The crucial public meeting on Wednesday. The chairperson and just two Development Consent Authority members were there, David Koch and Alistair Feehan. Marli Banks (at left) was barred soon after this photo was taken. Jamie de Brenni and Jimmy Cocking were at a social function for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
UPDATE: Dashcam footage (at bottom) provided by a reader showing a vehicle having to get off Ilparpa Road because of a “donga truck”. As can be seen, it’s not even the road train version but still wide enough to cause a bit of a problem, writes the reader. (The time code is incorrect.)
By ERWIN CHLANDA
The decision about the Ilparpa “transport terminal” application by Tony Smith and his company NT Link, promised for mid next week, will tell us a great deal about a government instrumentality that has the power to enhance or diminish our lifestyles, and greatly affect what for most of us is the biggest financial investment in our lives: the place where we live with our families.
Will the Development Consent Authority (DCA) treat with contempt the 90 objections from the public, as it did in the Zanka / Tan application in 2015, in the rural area on the other side of the highway, when 37 people objected and just five were in favour?
There has been a great deal of dissatisfaction with the creeping industrialisation of the rural living areas south of The Gap, and the sustained failure of the bureaucracy to stop grossly improper land use, impacting on neighbours. The public at last Wednesday’s meeting left no doubt about this.
In Rangeview Estate Stephen Zanca and Lily Tan built a 400 square metre shed on land zoned Rural Residential, commenced to use it illegally as the base for their plumbing business and THEN applied for DCA approval of what they were doing – very similar to Mr Smith’s process.
And they got what they wanted, on the flimsiest evidence and in apparent violation of the Planning Scheme.
The Zanca / Tan decision was made when the DCA was chaired by former CLP Chief Minister Denis Burke.
The members of the DCA, supposedly representative of the Alice Springs community, had an amazing amount in common: They were all white, male, middle-aged business people who could reliably be tipped to vote for CLP.
Fast forward to today: Apart from the new chair person, Suzanne Philip, Darwin-based and presiding over all seven of the Territory’s DCA divisions, the DCA now pondering the Smith application consists of two members from the Burke team, David Koch and Alistair Feehan – and that’s it.
New member Jamie de Brenni was not at Wednesday’s public hearing and Marli Banks was disqualified under questionable circumstances.
Ms Philip informed Mr Smith at the hearing that Ms Banks is a member of the Alice Springs Rural Areas Association, which is an objector to the Smith application.
Ms Philips told Mr Smith’s consultant, Simon Tonkin, and the other 50 people in the packed room, that Ms Banks had not been involved “in any of the submissions or correspondence” for the association.
She then gave Mr Tonkin the opportunity to confer with Mr Smith. When they came back into the room Mr Tonkin requested Ms Banks to be removed from the panel.
Having earlier requested the crowd to afford natural justice to the speakers and the panel, Ms Philip gave no such consideration to Ms Banks, and announced that she would have no further part in the deliberations nor in the decision of the Smith application.
Ms Banks left the room without being offered any say in the matter.
The further question this raises is why Jimmy Cocking, the alternate member for Mr de Brenni and Ms Banks, was not called upon.
The answer to that question is that both Mr Cocking and Mr de Brenni were at the council reception for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at the time of the hearing. It was a prior engagement, Mr Cocking says.
The exclusion of Ms Banks begs the question, who is qualified to sit on the DCA? Ms Banks, Mr de Brenni and Mr Cocking are all elected members of the Town Council which has at least some kind of interest in practically any development application.
In fact the council’s Manager Developments Dilip Nellikat told the hearing that the council has “serious concerns” about the Smith application.
But that’s not all.
There is a worrying question: What exactly are the powers of the DCA, which will make a decision in the next four days that will have massive consequences for the lifestyle of hundreds of blockies – and the financial value of their assets.
And that decision is likely to stick, irrespective of whatever the current review of the planning laws will come up with.
An investigation spanning a year by the Alice Springs News Online has not been able to obtain any clarification of this issue.
This is how it started.
During the Zanka / Tan application process the following definition came to light: “Home Based Contracting” is defined in the Planning Scheme as “the storage on the site of a dwelling of materials and / or vehicles associated with a business operated by a person resident in the dwelling, but which business does not operate on the site of the dwelling”.
The applicants had provided extensive evidence that they would be operating the business from the dwelling.
Several requirements are listed in the Planning Scheme from which the DCA can provide exemptions, but we could find nothing that gave the DCA the power of over-riding the Scheme. Can the DCA act in contravention of the Scheme?
We put this question to the Planning Minister at the time, Nicole Manison.
The answer, transmitted by her minder Lesley Major, was: “The Planning Act provides the DCA with discretion to make decisions on planning matters. In this instance, the DCA has determined that the home based contracting and home occupation can coexist.”
So the DCA can override the Scheme?
Mr Zanka and Ms Tan left no doubt that for them “home occupation” would mean operating their plumbing business from their rural home, in tandem with Home Based Contracting, and that is what they are doing now.
Our next step was the Ombudsman’s office from which Laddawan Te Maro told us: “The Act and the Planning Scheme allows the DCA to make decisions … that are inconsistent with the Planning Scheme. And The DCA has the discretion to approve development applications that are inconsistent with the specifics provided in the Planning Scheme.”
So the DCA can override the Planning Scheme?
Answers to all our further enquiries were close variations of what media officer for the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics, Ellie Clancy, communicated: “Section 84 of the Act sets out, that the DCA has the powers that are necessary or convenient for, or incidental to, the performance of its functions or the exercise of its powers.”
Says who? Says what?
Ms Philip appears to have the opposite views: “The DCA believes that compliance with the Planning Scheme and zoning laws is important to Territorians to provide for appropriate and orderly planning and control of the use and development of land,” she said in a media release.
And at last Wednesday’s hearing she said about the DCA: “Our job is not to set planning policy, we don’t do rezonings, we look at the Planning Scheme as it exists, and the Planning Act, and apply that to an application.”
So, no, the DCA cannot go against the Planning Scheme? Or can it?
Who better to cast light on this vexed question than Ms Philip.
I asked her during a break in the hearing if I could have five minutes of her time.
She said no, go and talk to the media people, we are a quasi judicial instrumentality and we don’t explain our decisions.
So there. In any case, when, after her appointment, I asked Ms Clancy to arrange an interview with the new DCA chairperson she replied: “There will be no phone call organised with Ms Philip.”
DECLARATION OF INTEREST: The writer is a rural area resident (of Petrick Road) and was an objector to the Zanka / Tan application.