City Councils in Ballarat have had their problems with conflict of interest in the past, with individual councillors and staff members being investigated for failing to declare conflicting interests and various accusations of impropriety. This recent history is surely still on the minds of current councillors and it should be certain that they will be very cautious and careful in examining their private lives and public roles and how they might conflict.
Perhaps councillors have become so introspective and cautious about potential personal conflicting interests that they can't see the forest for the trees. The demolish and develop proposal being put forward for Civic Hall makes Ballarat City Council investor, developer, planner, regulator and enforcement for the project. They will cough up the $40 million, manage the development and provide the broader planning framework as well as the specific planning requirements for the project. They will also determine what standards and regulations the development will have to comply with and ensure compliance with those plans and regulations.
Unless council workers are instructed to get out and start demolishing, digging and constructing, the contractors actually building the thing will be about the only people outside of Council with a role in the development. It's a case of who will police the police and who will ensure the development is done according to best practice and meets the aspirations of the community.
Councils are not developers, they are a local representative governing body that is responsible for planning, local laws, community services and providing leadership for a happier, more prosperous and sustainable community. There's a good reason for this. Council regulate the developers.
While there is little sign of any real progress on this front, Council should be ensuring development is sustainable and fits with community expectations and wishes. Their planning laws and regulations should ensure development is strategic and suited to existing infrastructure and services or that new infrastructure and services are provided to meet the needs of the new development.
With a skeleton staff ensuring that developers adhere to guidelines, building standards and planning laws, development across the city and expanding into the growth areas is largely unchecked, poorly planned and way behind best practice in sustainability. While new suburbs around the world are planned and built to provide their own water and power and are designed with easy access to shops, services, transport, infrastructure and the rest of the community, little of this is evident in Ballarat's growth areas.
Nobody expects perfection, even if many think we could aim a lot higher. However if Council can't deliver anything even close to best practice from the private developers they are regulating, how could they be expected to deliver better outcomes when they play the roles of planner, developer and enforcer with little or no independent oversight?
Already, the signs that Council is getting it wrong are becoming clear and it's likely that this is already a result of trying to fulfil too many roles that are in conflict with each other. In previous articles I've discussed issues with consultation, culture and heritage and commercial viability.
Council needs to step back from the Civic Hall development proposal and focus on getting their core roles right. Starting with genuine community consultation would be a good first step.