Monday, June 22, 2009

From Today's Age

 How to sell a planning decision

Jason Dowling

June 22, 2009

IT READS like a script from the ABC's political satire The Hollowmen — "preferred slogans", "communications challenges" — but it is in fact taxpayer-funded advice to the State Government on how to sell controversial planning decisions.

The Department of Sustainability and Environment commissioned the advice from Auspoll in January 2007 and the Greens obtained it through freedom of information.

Auspoll's research showed the public thought "the State Government was performing poorly on planning", the Victorian planning tribunal VCAT "does not allow people to object effectively" and "few people were aware of (the State Government's planning blueprint) Melbourne 2030".

There was also advice on how to sell planning decisions.

"Where there is controversy surrounding the rejection of an application the core communication messages should be based on the following themes:

■ Developments which are not sympathetic towards the existing character of the neighbourhood will not get approval.

■ We are protecting the lifestyles and streetscapes of people living in the area.

■ Developers can't expect to get whatever they want just because they have money (i.e. to build and/or appeal decisions)."

The research showed it was harder to sell a controversial development approval to the public than reject a development application.

"When it comes to approving development applications arguments based around limiting urban sprawl and/or improving the availability of commercial services are unlikely to prove effective," the Auspoll advice said.

"Urban sprawl is simply not on the radar for ordinary people. Further, most people are happy with the commercial services in and around their area and feel that everything they need is close at hand."

Greens MP Greg Barber said the Government had fought hard to withhold the Auspoll advice. "It is politically based market research conducted in marginal seats paid for by the taxpayer," he said.

A spokeswoman for Planning Minister Justin Madden said: "Planning language can be complicated and technical. It is important effective strategies are in place to make it accessible to the community."


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