Wednesday 6 February 2008

I've got a plan

State Member for Cook, Jason O'Brien represents one of Queensland's largest and the most northern electorate, taking in the Douglas Shire, Cape York Peninsula, the Torres Strait, two of Cairns' northern beaches and Cook Shire.

We're delighted welcome Jason to our team of Cairns
local writers.

At the moment, every week another 1500 people come to live in Queensland.

Like the majority of people reading CairnsBlog, they or their parents would have come here from interstate or overseas to stake a claim in sunny, paradise. Most of them will live in the south-east corner of the state but the far north will get its fair share of this migration.

What do we do with all these people? How do we accommodate them, find them jobs and ensure they don’t wreck the environment and the lifestyle of those already here?

This is the question of our generation.

Most of the answer is careful planning. No doubt Mike Berwick is right and we need a national population policy to control localised planning and infrastructure decisions. In the meantime the only practical thing local communities can do is assume more people will keep arriving.

I do not agree with those commentators on the Blog that growth necessary means a loss of character or even community. Good planning can harness and build on these values. I also get a bit frustrated with people like Deputy Mayor Terry James (a.k.a the "Factman") who argue that there is nothing a Council can do but rubberstamp the flavourless flats currently under construction in places like Clifton and on the highway at Woree to house the growing population.

Town plans don’t just designate land use patterns (residential, conservation, industrial), they can also set in place performance standards to determine things like site density, landscaping and impact on downstream properties for example. It is this detail that can be used to create the character of a place. Town planners even have the ability to include modern tropical designs into the performance standards if they so wish.

No-one in Cairns has more to say on the technical aspects of the town plan than Terry James.
By day a designer; he knows his way around a planning scheme and will work slavishly to ensure his clients get high yields from their investment.
By night, he regulates the property industry at Council meetings, incessantly and secretively blogs and takes care of the Unity Team accounts, which are likely to be busy with entries from the property developers.

I respect the fact that Terry gets elected. Getting elected is hard. But I question why he seeks political power if it is only to ensure that we end up looking like the western suburbs of Sydney or to fob of responsibility to the state.

Terry argues that his hands are tied and can often be heard arguing that if Council doesn’t approve the latest subdivision or block of flats the lawyers will win it in Court. Even if that was true, doesn’t it mean he should use his power to change the rules and untie himself? As a designer you would hope that Terry could bring a bit more creativity to the rules that produce our built environment.
He certainly has the power; he just chooses not to use it.

I certainly don’t want to be hypocritical. The State has a role in the planning process and, besides providing the framework for local government’s to operate in, should be there to curb the excesses of councils, like at False Cape.
Nonetheless, from experience, I can assure you that seven Councillors could have stopped that going ahead faster than two backbenchers and a Minister ever could.
At least we tried.


Anonymous said...

A very interesting article Jason.

Has Factman truly been outed? How exciting! It reminds me of Batman. I wonder if they know each other?

I don't agree that the influx of people to FNQ is inevitable as you imply.

First, it is possible that the net migration to FNQ will slow or reverse in the long term under a range of conceivable scenarios (eg. a collapse of international tourism). We should plan for a variety of future population scenarios – not just one rather steep growth scenario (which is the case, I understand, with the FNQ 2025 draft).

Second, I believe population growth is partly – if not substantially – an artifact of the development boom itself. A housing / development boom brings many new workers to the region. They themselves need housing. Similarly, once new developments are ready, they are marketed, Australia-wide.

We need to get our regional economy off its addiction to unsustainable growth. If we keep on building and biggering like we have been in recent decades, we’ll bugger up FNQ (pardon the expression).

Not only are we stuffing up environmentally. We're not achieving what I believe should be rather basic social objectives. In the midst of a development boom, we have a lack of affordable housing for the poorer and more disadvantaged people in our society. I hope the Rudd and Bligh Governments - and the new local governments after March 15th - get on top of this with some urgency.

Overall, the answer is sustainable development that also delivers fair and rational social policy objectives.

Instead of more and more new intrusions into the natural environment, we need to wind back. That means a lot of retro-fitting, a lot of new infrastructure - and incidentally, lots and lots of new jobs in leading edge industries and trades.

Sustainable development is clearly not easy – or it would have already happened in lots of places. So far, in Australia, the need for sustainable development has been either ignored or – in the case of more progressive governments such as Hawke/Keating – fudged and shrouded in double-speak.

It's tiume for the real thing – and plenty of it.

The first step is to believe that genuine sustainability is an achievable goal for a modern society and economy. That’s an economy and way of life that imposes zero net pollution (including greenhouse gas emissions) on the natural environment and in which the conservation of biodiversity is achieved to the very best of our ability.

If it isn’t, by definition, we’re done for. So we’d better believe it. And get on with it.

A lot of the people I know understand this and they are waiting for the 'leaders' to catch up.

Anonymous said...

If Terry James is indeed Factman, does that mean he can now be 'quoted' for the things he has written on this blog. Eg. Sticking up for the unsuitable development, insulting everyones intelligence by insisting that KBs ads are not 'political'...etc etc. I'm sure rivals election campaigns would love these ridiculous quotes which have come straight from the mouth of the Deputy Mayor, proving what complete charlatans we have had in charge of our area. Mainstream media woud also love it.