Major revamp of Tasmanian planning edges closer to approval

Plans for sweeping reforms of Tasmanian planning regulations have inched closer to becoming law after the state government released draft legislation on 28 August.

The changes to the Land Use Planning and Approvals Act 1993 would allow the Tasmanian government to “call-in” significant development projects from local authorities when there are “unreasonable delays” in conducting a planning assessment. Those proposals would be assessed by an independent panel of experts appointed by the planning minister.

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The changes would also allow the government to provide “in-principle” approval for major development proposals, and attempt to streamline the approval process by issuing a single planning permit that includes environmental, Aboriginal and heritage approvals.

An explanatory paper produced by the Tasmanian Department of Justice defines a major project as “larger, more complex and have broader economic, environmental and social impacts beyond a single municipal area, than other development proposals.”

The new major projects process will replace the existing Projects of Regional Significance process, while the Projects of State Significance process will be left intact.

The updated design for a proposed hotel by Xsquared Architects, viewed from Brooke St.

The updated design for a proposed hotel by Xsquared Architects, viewed from Brooke St.

Image: Xsquared Architects

The planning minister Peter Gutwein said that the reforms would still leave the authority to rule on proposals for very tall buildings with local governments. Two hotel skyscrapers are currently proposed for Hobart. Recently updated designs for one of these, by Hobart-based practice Xsquared Architects, would see the proposed tower rise to 180 metres over the central city.

“We believe that local communities through their councils should determine what the appropriate building height is for their community,” Gutwein said.

The major projects bill follows an earlier draft amendment to the planning act, released in May, which laid out plans to introduce statewide planning processes.

Each of the state’s 29 local government areas currently has its own planning scheme. When the intended changes were flagged in 2015, the planning minister justified the move by pointing to “only 15 percent commonality” between the 29 planning schemes in use across the state.

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“These draft laws will cut red tape, provide certainty of process and ensure Tasmania is a great place to invest, but they will also protect what makes Tasmania so special,” said Gutwein.

In a submission made on behalf of the Tasmanian chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects in May, chapter president Yvette Breytenbach said that while the Institute supported the idea of a state-wide planning scheme, she was concerned about the liminal role urban design played in the draft planning policies.

“At this stage, the critical role of urban design is only dealt with under the draft Settlement and Liveable Communities Tasmanian Planning Policy.

“We believe this is inadequate and that the location, form and character of ‘urban’ development would be more appropriately addressed at both [local and state] levels, with state policy providing the context for settlement and helping to guide strategic planning decisions.”

The Institute also expressed concern over the discretionary power the bill would grant the Tasmanian planning minister.

“We believe this has the potential to lead to a lack of transparency and, importantly, it also creates an uncertain and confusing system, which goes against the government’s stated aims of providing consistency, clarity and certainty for everyone. The Institute would argue that [Tasmanian Planning Permissions] must be developed in consultation with local councils and independent planners and architects.”

The public may comment on the draft reforms until 2 October.

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