PIA responds to council DA processing criticism

By Adam Coleman

The South Australian division of the Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) has responded to a front page article in The Advertiser that criticised SA councils for being too busy to efficiently process development applications (DA).

The article on June 13, 2007 titled Councils too busy: New home plans chaos said that councils were “struggling to keep pace” and “building approvals are being given without on-site inspections”.

“There has been a significant amount of media coverage in recent months about the poor job councils do in development assessment,” said PIA SA president, Gary Mavrinac.
“What the media and development industry generally fails to recognise is that thousands of development applications are assessed by council planning staff in an efficient and economic manner, notwithstanding that many councils are understaffed.

Mr Mavrinac told governmentnews.com.au that development applications are becoming more complex resulting in increased processing times.

“Planners are dealing with more issues. There is more and more in the policies, there is more expectation by the community that we are goping to look at setbacks, privacy overlooking, energy efficiency, climate change coming in," he says.

Planners face enormous pressures from continuing changes to legislation, staff shortages, high volumes of work and pressure from developers, councilors and the community, Mr Mavrinac says.

PIA is conducting a benchmarking study into the DA resources of local government in South Australia. It aims to:
• determine the ideal make up of council development assessment teams and their assessment procedures;
• ensure adequate resourcing of such teams; and
• improve efficiencies in the processing of development applications and identify best practice.

The information collected is expected to add value to the raw data collected by the State Government the through the System Indicators reporting process.

The Systems Indicator reporting is basically just numbers, according to Mr Mivrinac.

“It says how many applications were lodged, how many were done on time, how many were late and really some of the councils will come out looking pretty bad. What this study is trying to do is understand why those figures are the way they are," he says.
“We are trying to come up with something councils can go to their elected members and say this is what we need to really handle the workload."

Final analysis from the study is expected by the end of the month. Delays associated with development applications often occur when developers present poor quality plans or insufficient information to undertake assessment, Mr Mivrinac says.

“When do you accept an application, is it simply because the check’s been paid? Or is it because the correct information has been provided?
“One of the things PIA SA is also trying to do as a study is to look at some fact sheets that help the developers, the mums and dads to know what they need to supply withy an application, because that varies as well.”

PIA maintains that local government has risen to the challenge of prosperous economic times reflected in record development application numbers.

“We need to focus on the positives rather than handful of exceptions” Mr Mavrinac says.
“There are and likely always will be examples where complex and controversial applications take more time to resolve than the industry would prefer – but these are the exceptions”.

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