Tuesday, February 2, 2016

WILL DEVELOPMENT APPLICATIONS ALWAYS BE APPROVED?


Development applications will never stop; one can do little about this. Now it appears that one is able to do little about any application, even with the opportunity one has for analysis, comment and protest. Over the years there has been a change. Once objections were considered seriously and acted upon appropriately: they had a certain potent sting to them. Now, it seems, governments on all levels have worked out ways to ensure that any development application can be approved if the government wants it to be given the nod, no matter what – come hell or high water. In spite of the number and quality of objections a development application might receive, if any government wants to approve a proposal, it will do so. Governments have become brazen, bold; they know no shame.




The ABC News report on the proposed golf course at Robe, (see below), seems to have adopted most of the arguments and strategies that have been formulated over the years to overcome objections, apart from one strategy that, historically, was the first to be implemented: the idea of getting supporting statements in favour of the project that could numerically cancel out the objections. This concept sees the situation purely as a numbers game – a count of those 'for' and those 'against': the 'ayes' have it! Given the lack of objective review and supervision over these processes, the 'ayes' will always have it. Councillors and other government representatives can, it seems, always gather sufficient support to ensure victory. This counting game ignores the issues and buries debate in a procedural strategy that has its own irrelevant distractions and momentum.





The other classic concept used to support a development is the argument that it will bring money into the economy and create jobs. Government representatives always seek out statistics to manipulate when using these strategies. "It will be good for the economy" becomes the refrain. It is almost a threat: stop this project and the economy, and you, will suffer; let the project be approved and you might get a job and do well out of it! The report on the Robe golf course starts with the spruiking of figures.




Given the past experience with the golf course at Springbrook many years ago, one instinctively knows that a 'golf course' is never really just a golf course. The report is headlined 'golf course,' but the text tells more: there are two international golf courses; a club house; accommodation; cellar door; wellness centre; wagyu beef farm ; and an Aboriginal heritage education centre.' Gosh, all under the title of 'golf course'! This seems a classic developer approach. One has to ask about the scale, scope and size of all of these extras! How many hotels? How many apartments? How many condominiums? How much of anything? What is a 'wellness centre'? All of this seems to have been left dangling as it was with the Springbrook application. Why do governments not insist on matters being totally explicit? Do they care?

Just golf?
But there is one thing that will not be built at Robe: the abalone farm. One remains cynical: was everything possible pushed into the original application just so as to be able to be seen to drop something, as though it might be viewed as a 'responsible' response to the objections; to give the impression that one might be listening and caring? How can such a clutter of different interests and uses ever be described as a golf course? Surely 'licensed golf resorts for 'x' number of people with an adjacent farm with 'y' number of cattle' might give a better idea of the true size and intent of the operation? Still, one has to ask about what might be planned for the future! Disguising the true intent seems to be a strategy that most development applications adopt. One has to wonder about the advice given by governments to prospective developers. Has a government ever rejected a development because of the inadequacy of the application? One Council has said that it prefers to help developers so that better outcomes are achieved, rather than returning poor applications to be improved! Why? What is government's role? There has been the occasion where the approving government officer was also the one offering advice to the developer both privately, and as a consultant listed in the application! If these games are known, why are governments doing so little to try to stop them? Why are quality applications not insisted upon as a matter of course? Why do governments not just send inadequate applications back for more and better objective information? Surely new and explicit rules for development applications could manage these seemingly subversive tricks?

Golf?


The developer usually always tells everyone of the research effort that has gone into the application; that no stone has been left unturned in the many, many years that have been spent developing the project and in preparing the application. The inference is that everything has been carefully managed and controlled. The Robe application apparently says this. One has to ask: why, if this might be so, are developments left so vague on many matters? Why does it look as though matters are being concealed?


