Planning deadlines still not met: report
The ACT's urban planning agency has failed to solve some of the problems identified in an official audit seven years ago, according to the latest official report.
The ACT Auditor-General has found the planning department of the Environment and Sustainable Development Directorate was hitting its own deadlines for complex projects in only 15 per cent of cases. The auditors also found the planners needed to try harder to uphold design principals built into the Territory Plan.
In her report, Auditor-General Maxine Cooper wrote that practices in ESDD were leading to the approval of buildings that were ''technically compliant'' with planning rules but that fell below government or community expectations. But Dr Cooper acknowledged that improvements had been made since her office last audited the planners in 2005. The audit selected a sample of 25 high-density residential and commercial development applications lodged in the 2010-11 financial year, about half the applications lodged that year, and examined ESDD's handling of them.
Dr Cooper's team found that 85 per cent of applications were not being processed within the officially allotted time and the audit office suggested that the deadlines should be reviewed.
''The Environment and Sustainable Development Directorate did not meet the statutory processing timeframes of 30 and 45 days for high density residential and commercial developments in the majority [85 per cent] of complex development applications reviewed,'' the audit report reads. ''Given that the statutory timeframes for residential and commercial development applications is significantly shorter than what is actually being achieved, it seems that a review is warranted.
''Existing timeframes may be aspirational, rather than pragmatic. More achievable timeframes will provide greater certainty for the community and developers.''
The auditors were also worried that ESDD was not doing enough to encourage builders to lodge applications that reflected the highest standards of design and sustainability. ''The directorate has provided only limited information on its website to encourage development proposals that meet government and community expectations regarding urban design principles, both in relation to the ACT as a place to live and in acknowledgement of Canberra as the national capital,'' the auditors found.
''In the absence of integrated urban design principles in the development application process, developments may be approved that are technically compliant but that may not necessarily achieve the goals of the Territory Plan.''
Dr Cooper's report was critical of ESDD's ability to take a ''one government'' approach and its co-ordination with other agencies when examining applications for large projects. ''A 'one government' approach is not well reflected overall in the current development application referral process for high density residential and commercial developments,'' the auditors wrote. ''Coordination between the Environment and Sustainable Development Directorate and referral entities in processing these development applications needs to be strengthened.''
But the directorate was given credit for acting on the majority of recommendations in its 2005 audit. ''Improvements to the underlying systems, processes and policies supporting the development application and approval system have effectively addressed the majority of recommendations made in the previous audit report, while also facilitating better development outcomes for industry and the ACT community,'' Dr Cooper wrote.