One of the key purposes of the planning system is to ensure development takes place through a framework whereby community expectation and the public interest will be well represented at every point from the preparation of plans and policy, through to the determination of development applications. Planning is not an exact science. Rather it relies on informed judgement within a firm policy context. It is often highly contentious because its decisions affect the private lives of individuals, landowners and developers.
Around fifty percent of planners work in local government at a time when local councils are significantly under-resourced; bearing the effects of cost-shifting from other spheres of government; suffering from a chronic shortage of planners; and subject to changing and complex legislation.
National Inquiry into Planning Education and Employment
In response to these issues and the national shortage of planners, in 2003 the Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) undertook a National Inquiry into Planning Education and Employment. The Victorian Minister for Planning, Mary Delahunty MP, launched the final report from the National Inquiry on 7 September 2004.
The report found that over the past three years, there had been on average a 16% vacancy rate in planning positions. Around half of Australia's 5,400 planners worked in local government, 30% in the private sector and 20% in state and territory government.
The report from the National Inquiry, makes a number of recommendations to improve the supply of planners and their workplace environment. The Inquiry's Implementation Strategy recommended that a National Education and Employment Committee be established to oversee the implementation of the Inquiry's recommendations. Sue Holiday, previously Chair of the Inquiry, is Chair of the National Committee. ALGA accepted an invitation to represent local government on the National Education and Employment Committee in 2004.
ALGA is supportive of those recommendations that seek to address the shortage of planners without imposing an additional financial burden on local government. Such recommendations include:
- An increase in fully funded places for planning students and improved funding for planning students.
- Inclusion of planning on the "Migration Occupations in Demand List"
- The identification of innovative ways to maximize planning resources including sharing or pooling planners in rural and regional Australia where there is an identified shortage.
Recommendations that seek to impose an additional financial burden on local government (without the provision of additional resources) require further consideration by local government. Recommendations seeking to build the capacity of councils to support planners are encouraged and require further discussion with local government. Such recommendations include:
- Encourage rural and regional councils to provide financial support to planning students from their communities.
- Encourage employers to pay for fees for planning employees undertaking postgraduate planning courses.
- Make available cadetships for undergraduate planning students.
- Require all local governments to have Employee Assistance Schemes in place
- Planning employers provide appropriate financial or in kind resources to support continued professional development of their planning staff.
- State and local governments find innovative ways to maximize planning resources including sharing or pooling planners in rural and regional Australia where there is an identified shortage.
- Ensure that flexible working conditions are available, particularly within local governments to support qualified and experience female planners back into the workforce.
- Require appropriate structured training and support to be provided by planning employers for planning graduates.
The recommendation that "All local government councillors involved in development assessment be required to undertake compulsory training on their planning roles and responsibilities, in accordance with a Code of Conduct" is not supported by ALGA. Moves to build the capacity of councillors involved in DA, through involvement in education or training on a voluntary basis, should be supported. ALGA is working closely with PIA in the development of a National Protocol for Planners and Elected Representatives in Local Government. ALGA's response to the National Inquiry can be read in the Media Release: Planning workforce report a curate's egg - good in parts
For information regarding local government and planning and housing, please contact:
Senior Policy Adviser
Australian Local Government Association
Tel: 02 6122 9443