In the late 1990s, the planning profession in Australia became enthusiastic about performance-based planning, by which applicants for development were supposed to justify their projects in terms of satisfaction of idealised principles, as distinct from the prescriptive planning by which applicants hitherto were required to satisfy detailed or at least specified standards. Whether by design or as an unintended consequence, this shift has been beneficial to the property industry as it placed local government officers and public servants on the defensive in attempting to condition developments so that ample public space is brought into public ownership to cater for the needs of new residents.
Practice between local governments and between states has long been disparate. In Victoria, the legislation specified a minimum charge and some local governments used the provision to extract large tracts of open space. For example, the Shire of Sherbrooke negotiated sometimes as much as 90% open space contribution, in steep or fire-prone localities of the Dandenong Ranges (such as became the Selby Bushland Reserve). By contrast, in Queensland prior to 1997, legislation specified a maximum statutory charge, reflecting the state’s pro-development ethos.
In developing localities, it’s vital that sufficiently large corridors of land are reserved for public purposes and it’s particularly important that floodplains, wetlands and ridgelines be reserved from incompatible development and (in the case of watercourses) to allow space for soft engineering works to manage stormwater.
The Land Planning Branch of the Queensland Department of Natural Resources sought to draft some guidelines for planning officers in local governments and departmental staff in dealing with development applications. The intention was to provide an authoritative benchmark to fortify officers in negotiations with developers and even perhaps in court. Jeremy Addison, a qualified planner and an officer of the Department, produced a draft working paper that was not considered finalised and was not published by the Department. It is replete with references to the statutory planning and land tenure legislation in operation in Queensland in the late 1990s-early 2000s, after the passage of the (now superseded) Integrated Planning Act 1997. It is included here because there are few known similar guidelines in public circulation and so the paper has contemporary value beyond historical interest. Its shortcomings should not be attributed to Mr Addison.
The “Parkland Surrender” paper addresses how much land should be offered up for public purposes in new subdivisions like this site of a proposed estate at Caboolture West, South East Queensland.
Surrender by developers is not the only method and perhaps not the most effective method of securing public open space. Melbourne’s metropolitan parks system, including Petty’s demonstration orchard at Templestowe, was funded by a general “metropolitan improvement” rate.
In Queensland, performance-based planning was introduced in the Integrated Planning Act 1997, modelled on the Resource Management Act of New Zealand, although without any provisions for allocating (privatising) state land or mineral assets.
Previous legislation had specified that land taken at subdivision was to be surrendered to the Crown and then (usually) reserved for public purposes with the local government being invited to serve as trustee. Local governments objected to this safety net provision which provided a brake against disposal of the parkland, because (they argued) it was easier to rationalise their park holdings and sell isolated pockets if held as freehold. Yes, small pockets of land are inherently more expensive to maintain than a comparable acreage added to a large district park, but they are serving a different clientele.
It has been argued that land surrendered at subdivision is a tax upon the future residents, so only land of benefit to them should be taken; in other words government has no right to levy developers on behalf of users in a regional or or remote catchment. However, subdivision is a privilege, not a right, and a district- or regional-scale surrender is appropriate, so long as the levy is for a public interest purpose and is permitted by the legislation. (The precise wording of the legislation is critical).
Invitation to planners and landscape designers
Critical feedback is invited from any person with survey or planning expertise and who would like to collaborate with PaRC in building the working paper Parkland Surrender at Time of Subdivision into a modern guideline applicable across Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islands. Please contact email@example.com. PaRC would also like to know of other comparable current or historical guidelines that can be re-published here.