Whose SEQ Regional Plan?

Quite a few people from the community groups Lockyer Community Action Inc. and Lockyer Uplands Catchments Inc. went to the consultation meeting on the draft SEQ Regional Plan last month.

The first surprise was that there was not to be any presentation about the background, objectives, structure or process leading up to the production of the draft.  Instead, the public were to be provided with “consultations” with individual planners.  A novel idea, but it would have been much more useful had we been provided with an overview of the draft from the planner responsible for preparing the document.

The second surprise came when we were led into the meeting room and introduced to a planner by one of the “ushers” who had been issuing numbers to the public in the foyer – she told us that we had a limit of 10 minutes with the planner.

Despite the planner my partner and I were paired up with doing her best, many of our questions were outside of her field of involvement in the preparation of the draft plan, so we didn’t really get satisfactory answers to our questions and certainly did not have a usefully informative discussion on the topics of concern to us.

The others in our group came away from their meetings with very similar feelings.

It was with some delight that I came across the article below in today’s issue of The Conversation – it pretty much sums up my misgivings about the consultation process, the preparation of the plan, and the general thrust of its content.

Overall, the issues below are illustrative of my general impression from a number of exchanges with different arms of the State government in the last year that we are not being well served by this government, and that their priorities are much more aligned with those of developers and industry.

Here’s the article:

ShapingSEQ regional plan gives ‘stakeholders’ a bigger say than citizens

Brian Feeney, The University of Queensland

Special interest groups have had much more influence than the wider community on the new regional plan for Southeast Queensland. A draft of the plan, ShapingSEQ, was recently released for comment. Prior input from the wider community was limited to submitting “thought bubbles” about the region without having the benefit of any report card on how the previous plan had performed.

This process did not accurately gauge community concerns and submitters were not a representative sample. Perhaps it gave people the feeling they’d “had a say”. The process just as likely reinforced cynicism about government consultation.

Regional planning in Southeast Queensland began in the early 1990s when councils in the region signed up to the Regional Framework for Growth Management. This was a non-binding set of guidelines promoted by the state government to manage land-use change.

Subsequently, this framework evolved into a statutory regional plan in 2005. It is noteworthy that consultation in the lead-up to the 2005 plan included the public release of discussion papers with options for the region’s future.

The initial focus was very much on getting southeast Queensland councils to accept the need for regional planning. At that time, the role of the wider community was relatively minor.

A 1990 meeting of representatives from government, business, trade unions, professional groups and community organisations was an important impetus for starting the regional planning process. This “stakeholder” model of community engagement has been the dominant form of consultation ever since.

Stakeholders or citizens?

Stakeholders have particular vested interests – such as protecting the environment, promoting a business sector, or advancing a government agency’s agenda.

Preparation of the 2016 draft plan involved several of these stakeholder “reference groups”. Participants in these groups were there to advocate for the organisation they represent, often making it more difficult to find “outside-the-box” solutions.

Consultation by negotiating with stakeholders is consistent with the dominant view that explicitly pursuing the public interest is less important than growing the economy. Consequently, an “issue management” approach has been taken, with stakeholders “competing” for influence over which development regulations are put in place. Within this worldview, trade-offs between stakeholders usually take place in a “growth first” framework.

An alternative is to promote informed deliberation by citizens who don’t represent particular interests. The Perth Dialogue with the City process shows how this “citizen” approach can work.

This was a process of engagement with a large group of demographically representative Perth citizens. They were provided with relevant in-depth information before their deliberations about the city’s future.

Wide consultation overdue

It has been at least ten years since there was either an open performance review of southeast Queensland regional planning, or consultation with the wider community on options for the region’s future. Engagement with the wider community is particularly important now for a couple of reasons.

First, the 2016 draft plan claims to have a 50-year vision horizon, compared to the previous plan’s 20 years. Because of this change, the wider community should have been engaged in developing this new vision rather than being presented with a fait accompli in the draft plan.

The ShapingSEQ draft plan seems to have more of a ‘growth first’ approach than the 2009 regional plan.
Queensland Government

Second, the draft plan represents a significant change of focus from the previous 2009 plan. That plan aimed to reduce the region’s ecological footprint and mitigate climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In contrast, the 2016 draft seems to be adopting a more “growth first” approach.

It is noteworthy that virtually all references to climate change in this new draft are about adapting to change rather than reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These significant changes should have been widely debated before the draft plan was prepared.

Independent report card needed

For a debate on future directions to be genuine, the community needs an independent, comprehensive report card on how things are tracking.

