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Paving the way for improved community engagement

ACT Community councils are unhappy with the government's handling of public consultation on development applications during the summer holiday period, with others calling for fresh approaches to maximise public engagement.

North Canberra Community Council chairman Mike Hettinger​ slammed the Environment and Planning Directorate saying applications under consideration in December and January slipped under the radar as many people go away or "off-line".

He said to halt any suspicion the planning directorate was not being faithful to their stated intention to create meaningful consultation they should "quarantine December and January from the notifications period for DAs and other decisions."

But while criticism mounted in one corner of Canberra, Belconnen Community Council acting chair Damien Hass disagreed.

"We can't put things on hold for two months," he said. "There are a range of factors that influence when a DA is made public. I think these paranoid views have no place. I honestly feel the government and those putting the DAs up are just trying to do things in the time they have."

In 2015 development applications notified between December 14 -18 had a five day extension to the public notification period, and a shutdown, where no notifications were made, was in place between December 21 and January 1st.


An Environment and Planning directorate spokeswoman said "it would not be practical" to cease all public notifications during December and January as it would delay works beginning on upcoming projects.  

Mr Hass said the ACT government's recent move to change legislation, so there was no longer a requirement to publish development application notices in local newspapers, demonstrated community consultation was "evolving" and innovation was the way forward.

Holidaying in the Melbourne suburb of Bundoora, Mr Haas was impressed with Victoria's Whittlesea Council's use of printed pavement notices to convey planning changes.

"It's pretty clever and gives people an idea of what's being proposed right on the spot where the changes might occur," he said.

His Facebook post suggesting the idea received positive feedback and he hoped the ACT government would consider the approach and incorporate a QR code or URL link so interested passers-by can seek out documents and further detail.

The directorate's spokeswoman said the government welcomed new ideas and had demonstrated a commitment to new tools for engagement launching a DA Finder App for smartphones and tablets in 2014.

"This is a new and interesting style of engagement and communication that the Belconnen Community Council has recently brought to our attention," the spokeswoman said.

"At this stage there appears to be no apparent issue to prevent this type of community engagement, however, the government would need to understand more about the approach and its merits for the ACT."