Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Planning on the web in Darebin

This week's Northcote Leader reports that, by the end of the year, the City of Darebin will offer a web service to track local planning applications. I agree with the quoted comments of DADA spokesperson, Terry Scully. This is a strong idea, but the success of the proposal will depend on how it improves the ability of residents to genuinely participate in decisions about developments. That, in turn, depends crucially on what information the service offers, and the timeliness of its appearance on the web.

I am unaware of any consultation by Council with residents regarding the features they'd like to see in the service, and it would be interesting to see the brief for its development. Here, however, are a few ideas that I think would make the service better.

Firstly, updating the information online must be built into Council's procedures to process applications. Residents should be able to track who the applicant is, the date of first application, what is being proposed, the advertising period and deadline for resident submissions, the dates of meetings at which an application will be considered, its approval or otherwise, and whether an application is subject to a planning panel or appeal at VCAT. The ability to view planning applications by date, year, location and applicant would also be valuable.

This is not a comprehensive list, but these and similar features would improve the transparency of planning in Darebin. While the service cannot compensate for bad planning laws that allow inappropriate development to occur, a timely, regularly updated service would enable better participation by residents in planning decisions.

Finally, I also agree with Terry Scully regarding more conventional methods of informing residents about developments. There should be broader notification of surrounding residents – especially for larger developments. Terry's idea of listing proposed developments in ward newsletters is also a good idea, again depending on timeliness. To this I'd like to add a way to inform residents whether particular developments are supported or opposed by their local councillor. Whether print or online, this would be a good way of holding councillors accountable for their role in what is built in our local communities.

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