Good morning. Thank you for the opportunity to address Council regarding MR22/012 Community Engagement Framework and Participation Plan – Amendment.
I am presenting today as the Co-convenor of A Better Eurobodalla (ABE), a community forum working to achieve open, accountable and responsive government in Eurobodalla.
ABE has applied our principles of good governance to today’s agenda item dealing with a proposed Amendment to the Community Engagement Framework and Participation Plan (hereafter the CEFPP). ABE considers an effective CEFPP is vital for good governance by Council and Council’s staff, and has referenced the document in previous presentations to Council in February 2021 and March 2022.
The amendment currently proposed would require Council to provide written notification to adjoining owners of land which is subject of a development application that does not apply the acceptable solution for setbacks in the relevant Development Control Plan (DCP), and provide a period of 14 days for a response to be made to Council. The amendment would apply to all DCPs within the Eurobodalla Shire, as listed in MR22/012.
ABE strongly supports the proposed amendment in Mayoral Report 22/012, as it bolsters the key principles already contained within the CEFPP, which was adopted by the previous Council on 26 November 2019. This Plan embodies good principles to guide Council’s approach to engaging the community. They are to:
- Be open and inclusive;
- Generate mutual trust and respect, and be accountable;
- Engage early and provide information that is clear;
- Be considerate and provide feedback; and
- Value and acknowledge skills and resources.
Importantly the Plan tells us that ‘Ineffective or tokenistic community engagement can be detrimental to the good faith of the community in the long term’ (P4).
Additionally, in providing direction to staff, the Plan speaks convincingly about engagement levels and methods describing five levels of participation as:
- Collaborate; and
Under the heading ‘Consult: What will we say’ and ‘What will we do’ the direction is: ‘We will keep you informed, listen to and acknowledge concerns and provide feedback on how public input influenced the decision.’
And under the heading ‘Involve’ the Plan states: “We will work with you to ensure that your concerns and aspirations are directly reflected in the alternatives developed and provide feedback on how’.
This approach is laudable and ABE recommends all interested community members should familiarise themselves with the commitments that Council has made in the Plan.
However, the recent planning approval at Surf Beach brought to Council’s attention at Public Access on both the 19th July and 2nd August has highlighted that the CEFPP requires greater clarity to ensure its key principles are realised in practice, and the amendment proposed in Mayoral Report 22/012 presents a sensible step to forestall reoccurrence of similar problems in the future. In the absence of the proposed amendment, the current interpretation of the CEFPP effectively removes even the most basic level of engagement (i.e. to inform an affected landholder), and has created a situation where Council staff can make significant long term decisions affecting adjoining landholders without them being made aware these critical processes are under way. This is not public engagement – it is public disengagement.
While the proposed amendment will have some downside effects in that it will increase workloads for some staff, and may slow down the rate of approval for some Development Applications, these will be offset by better informed and transparent planning outcomes in the longer term. The key determinants for effective planning need to be seen in terms of improved outcomes rather than easier or faster processes – the end result is what matters, not the ease or speed of how you achieved the goal.
The only part of the recommendation in MR22/012 for which ABE harbours concerns is part iii, which states that Council will “Reconsider this matter as part of a review by Council of the Community Engagement Framework and Participation Plan”. It is not clear to ABE why this sensible amendment should be singled out for particular attention during the upcoming review, as this could facilitate reoccurrence of the planning problems which this amendment aims to prevent. ABE therefore recommends that that Mayoral Report be amended to remove part iii of the Recommendation.
In summary, Council should support today’s amendment in MR 22/012 in order to achieve better governance and improved long-term planning outcomes in the Eurobodalla.
Thank you for your attention
Dr Brett Stevenson
A Better Eurobodalla