Kirsty Kelly, CEO, Planning Institute of Australia


I spoke with Kirsty Kelly to understand what the key considerations should be in planning growth areas and how the planning system can facilitate collaborative and shared outcomes.

What is PIA’s primary aim as Australia’s peak planning body?

Our role is to advocate on behalf of the profession and community for good planning outcomes, building the capacity of the profession and to delivering good planning. The other area we concentrate on is advocating good planning to government at all levels and the industry, through collaboration, partnerships and other professional and industry groups.

What are some of PIA’s key partnerships and collaborations?

We’ve worked with Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC) for a long period of time to advance various projects around sustainable development, residents and the importance of cities.

The Healthy Spaces and Places Alliance with the Heart Foundation and the Australian Local Government Association is an important alliance. This has been a long term partnership around building the awareness and capacity of healthy planning.

Could you please explain PIAs involvement in Selandra Rise?

Selandra Rise was really important for us to be involved with. We were able to really put principles into practice and have that multidisciplinary approach, working with the developer and council to deliver best practice, testing out new ideas and identifying what the current barriers in the system and culture are. We were able to learn from that and change things as they needed to be changed.

The barriers we came up against in Selandra challenged the normal way of doing things, so it was pushing outside the comfort zone in terms of the timing of when certain infrastructure was provided. It seems getting that little community centre in place very early meant we were connecting with new residents as they were moving in.

Working through the project as a live demonstration really helped everyone involved identify barriers and start breaking through them. This is what made the difference, paving the way for other new communities to be developed in a more sustainable way that supports physical and mental health outcomes and social cohesion.

Has PIA been involved in any other projects like this around Australia you could raise as other successful case studies?

PIA was involved at Lightsview, another demonstration project in South Australia. PIA was involved through a group called Active Living Coalition, who worked with the developer and Renewal SA. The Active Living Coalition was a coalition of professional associations such as the Heart Foundation, Department of Health and local agencies. Essentially it was a hybrid of state and local governments and peak profession industry bodies.

We provided advice through the early planning stages focused on healthy planning outcomes and sustainability. Often the masterplanning stage considers all the key principles, but as projects progress through the design, development and engineering phases a lot of the detail is adjusted which often removes the elements that created connections for active transport. An important part of the Lightsview project was maintaining the involvement right throughout that detailed design phase.

What difference did your continued involvement have on delivering project outcomes?

Often concept plans start out with good intentions, but when it comes down to detailed design a lot of the good thinking gets engineered out. Part of seeing it through is around retaining a multidisciplinary team who work through that process together making sure it actually happens. Fostering disciplinary awareness and capacity building really helps with implementation because consultants actually start to understand why they need to keep things, they understand the bigger picture.

What are the main considerations when planning growth areas?

It’s really about getting the mix right. When you’re creating new communities on the fringe, it’s not just about large quantities of new housing. It’s thinking about where those people are going to work, where they’re going to go to school, where they’re going to play, what services are needed to support the community.

When it comes to housing, it’s around that diverse supply of housing. This is an area the development industry as a whole is not doing so well. People are looking for different types of housing, so that’s a key issue we need to be tackling better in growth areas.

Accessibility is really important, links to public transport and active transport connections is critical for new development areas and quite early in the process. We need to have those areas connected to public transport so that, as people move in, their travel is already formed around using that public transport. Completely car-dependent areas are not good. New areas need to focus strongly on getting public transport in first, ensuring you have broader connections through employment centres, strong cycling networks and walking networks that people can access, are close and connected.

Connectivity is particularly important where you’ve got parcels of land being developed by different developers. That’s a key role that councils play in setting up their structure plans and policy around those new growth areas. Policy and zoning must enable centres to be more flexible in their uses, changing over time as the area develops and market changes. This comes down to building design, adaptable commercial spaces for other uses, studios and flexible housing that is converted over time.

Growth areas must also encourage the ability for people to be more entrepreneurial and help innovation flourish. Often our regulatory approaches aren’t that conducive to supporting innovation; this is not just across planning but a range of regulations. Having infrastructure that works well is critical, many entrepreneurial businesses are not just local businesses; so having high-speed internet access is critical for our new communities.

Do you think ‘change’ should be policy led or industry led?

It needs to be a bit of both, if it’s all policy led it might not come with the reality of how things stack up financially, so I think the developer needs to be involved in it as well. Likewise, innovative developers are often good at trialling new products and innovations. More collaborative approaches looking at how we can lead change are important. Just because we built that product and sold it before doesn’t mean that that’s the right thing to do now.

What is PIA’s view on Planning Policy versus Performance Based planning instruments?

This view comes in and out of vogue at various times. I think the concept of performance-based is really good and when applied well, it works. I think the problem that we have is, often there’s a push for certainty around what they can and can’t do, both developers and the community. Even when we have performance-based approaches, often, they morph relatively quickly into the minimum standard accepted as the norm rather than a flexible approach delivering better outcomes.

One of the key things in the application of any planning policy instrument is not just focussing on exactly what’s written in the act or policy. It’s actually how they’re interpreted and applied and the culture of how everyone’s involved in that chain.

There’s definitely the potential for new approaches and some of that can be top-down approaches; but I think a lot of it must be bottom-up approaches where people start to work collaboratively, try a few little things, and have that kind of innovation cycle.

What opportunities would you like to see the Planning System explore?

The industry uses CGI and visualisation tools to sell projects rather than to help explain, design, and shape them. We should be using these amazing technologies to help better explain what it is they’re trying to achieve, to test ideas, move things around, change shapes, heights and colours, virtually experiencing the outcome because once it’s built, it’s there. We also need to look at new ways of funding, new partnership opportunities and mechanisms.

Do you think ‘lean urbanism’ presents opportunities in the Australian planning system?

I think there’s definitely opportunity for it. It’s about people being able to collaborate and partner successfully and different parties being open to trying something new. Councils should look at working with an applicant early to get better outcomes for everyone. However we must be really careful in this approach to balance public interest and the council’s role in working with communities. To improve this process the development industry also needs to have more engagement with existing or potential future communities.

If you could change one thing about the way we currently create communities what would it be?

One of the main things is changing the way people work together. Whether that’s councils or state governments, it’s about bridging those silos and actually getting the key players to agree on a shared view; and then all working towards the same goals.


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