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Department of Premier and Cabinet

Decision making as part of a planning authority

The role of elected members as part of a planning authority is quite different to that as a representative of the community. This can become particularly apparent when considering development applications which members of the community might object to, despite the proposal being allowed under the council’s planning scheme. In this case, you must follow the planning scheme, whether or not it is politically palatable, and you must act with procedural fairness.

In making a decision, particularly if going against the planning officer’s recommendation, the council must give reasons for its decision. These reasons are to be recorded in the council’s minutes. Decisions and reasons must be based on the planning scheme.

Councils must make decisions on all types of applications within prescribed timeframes, unless the applicant agrees to an extension of time. Otherwise, the applicant may lodge an appeal on the basis that no decision has been made. If this occurs, the council must pay all the costs of parties to the appeal. There have been many cases where such appeals have cost councils many thousands of dollars. It is important that council decisions are based on the planning scheme and professional advice is provided by council’s expert staff.


SCENARIO

A councillor’s constituents are furious because he has voted in favour of a major apartment development, which many people in the community opposed. The constituents believe that they made their views very clear in meetings with the councillor, as well as during consultations with the applicant in which the councillor chaired.

Councillors can often have multiple roles on planning applications, which can be difficult for constituents to understand. While councillors are obliged to consider their community’s views, this doesn’t mean that they can vote in favour of those views. Councillors have to make decisions based on whether the application is consistent with the local planning scheme. This can reduce the scope for councillors to vote according to their personal opinions or reflect the views of their constituents.

To improve governance in this situation:

  • councillors need to be clear what role they are playing in different stages of the application process;
  • councillors should try to ensure that their constituents understand these roles; and
  • councillors need to understand their administrative role as part of the local planning authority - councillors should ensure that they are able to be persuaded by the information and advice they receive at the decision making stage.