Planning decisions a challenging role for councillors

By GRAEME TODD*

ONE of the most challenging roles for local government councillors involves making decisions on planning applications for the use and or development of land.

Most people would be aware that under the Local Government Act the main functions of elected councillors are to represent the community, to act in the best interests of the community and to undertake duties and responsibilities as authorised by council.

However, when a Council makes decisions concerning planning applications at a council meeting it is required by the Local Government (Meeting Procedures) Regulations 2005 to act as a Planning Authority under the Land Use Planning and Approvals Act 1993.

For councillors, land-use planning decisions are a challenging and important responsibility. Planning decisions affect communities, the environment and quality of life and usually have long-lasting consequences.

The role of a councillor, as part of a planning authority, is quite different to that of a representative of the community.

Many people are not aware of the different “hats” elected councillors wear when making decisions under the Local Government Act and the Land Use Planning and Approvals Act.

The planning authority role can be particularly difficult and challenging when considering development applications where there is considerable opposition by members of the community.

For example, an application may be lodged with Council for 8 Residential Units and many of the neighbours may, for a variety of reasons, be concerned about the proposed development.

If the proposed development complies with all the requirements in the Brighton Planning Scheme 2000 then the Council is obliged to approve the application.

In these cases the planning scheme must be followed and enforced by the planning authority (the Council), whether or not it is politically palatable.

In such situations it is important to understand that by virtue of election to a council, councillors are fulfilling a role and a responsibility placed upon them by the State’s planning legislation, and therefore in carrying out that responsibility they are bound to take a broader and longer-term view of things – perhaps to the extent of being unpopular with individual constituents.

*Graeme Todd is manager environment and development services

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