The draft plan has ten indicators, some of which show modest improvement. However, other indicators, such as housing affordability and loss of biodiversity, have gone backwards. And koala numbers continue to decline.

The report card should also acknowledge that Australia (including southeast Queensland) has one of the worst records for resource use and greenhouse gas emissions per unit of economic output of any developed country.

Moving beyond ‘predict and provide’

The draft plan largely takes a basic “provide land for the predicted demand” approach, which assumes that regional planning is a type of technical process best left to the experts.

However, regional planning always involves trade-offs between different economic, social and environmental values. These should be openly discussed through genuine community engagement.

By not providing opportunities for such engagement, the draft plan has failed to give the community a real say in the region’s future.


ShapingSEQ is open for community feedback by formal submission until midnight, Friday, March 3 2017.

The Conversation

Brian Feeney, Urban Planning Researcher, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Life throws some strange curve balls at times

Since 7 December last year our lives have been totally dominated by the prospect of a motocross track being built just 2.7km from our house – and even closer than that to the houses of others in the Vinegar Hill-Adare community here in the Lockyer Valley.

We’ve been told that there were 234 submissions lodged with the Lockyer Valley Regional Council in relation to the proposal.  232 of them were against the establishment of a motocross track in the area.  That’s a fantastic achievement for a community that had only 15 business days to respond to the advertising of the proposal.

I’ve been trying to find time to get back to this blog and to posting about our doings on the land here, but it just doesn’t happen.  Today I’ve come to the realisation that this blog is about sustainability, mainly in the Lockyer Valley, but really what happens here is a microcosm of what happens everywhere in the developed world in terms of ultimate sustainability of lifestyle, community, the environment, and indeed the future of humanity.  How we, including our local and state governments, respond to totally wrong-headed proposals like this motocross track is all about whether our society, locally or globally, will be sustainable.

Is the community going to be trashed for the sake of a minority (almost all from outside the area) who want to get their thrills by driving powerful, noisy and dangerous machines around and around on a circuit?  Is the environment going to be trashed for the same purpose?

Is the community going to be trashed because some profit-oriented developer thinks he has the right to change the nature of the area and introduce a totally incompatible activity into our rural landscape?

Is a pristine creek (Redbank Creek, which has all of its catchment above the motocross property in National Park) and its surroundings going to be allowed to be trashed?

Are we going to allow a significant koala population to be degraded by noise impacts from the track and road-kills from the massive increase in traffic on the country road leading to the proposed motocross site?

Are we going to allow the bird population and its significant species to be similarly trashed?

If we do then that’s not sustainability.  And sustainability is what this blog is supposed to be about.  So I ask you to follow us and our community on this journey, and be understanding if there are few posts on this site for at least the next couple of months about sustainable food production.

Thanks. It will be an interesting ride.

The Coal Seam Gas Meeting in Grantham on Sunday 9 Nov.

We went to the Lock the Gate / LVRC  /LVRC Ratepayers meeting on coal seam gas at Grantham yesterday.  A very well organised event, with a large turnout from the community and some very good speakers and a broad range of topics covered..  This can be seen as the first major step (I know there have been other initiatives) on the path to galvanising public opposition to coal seam gas exploration in the Lockyer Valley Region.  The organisers deserve our congratulations and thanks for their efforts to bring people together to hear the message.

There’s certainly not only already a large local opposition to the idea of even exploration for CSG in the LVR, but also existing connections to anti-CSG campaings elsewhere. Both are sure to grow rapidly.

Just an idea: maybe a local group could be called Lock Yer Gates?

One of the things that we found out at yesterday’s meeting was that there’s an online poll running on the Gatton Star website.

The question being asked is:  “Do you support mining in the Lockyer Valley?” which is kind of a dumb question in the sense that in general usage the term “mining” covers a whole range of activities from quarrying road base through architectural sandstone extraction to open-cut coal mining.  However I think that in the current climate we can take it as a proxy question for “Do you support coal seam gas activities in the Lockyer Valley Region?”

From the latter point of view I think that the current tally for the poll (84% No and 15% Yes) is likely to be unrepresentative of the views of the community.  But the poll isn’t closed yet.

Since there are likely to be those (conservative politicians and mining companies spring to mind) who will tout the result as reflecting community views on coal seam gas if it seems that we are divided as a community, I think that it is really important that as many as possible of us with strong “no” views to vote.  Other communities throughout the country have polled 90%+ against (probably with better-worded poll questions). We can do the same here.