It has become a cliché that objectors will always raise environmental and cultural matters, making real issues appear as a joke. The comic frequently quotes the 'rare and endangered brown spotted frog,' and the aboriginal 'secret business site' that the development will destroy, such is the frequency of these objections. In spite of this demeaning mockery - maybe because of it? - development applications are always able to 'manage' these issues. The Robe application report tells of 'Aboriginal midden sites.' These have apparently all have been identified and will not be touched by the development. 'Rare frog' country likewise usually gets this treatment: one envisages one lone observed frog sitting in a two-metre pond surrounded by apartment blocks. Any similar issue, so it seems, is handled in the same way: it can be left isolated and untouched, as if this was a solution. Matters meaningful in development applications have no broader, inclusive context other than being there as a thing, an impediment that can be left, surrounded by the development if it cannot be removed. The development is rarely modified or moved. That the frog might require more than a small parcel of land, and that the midden is only itself, having nothing to do with landscape and location, are assumptions that get glossed over as if the idea of unique isolation might be true; that 'fencing it off' or relocating it might always be the answer. It is highly likely that the opposite is so – that context is critical to place and its values; that the region is critical to matters environmental and cultural. That the rational mind might argue that everything of value will be 'untouched,' is a concept that relies on a very limited and 'practical' understanding of what a thing or context is.




Developers never appear to want to think or ask about things too much. Theirs is a world of fact. We are frequently told about 'the real world' they live in, that suggests the fantasy and 'unreal' world that others who disagree occupy. The 'real' world is the world of dollars and cents. It sees everything in this calculated manner. If a cultural item is so significant, then it can be moved, relocated in order to allow the development to occur. If there are going to be 'cultural' losses, then this situation can be balanced with cultural gains. It is the 'for and against' calculation yet again. Sometimes money is involved; jobs too, and education. Here at Robe we see the 'Aboriginal heritage education centre' listed as one of the facilities in the proposal: yes, both 'heritage' and 'education' will be cared for on the golf course site! The name sounds big, but what is it? Where? How big? Why? Who is going to maintain it? For how long? There are many unknowns: c.f. the museum in Sunland's Hadid scheme: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2015/06/the-zaha-abedian-sunland-towers-gold.html It all has the feeling of one handing out lollies to children to succour favour. In some cases it looks like a set of good words to cajole approving Councillors: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2014/11/approving-ghosts-grand-visions-and.html




Then there is final argument: "Why are you so precious about this place? - after all, this was all once land cleared for grazing; it is all regrowth. The development will return it to 'pristine' land (even as a golf course)." The inference seems to be that others have buggered the place up: "It is full of weeds" that we will remove! The developer will be the one to save it, with his development: golf courses, accommodation, farms, etc. One soon discovers that development applications use words cleverly; perhaps too cleverly. Arguments that intrusive developments might save poor, regenerated land that has lost any pristine quality, abuse the idea that land can regenerate by emphasising the past misuse, seeming to rationalise this as being the proposition that can support further 'quality' abuse. It is enigmatic, a confusing argument that is apparently meant to distract and muddle; demean.


The pattern of development applications is becoming much the same. In spite of this transparency, governments are doing little to ensure that quality and meaningful applications are made. Governments seem to collude in the game. Indeed, when matters get too hard to justify, the conditions are then set out – as many as are needed. Indeed, governments often boast about the numbers of conditions that have been included in the approval, as if number again was significant. Two trite conditions with an approved application can be recalled: the truck had to be registered; the driver had to have a license! Still, conditions are always described as being 'World Class,' 'World's best practice,' and the like. It assumes that the world is not destroying itself, when it is. The conditions, of course, will be supervised by 'engineers' who will be the ones to finally determine the outcome that is never defined. Why should 'engineers' be best to 'engineer' our world when so much destruction has already happened under their watch? The game is, apparently, to approve anything that governments want to be approved, which it seems are most applications, with heaps of conditions that will never be implemented or supervised – and if all fails, it will be 'a one off' issue that is being addressed with a 'World Class' response! Governments and ministers have true gall; few guts!

