8 July, 2022
Councillors fail in bid for control - Attempt for elected officials to make all development application decisions
AN attempt to wrestle back control of all decision-making on developments to elected representatives of Tablelands Regional Council has failed after only three councillors supported the move.
Cr David Clifton put forward that all development applications should come to the full council for decision instead of planning officers being delegated the responsibility, citing that councillors were elected to do just that.
In his plea to councillors, Cr Clifton said he was not suggesting anything was wrong with what officers had been doing under their delegations, but he believed the community expected elected representatives to be making the decisions.
“Town planning decision-making is one of the most important roles of the council because it lies at the core of liveability, commercial and development potential for the region and, as such, should be undertaken directly by council, rather than through delegated authority,” he said.
“This is not to suggest that officers are doing anything wrong – they are making sound and sensible decisions so this is not meant to reflect negatively upon them, but I think the community expectation is to be able to witness the decision-making process.”
Cr Clifton said with around 34 development applications a year to deal with, he did not think the change would put a burden on officers and would not cause any unnecessary delays in the approval process.
“I believe it would mean dealing with approximately 34 applications a year which doesn’t seem onerous, and I see this as a way of enhancing our transparency,” he said.
He said decisions made in the chamber were often covered in local news, allowing the public to find out what occurred and why, rather than decisions done by delegation which were more likely to be filtered through to the public through hearsay.
Cr Clifton was supported in his view by Cr Peter Hodge and Deputy Mayor Cr Kevin Cardew who has previously worked in the building sector as a certifier and could see no downside to making the change.
“Timing is not an issue because we could call a special meeting if we had to meet a deadline (on an application) and workload is not an issue because the planners have still got to do the same amount of work,” Cr Cardew said.
“If an application is to be refused, it should be coming to council – we’re the ones who have to be accountable for it.
“This is very important business and the public have put their trust in us so we need to be making those decisions as opposed to delegated authority.”
But Mayor Rod Marti, CR Dave Bilney and Cr Bernie Wilce were not convinced and argued against the change.
Cr Wilce’s reasoning was that councillors were “not engineers or planners” so they lacked the expertise to make the decisions – this is despite the fact that large or complex development applications already come to the full council for approval.
Cr Bilney and Mayor Marti said they couldn’t support the change because three additional reports to council a month could slow the process down and increase officers’ workloads.