OPINION: Absence of impartial planning system

RECENT donation revelations concerning AGL’s Gloucester Gas Project raise deep community concerns about its approval and future operation.

The project was hurriedly approved under the former Part 3A provisions of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act by an outgoing government that was in caretaker mode.

Such practice, though not illegal under planning law, was highly irregular and caused much criticism at the time.

However, that situation was worsened by the assessment procedure.

The Planning Assessment Commission was supposed to provide an independent assessment made at arm’s-length from the planning pressures of the time but examination of the process shows it was anything but independent.

The Director-General’s 64-page Environmental Assessment Report (November 2010) concluded with the recommendation that the Planning Assessment Commission approve the project and sign the attached instrument of project approval.

The Planning Assessment Commission responded by acknowledging the inadequacy of geological and groundwater assessments but accepted the Department’s position that the project could be satisfactorily developed using the adaptive management process.

Obtaining proper environmental assessment was doomed from this point.

The use of adaptive management overrides the application of the precautionary principal as required by Commonwealth environmental law but the applicant’s mere assertion that the precautionary principle had been considered was sufficient to satisfy the excessively liberal Part 3A planning provisions.

The Planning Assessment Commission accordingly approved the project with 13 operational conditions which, although providing nominal improvement, did not address the critical deficiencies in the assessment and approval process.

We are now aware of the political donations made by AGL at the time.

AGL’s present lack of social licence for the project and the deep community concern are natural developments from the inadequate planning procedure and the recent revelations.

No amount of AGL publicity, promises and propaganda can rectify the problem. In consideration of all the issues we can but regret the absence of an honest and impartial planning system.

Garry Smith


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