Pause to observe the timing of this nomination period when so many people have other things that require their attention - minor things like school holidays, getting ready for Christmas, going on Holiday. Indeed, the last day of sitting for the WA legislative Assembly was 29th November and the Legislative Council 6th December, so our pollies are 'out of session', too - not to say that they're not working in some form, but they're not actually doing the work of governing.
The role of the Panel is described as being to "help improve the design of development and infrastructure proposals, assist with achieving best value from investment, and ensure that projects maximise their contribution to the built environment for the benefit of the community".
Sounds good - but the devil definitely resides in the detail.
In practice, the effect will be to remove consideration of design (and associated development bonuses) from the JDAPs (which have two local council members (out of 5 total), so only require one 'renegade' specialist member to refuse an application). So, having removed all larger development decisions from elected councils, they are now, in effect, to be removed from the JDAPs to hide behind a totally unelected group of specialists whose independence is chronically compromised by their reliance on property, development and landowner interests for so much of their income.
Moreover, despite the Panel's being required to work "for the benefit of the community" there are no community representatives. This poses the considerable question of who determines what is for the benefit of the community?
Then, the membership. The 'core members' of the Panel will be drawn from the same 'specialists' as the majority membership of the Development Assessment Panels: architecture, landscape architecture, urban design and planning. Admittedly, there will also be a number of 'technical specialists' drawn from a wide range of disciplines, but their expertise will only be called upon "for those review sessions where it will be relevant".
It was suggested to me that I should nominate, as my qualifications and experience cover a number of these 'technical specialist' areas, but I have very severe concerns about the Terms of Reference for the Panel.
Most important of my concerns is the draconian requirement for confidentiality which, in effect, prevents Panel members, including technical specialists, from participating in other forums or communities covering matters of urban planning and design - potentially even when they are not specifically dealing with a development for which they have been a party to discussions.
Despite the high-sounding definitions of 'Best Practice' and 'Design Principles', the functioning of the Panel appears to ignore some key aspects.
- Independence. As I have previously noted, JDAP specialist members (and hence 'core members of the DRP) have an unavoidable and systemic conflict of interest, as much of their professional income is derived from large landowners and property developers.
- Accountability. The advice that the Panel provides "must be clearly seen to work for the benefit of the public" - but all proceedings of the Panel are confidential and there is no mention of Minutes being taken or of their availability if they are.
- Transparency. "The Panel's remit, membership, governance processes and funding should always be in the public domain". Yet all proceedings of the Panel are confidential and there is no mention of Minutes being taken or of their availability if they are.
- Context and Character. Good design "responds to and enhances the distinctive characteristics of a local area, contributing to a sense of place". A 'sense of place' is more than just built form - without community input, this will be no more than technical 'experts' making their own judgment rather than being based on actual experience of people in the affected communities, each of which will have its own distinct and potentially very different characteristics.