Push for objectors to be public

The NSW Government’s Office of the Information Commissioner has released a consultation paper considering the publication of personal information related to development applications on council websites.

Comments on the paper close today, but it may be possible to make later submissions. The new Government Information (Public Access) Act requires local councils and other government agencies to pro-actively release information that is in the public interest in an accessible format. However, apparently some members of the public have raised concerns with the potential conflict between proactively releasing information under the new law and ensuring the privacy of individuals is protected.

The consultation paper may be accessed here.

The Urban Taskforce has made a submission asking that the names and addresses of objectors to development to be placed on the internet.

We argue that a vast number of development proposals are defeated, not because of any intrinsic problems with the idea, but because of the opposition of existing residents and businesses who have a philosophical or vested interest in blocking new development.

Incumbent business operators, who play an important role for local government at election time, have strong interest in mobilising campaigns against new developments that may place them under competitive pressure. Under the State’s planning laws, existing businesses regularly object to development applications from potential new competitors. They may make political donations and lobby against development approvals being granted. Lists of objectors to new development frequently include a long line of large and smaller businesses whose commercial interests will be impacted by new development. Well-off individuals also often make objections to development applications in a bid to push-up their property values.

Our submission makes it clear that the identity and addresses of the objectors is important in determining whether decisions to refuse new development are based on genuine concerns as to legitimate planning issues, or attempts to inappropriately preserve private interests at the expense of the wider public interest. By making these details publicly available, the applicant, independent members of the community and the media are able to readily scrutinise recommendations and/or decisions to refuse development, and the objections, and decide for themselves whether a decision to refuse is political or based on genuine technical merits of a proposal.

Our submission, which also raises other local council transparency issues, is available here.