'World Class' act

It is all about blurb and jargon. It is a worrying development with development applications that seem to have few guidelines; and if there are any, they are usually poorly framed as town or regional plans for the area that can be interpreted willy-nilly by all involved to achieve whatever outcome is preferred. The call for public objections has become a step in a process of ticking boxes. The objections might as well be placed into a box and discarded, such is the lack of consideration given to them. They probably already are! No matter how many objections there are, and of what quality they might be, if a project is to be approved, it will be. There are many cases where projects are approved prior to any public notification. There have been applications that have been assessed by Council in detail prior to any public notification! Is this collusion? It is becoming a farce. Some ministers now invoke rules that allow all processes to be avoided. A recent solar farm proposal in Canberra was approved by the Minister with conditions. The argument was that it was for the 'greater good'! It seems that this process might as well be openly introduced for all developments instead of lying to the public with the same latent processes being used. The recent approval of the Instrument Landing System for the Gold Coast Airport by Minister Truss, a proposal that locates the flight path directly over the length of the coastal strip, is a case in point. It is simply a dopey decision; as is the Gold Coast City Mayor's approval of an ultra- high rise building without any other Councillors knowing: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2015/10/gold-ghost-city-planning.html Things become bizarre when flood plains are approved for apartment blocks with conditions that there be rescue boats and food provisions for when it does flood! - see: http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2015/11/developing-flood-plains.html How on earth is this implemented/enforced? Who checks the 'use by' dates? Who runs the evacuation rehearsals when there is no water? What is our profession saying about this mess?



How far will governments go? We are in an era where anything can and will be approved. It is a worrying time because with such open manipulation available, there is always the concern of corruption. Gosh, if our beloved cycling and tennis can be corrupted, what might happen with our hated governments? Will development applications always find a way to be approved? The answer seems to be a clear: YES; and will anyone care? It does not matter if you do! Go away silly boy!

Power does corrupt.



THE REPORT

Proposed Robe golf course to deliver up to 150 jobs, developer says
By Elise Fantin
Posted about 2 hours ago

Key points:
  • Project estimated to cost up to $30 million
  • Aboriginal Heritage education centre proposed
  • Plans for an abalone farm dropped

Developers of an international standard golf course near Robe in south-east South Australia say it could generate up to 150 full-time jobs and add $17.5 million to the state's economy.
The State Government granted the proposal major project status in March 2014.
Plans for the 425-hectare site at Nora Creina, 15 kilometres south of Robe, have been released for public comment.
The project is estimated to cost between $20 million and $30 million and its proposal includes two 18-hole international standard links-style golf courses, a club house, accommodation, cellar door, wellness centre, wagyu beef farm and an Aboriginal Heritage education centre.
Developer Justin Scanlon said 25 full-time jobs would be created during construction and up to 150 jobs once complete.
"And that can be greenkeepers, maintenance, retail, chefs, cooks, cleaners, security," he said.
Initial plans included an abalone farm but this was scrapped despite years of planning.
"We spent many years doing that, but when that was finally approved we had the GFC in 2008 and people just didn't have the appetite to invest in that," Mr Scanlon said.
The Kungari Aboriginal Heritage Association wrote to the State Government in 2014 expressing concerns that significant cultural and historical sites could be lost if the development went ahead.
But Mr Scanlon said a cultural heritage survey had been carried out and Aboriginal midden sites located.
"We've been asked to manage those and make sure that we keep clear of those, which we have," he said.
Mr Scanlon said while the links golf courses would be the major drawcard, he wanted to showcase more of what the region had to offer.
"We're doing an Aboriginal Heritage education centre, we're doing walking trails, we're doing bird watching," Mr Scanlon said.
"We've got four kilometres of coastline.
"It will drive a lot of guests to come up and see the golf course. But then they will go to the Coonawarra, they'll go to all those other places around there."
People have also raised concerns about native vegetation that would be cleared for the site.
"What a lot of people don't realise is that land was grazing land right down to the beach in the 50s, 60 and 70s," Mr Scanlon said.
"It has recovered to a certain extent but that land is not pristine land. What we want to do is obviously improve the land. There's a lot of exotics and weeds."
A public meeting with developers and representatives from the SA Department of Planning and the District Council of Robe will be held in Robe on February 17. Public consultation closes on March 11.



NOTE: The Robe proposal is used here only as an example of a 'typical' development application. No further implications should be drawn.

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