SDOs to go before MPs for approval
Minister of Environment and Planning Sylvan Richards has announced new protocols for special development orders.
Under the new protocols SDOs will follow the normal consultation and assessment procedures as any other planning application, but would be approved by the Legislature rather than the Development Applications Board (DAB).
Mr Richards said: “The Government is acutely aware of the public disquiet and adverse media publicity that has surrounded the granting of SDOs in recent times.
“Some of the issues that caused concern include direct approaches to Minister or members of Cabinet by developers with no input from technical officers or advisory bodies, the granting of SDOs without supporting studies to identify and address potentially adverse environmental effects, the drafting of SDOs without the input of technical officers and the approval of SDOs based on inadequate information.
“It is therefore important that a protocol and set of procedures be put in place. While some decisions regarding SDOs might still be unpopular in some quarters, the public could be assured that the decision was taken only after full consideration of all relevant issues,” he told the House of Assembly.
Mr Richards also said that the protocols will “encourage” technical studies to be submitted as required, describing it as an integral part of the process.
“Whilst some developers may be reluctant to do this, fundamentally, it is part of established best practice in other jurisdictions and, arguably, grounded firmly in planning case law,” Mr Richards said.
“The key is for early engagement in the process by developers, whereas too often their first contact with technical officers is when plans are already at an advanced stage.”
He said that when considering a SDO, the Department of Planning will make a recommendation to the DAB, who will in turn make recommendations to the minister.
The minister would then seek the support of the Cabinet before presenting the SDO to the House and the Legislature for debate.
“This does not mean that a development of national importance is rejected where there is the potential for environmental harm to arise,” he said. “It remains for the decision makers, the minister and then the legislature, to balance all the issues and attach weight to each in reaching a decision that may or may not be popular.
“The important factor is that a decision will be seen to be made in a fully transparent, informed way and thus maintain the credibility of the planning system and of the Government.”
SDOs were established in the Development and Planning Act 1974 as a means of allowing projects of national importance that do not fit the Development Plan to move forward.
In recent years, the process has come under scrutiny from environmental groups after several controversial projects were granted SDOs including the Grand Atlantic Housing Project
In 2011, government declared SDOs statutory instruments, meaning that they require the approval of Parliament.
However concerns remained, and last year Ombudsman Arlene Brock found that the Government had acted unlawfully in granting an SDO for Rosewood Tucker’s Point Resort without first carrying out an Environmental Impact Assessment.