Australia: British election: are there any lessons for Australia in the planning and development field?

Last Updated: 8 April 2010
Article by Ian Wright

Relevance to Australia

Britons will go to the polls on 6 May 2010. The ruling Labour Party as well as the Conservative Party and Liberal Democrats have released their election manifestos.

The election manifestos of the respective parties are of general interest given the British parliamentary system is the basis for the government in Australia. They are of particular interest in the planning and development field given that Australian planning systems have their origins in the British planning system.

The election manifestos are also of more than a passing interest given the Federal election in 2010 and the Rudd Labour Government's stated intention to enter the urban planning policy space of State and local governments.

Finally the manifestos are of particular interest given that issues of population growth and growth management are occupying a central stage in the policy debate in State and local government elections, with Queensland elections scheduled for 2011.

Labour Manifesto

The ruling Labour Party Manifesto 2010 calls for the retention of the policy and governmental arrangements it has put in place in relation to planning and development. However the manifesto does make the following relevant statements:

  • The Infrastructure Planning Commission (a body created by the Labour Party to assess major projects) will help streamline and speed up decision making on major projects.
  • Councils are to ensure that the importance of local services to the community is taken into account before granting planning permission to change a use.

Conservatives Manifesto

The Conservatives Manifesto 2010 proposes as a central tenant of its platform to change politics in Britain through significant reform to the planning and governmental systems. Significant reform proposals include the following:

  • Create a presumption in favour of sustainable development in the planning system.
  • Abolish the unelected Infrastructure Planning Commission (a body created to assess and determine development applications for major projects) and replace it with an efficient and democratically accountable system that provides a fast track process for major infrastructure projects.
  • Use private or hybrid Acts of Parliament to promote major projects.
  • Ensure that all other major projects are considered at planning enquiries which have binding timetables and which focus on planning issues with final permission given by a Minister.
  • An open source planning system is to be created where neighbourhood plans prepared by people in each neighbourhood are to be consolidated into a local plan.
  • The undemocratic tier of regional planning including regional spatial strategies (equivalent to the regional plans in Queensland and regional environmental plans in NSW) and building targets are to be abolished.
  • Developers will have to pay a tariff to a local authority to compensate the community for loss of amenity and costs of additional infrastructure.
  • A portion of the tariff is to be kept by the neighbourhoods in which a given development takes place providing clear incentives for communities which go for growth.
  • Significant local projects like new housing estates are to be designed through a collaborative process that has involved the neighbourhood.
  • A faster approvals process for planning applications where neighbourhoods raise no objection is to be introduced.
  • A simple and consolidated national planning framework which sets out national economic and environmental priorities is to be presented to the parliament.
  • The power of planning inspectors (the equivalent of which in Queensland and NSW are courts) to rewrite local plans is to be abolished.
  • Limit applicant appeals against local planning decisions to courts to cases that involve abuse of process or failure to apply the local plans.
  • Encourage local authorities to compile infrastructure plans.
  • Give local planning authorities and other public authorities a duty to co-operate with one another.

Liberal Democrats Manifesto

The Liberal Democrats Manifesto 2010 puts forward the following policies:

  • Close loopholes that allow playing fields to be sold or built upon without going through the normal planning procedures.
  • Require a local competition test for all planning applications for new retail developments and establish a local competition office within the Office of Fair Trading to investigate anti-competitive practices at local and regional level.
  • Abolish the Infrastructure Planning Commission and return decision making including housing targets to local people.
  • Create a third party right of appeal in cases where planning decisions go against locally agreed plans.
  • Create a new designation to protect green areas of particular importance or value to the community and stop the practice of defining gardens as greenfield sites in planning law so that they cannot so easily be built over.
  • Introduce landscape-scale policies with a specific remit to restore water channels, rivers and wetlands and reduce flood risk by properly utilising the natural capacity of the landscape to retain water.
  • Give local authorities the power to set high local tax rates for second homes and the option to require specific planning permission for new second homes in areas where the number of such homes is threatening the viability of a community.


In Britain, the planning system delivered by the ruling Labour Party has many of the same policy settings that we would recognise in the Australian context. These include the following:

  • A weakening of the planning powers of democratically elected planning authorities such as local authorities.
  • The transfer of planning powers at regional and national levels to planning authorities that are not democratically elected to prevent the development delays caused by NIMBYism that are often associated with democratically elected planning authorities such as local authorities.
  • The prevalence of regional planning and regional government to administer regional planning.
  • The focus on infrastructure planning and infrastructure contribution charges to fund infrastructure in times of declining tax revenues and high public sector debt.

The policy environment developed by the Labour Party in response to broader economic, social and environmental agendas has often been at the expense of the interests of individuals and neighbourhoods.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are clearly seeking to tap into the disenchantment of local communities with their proposed policy initiatives.

The Conservatives' policy agenda is in some respects revolutionary in terms of the repositioning of power in the planning system from central government and regional planning authorities and larger national development entities to local authorities and more localised development entities.

However, the less contentious elements of the Conservatives' policies do provide some interesting policy options for Australian policy makers. For example:

  • The proposal for a simple and consolidated national planning framework which sets out national economic and environmental priorities.
  • The proposal for local planning authorities and other public authorities to be subject to a duty to co-operate with one another.
  • The proposal for a faster approvals process for planning applications where neighbourhoods raise no objection to a planning application.
  • The proposal to encourage local authorities to compile infrastructure plans.

These are sensible policy suggestions that deserve consideration by Commonwealth and State policy makers some of which may arise as a result of the Commonwealth's stated intention to re-enter the public policy debate over population growth and urban and regional development.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Ian Wright
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