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Community control of development assessment is a fundamental tenet of local democracy. The objective of development assessment (DA) processing and policy is to ensure high quality development which reflects the wishes of the community. The role of elected councillors in this process is to represent the community in the setting of development standards and the overseeing of the application of those standards.

The Development Assessment Forum (DAF) was formed in 1998 to bring key stakeholders together to reach agreement on ways to streamline the processes used for development approval while preserving high quality decision making. DAF membership includes ALGA and the state/territory local government associations in addition to Commonwealth, state/territory governments, the development industry and related professional associations. The Forum provides advice and recommendations through the Planning Officials Group (POG) to the Local Government and Planning Ministers' Council (LGPMC) where Local Government is represented by ALGA President Cr Mike Montgomery.

DAF is currently pursuing a number of projects of interest to local government, in particular:

Leading practice model for development assessment

In 2003 DAF commissioned the Centre for Developing Cities (CDC) at the University of Canberra to develop a model for leading practice Development Assessment (DA). This model for Development Assessment, contained in the CDC's two volume report Leveraging the long-term: A Model for leading practice development assessment proposed bold reforms of DA systems and processes across jurisdictions. This "draft Model DA" was of particular concern for local government. The draft Model proposed a 'seperation of roles', limiting the responsibility of councillors to the establishment of policy for the assessment of development applications and removing the capacity of elected representatives to determine sensitive development applications. Further to this the draft Model DA proposed 'defined third party involvement' which would permit appeals against DA decisions by development approval applicants but restrict those from third parties - commonly neighbouring property owners but potentially including councils.

This draft Model DA was considered at the Local Government and Planning Minsiters' Council meeting on 13 February 2004 where it was agreed that a national stakeholder consultation process was necessary to more fully evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the draft Model. The consultation, conducted by Socom Pty Ltd, occurred nationally over a twelve week period across four key stakeholder groups - local government, state / territory government, industry and community. More than 580 individuals from more than 400 organisations participated in one or more consultation activities.

In response to the DA Consultation ALGA launched a campaign to protect the planning powers of local government. ALGA's concerns with the draft Model DA are clearly articulated in its submission to the DA Consultation and in Cr Mike Montgomery's speech to the Planning Institute of Australia (PIA)

Following the consultation process the draft model was reviewed by Socom prior to further consideration by DAF. Since the submission of Socom's report, DAF has been revising the model in an attempt to make it acceptable to all DAF members, including local government, professional groups and building industry representatives.

One of the major sticking points in the development of the Model is the degree to which councillors are involved in the determination of DAs. In its current form the model states that the majority of development applications should be assess and determined by professional staff or private sector experts. This is currently the case with ninety five percent of DA's being approved by planners. For those more sensitive applications that fall outside exiting policy the current model proposes two options. One option stipulates that councils may delegate DA determination while retaining the ability to call-in any application for determination by council while the second proposes an expert panel determine the application. The only option acceptable to local government retains local government's ability to call-in development applications.

ALGA - a full member of the Local Government and Planning Ministers' Council - will oppose any model DA that does not recognise the appropriate role of elected representatives in upholding community expectation. Further to this the Australian Government's policy recognises that DA reform can "only be developed and driven with the full support of local councils and local communities" and believes "local governments are best placed to make decisions on local planning matters".

Following its approval by DAF the final Leading Practice Model is to be considered by the Local Government and Planning Ministers' Council in early August 2005. ALGA is represented on LGPMC by Cr Paul Bell.

As the regulatory system for land use planning and development assessment is determined by the legislation in each State and Territory (and subsequently applied at local government level), the adoption and implementation of all or part of the model will be a matter for individual jurisdictions.

Electronic Development Assessment (eDA)

As electronic business applications play an increasingly important role in all sectors of the economy, the Development Assessment Forum (DAF) identified the need for a national electronic data exchange standard for data transactions associated with the DA process - for all Australian jurisdictions.

At present most consent authorities, such as local councils and state/territory planning agencies, accept only hard copy development applications. Some do provide, via their internet sites, electronic copies of their application forms, but generally these need to be printed out and manually completed.

The eDA project is examining ways to establish an interchange standard that will encourage the on-line lodgement of building and land development applications. A draft standard and data inventory for the interchange of DA information has been completed. The standard will enable the data provided electronically by applicants to be easily identified and transmitted to the various consent authorities that need to view the information. It does not, however, require agencies or councils to adopt a generic stet of data in a common form - flexibility of data collection to meet local requirements is not affecte.

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