by establishing Community Participation Plans (CPPs).
To ensure that all planning authorities participate in stakeholder discussions will help them think about how they can engage the community. Hopefully, CPP’s will result in communities that feel valued.
Thankfully Councils won’t have to duplicate their work as they can always incorporate the CPP’s into existing community engagement plans – phew! They will have to adhere to requirements of the updated EP&A Act though, which can be found on the links below:
Do you have a Communitiy Participation or Stakeholder Engagement plan? Check out our blog on how to develop one below:
INDEPENDENT PLANNING COMMISSION
The Planning Assessment Commission has left the Department of Planning and Environment to establishing itself as an independent government agency known aptly as the Independent Planning Commission. Please see a link to their new site below:
This amicable break-up hasn’t changed much of the IPC’s duties as they will still play a significant role in the decision-making process for major developments. However, with the aim of better community engagement, they have improved their public hearing process and will apply more pressure when testing development proposals.
It’s early days – they launched as an agency yesterday – but hopefully, we’ll see great things from them in the future.
LOCAL PLANNING PANELS
It can be daunting to starting a new project – especially one that is multifaceted and involves aspects outside one’s professional scope. We can’t be expected to understand all facets of a project which is why utilising the experiences of qualified, independent experts is vital.
The previous EP&A Act implemented Independent Hearing & Assessment Panels – now called Local Planning Panels (LPPs) – which helped to improve planning outcomes.
It would seem that it’s not just the name that’s been changed and the newly formed LPP’s have been reimagined with stricter guidelines for panel participants. Gone are the days where property developers and real estate agents can sit on panels which could lead to potential conflicts of interest.
Meetings will also be held within the public eye to promote transparency and to keep sessions above board.
For more information on local planning rules, have a look at the link below:
So when can we expect the new legislation to take effect? Parts of the Act have already been rolled out with the Local Planning Panels section being implemented on the 1st of March. The CPPs should be launched by the end of 2018 for all DPE projects, and in 2019 for Councils.
It is expected that the entire Act will have been successfully implemented by mid 2020.
For more information on the act you can check out the Department of Planning & Environments EP&A Act guide on the link below:
It’s too early to know how effective these changes are going to be, or how smoothly they will be implemented. But the EP&A have their hearts in the right place, and all we can do is keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best.