The following article by Rob Nolan RPIA (Life Fellow) was first published in Planning News (October 2017) as ‘Tasmania and the World’s Great Small Cities – PIA Tasmanian Conference 24-25 August 2017’
PIA Tasmania had successfully developed a one day conference program held over 5 successive years in Campbell Town, a place central for most to travel for a one day event. This year with mounting interest in an expanded program, particularly to allow more time for networking, along with the prospect of out-growing available venues in Campbell Town the decision was taken to run a 2 day format. For this year this has been presented in Launceston as a half day Thursday and then a full day Friday of presentations and 2 nights for socialising.
In endeavouring to capture some of the flavour and to give a personal perspective on what was on offer, invariably does not do justice to all who contributed, so apologies are given for omissions at the start. To inject some objective assessment of the Conference, a SurveyMonkey has been conducted and is now for the PIA Tasmania Committee to consider.
The conference program was diverse, not solely centred on the theme of what makes ‘great small cities’. The range of presenters were similarly diverse drawn from many backgrounds. Briefly a rundown of presentations had the first half day focusing on planning policy and what were seen as guiding principles for policy, largely led by Trevor Budge. This was a panel discussion which was timely and informative. On any reasonable assessment planning policy has been the State Government’s planning black-hole with land use planning focus largely confined to ‘planning reform’ centred on statutory processes within the rhetoric of a ‘fairer, faster, simpler, and cheaper’ planning system.
The State Government’s 2014 ambitious (and commendable) election platforms included:
- ‘reducing Tasmania’s unemployment rate to the national average;
- increasing Tasmania’s population to 650,000 by 2050;
- securing 1.5 million visitors per year by 2020;
- grow the value of the agricultural sector in Tasmania tenfold to $10 billion by 2050; and
- make Tasmania the healthiest population in Australia by 2025.
Despite legislation for State Policy and other available mechanisms, such concepts and associated policy constructs have not been embodied in the planning reform to-date. Instead a push for streamlining and consistency leading to the Tasmanian Planning Scheme has been the focus of reform. This has, in essence, been more about tidying-up the process of dealing with permit applications rather than clearly describing the desired outcomes from the planning system. Recognition of the absence of policy was an on-going theme throughout the conference proceedings.
Thursday evening was the first reason for the longer conference – time to network. The City of Launceston hosted a welcome function in the Inveresk Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery. The Mayor Albert van Zetten in his welcome to delegates and, true to the conference theme, spruiked the attributes of Launceston and the region.
Come Friday morning, the Minister for Planning, The Hon Peter Gutwein MP opened the conference. Minister Gutwein praised the role of planners and recognised the sometime difficult job faced by government planners. This was good stuff to hear, but in terms of the Government’s policy agenda, this was again about legislation to, some would claim, duplicate that existing in areas of policy and major projects. This focus on process had little to offer in terms of how planning can assist the State to realise some of the Government’s big aspirational goals. Certainly, there was no suggestion of an interest to see land use planning in a broader budget context, the Minister is also Treasurer, or to reduce the policy silos within which much of Government operates. To expand, the government has a Healthy Tasmania Strategic Plan and an Affordable Housing Strategy yet how the Tasmanian Planning Scheme will support these strategies has not been described.
Following the Minister, we had classy presentations by Trevor Budge and Ralph Webster on the theme of great small cities with reference to such places a Bendigo and Auckland. And so the presentations continued into the afternoon where we heard about Living City Devonport, and the Launceston City Deal for the Launceston City Heart project and the relocation of the University’s main campus to Inveresk.
The final sessions comprised speakers concerned with the conflicts and challenges for the urban – rural interface, the perennial clash of residential amenity over rural activities, the loss of farming land and, as some claim, an absence of planning to protect rural land from a change of use. The somewhat concerning aspect about such claims is that planners have focused on the loss of rural land to urban land use in Tasmania since the early 1970’s and even despite the 2009 State Policy for the Protection of Agriculture Land the attempts to contain urban influences have failed for want of political or land owner support and even manipulation of the State Policy to constrain its application only to prime agriculture land.
The conference wrapped-up with some 70 delegates sitting down to eat along two sides of a very long table. that included the awarding of a PIA fellowship to Alex Brownlie as recognition of his service to the profession. Overall the conference achieved its goals of stimulating sessions and opportunity to socialise with fellow planners.
To the naysayers, including myself, that a 2 day conference would have difficulty raising the numbers, fortunately and thankfully our scepticism was unfounded. There are many ways to gauge the success of a conference, whether it is the final session, in this case the dinner around the long-table, or surveys that aim for objectivity and attendee’s unattributed impressions. On all measures, the conference was well received and the feedback will provide a solid basis for a 2018 State Conference.
Credit to the conference organisers and a big thanks to Mick Purves (Convenor), Heidi Goess, Claire Fawdry, Nicole Sommer, Irene Duckett (Divisional President) and from the PIA office, Carmel McCormack and Erin Grififin-Danby.
Rob Nolan is works part time for the Heart Foundation Tasmania and can be contacted at email@example.com