Here’s the web address for the poll:

www.gattonstar.com.au/polls/2014/11/06/do-you-support-mining-lockyer-valley

The coal seam gas industry (and our political masters) need to be told loud and clear that there is no social licence whatsovever for CSG operations in the Lockyer Valley Region.

Please, spread this message among your friends.

Tips on bushfire preparedness

There’s a new post at the Helidon Hills Smokespotters website summarising some tips coming out of newly published research from some major wildfires in the western United States and from Ignite Change, a relatively new Australian blog on bushfire awareness.

If you are living in Australia with any kind of bushfire threat, this would be a really good time to start updating and upgrading your bushfire protection, and the links above might just give you some ideas that will increase your property’s survivability.

Other relevant posts:

Fire Danger & Weather Conditions:      My other blog is the website for the Helidon Hills Smokespotters, an informal community group with members located at over 20 locations around the Helidon Hills in the Lockyer Valley.  You can find out about the Smokespotter group here.  The group’s motto is: when it comes to bushfires, we are all neighbours.  Though the group […]

The Fire Danger and Weather Conditions Tab above

Living with and understanding fire risk     Those of us who live on rural properties face varying degrees of fire risk.  Most of us are aware of the risk in a general sort of way, and many of us take active precautions to reduce the risk to some extent.  Few of us, however, think about how the reasons for living where we […]
An unexpected bushfire      The weather last Friday morning was quite unusual.  In fact I was commenting on it at the time in a blog post I was writing over at the Helidon Hills Smokespotters web site.  The general feel of the morning said “Fire Danger”, even though the actual Forest Fire Danger Rating was only High (we have […]

Wind power is cheapest energy, EU analysis finds

A new report prepared for the European Commission shows that onshore wind is cheaper than coal, gas or nuclear energy when the costs of ‘external’ factors like air quality, human toxicity and climate change are taken into account.

The report says that for every megawatt hour (MW/h) of electricity generated, onshore wind costs roughly €105 (£83) per MW/h, compared to gas and coal which can cost up to around €164 and €233 per MW/h, respectively.

This was reported in The Guardian, in an article by Arthur Neslen on 14 October.  The following is excerpted from the article.

>>Nuclear power, offshore wind and solar energy are all comparably inexpensive generators, at roughly €125 per MW/h.

“This report highlights the true cost of Europe’s dependence on fossil fuels,” said Justin Wilkes, the deputy CEO of the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA). “Renewables are regularly denigrated for being too expensive and a drain on the taxpayer. Not only does the commission’s report show the alarming cost of coal but it also presents onshore wind as both cheaper and more environmentally-friendly.”

The paper, which was written for the European commission by the Ecofys consultancy, suggests that the Conservative party plan of restricting new onshore windfarms will mean blocking out the cheapest source of energy when environmental and health facts are taken into consideration. It has been suggested the Tory plan could be done through a cap on onshore wind turbines’ output, lower subsidies or tighter planning restrictions.

“Any plans to change policy for onshore wind must be looked at in the context of this report,” said Oliver Joy a spokesman for EWEA. “Investors need long-term visibility. ‘Stop-start’ policies as well as harsh retroactive changes can blindside investors, driving up the risk premium and cost of capital.”

….

Sustainability and resilience is also about your pension

You probably didn’t expect to see a post on pension funds in this blog, but if you think about it we all want to be able to get through our “third age” without having to think too much about where the money is coming from, and without being forced into unsustainable options just because of a lack of funds.

On Tuesday in attended the  one-day ‘Economic Growth, Climate Change and the G20’, conference hosted by the Asia Pacific Centre for Sustainable Enterprise at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre.  One of the best conferences I’ve ever been to for a lot of reasons.  Everyone was “on message”, the facilities were fantastic, the room held 250 people without being crowded or anyone not being able to see or hear the speakers.  But what really made it great were the members of the four panels and their moderators.  I’ve never been at a panel-type conference where the panel members were so knowledgeable and lucid in relevant fields.

One of the panelists in the session that addressed the question of how capital markets address un-burnable carbon (think “stranded assets”) was Dr John Hewson.

Dr. Hewson’s business career before entering politics in 1987, was as a company director and business consultant and included roles as Foundation Executive Director, Macquarie Bank Limited and as a Trustee of the IBM Superannuation Fund.  Dr. Hewson’s political career included 7 years as a ministerial advisor (to two successive Federal Treasurers and the Prime Minister) and a further 8 years as the Federal Member for Wentworth in the Federal Parliament. He was Shadow Finance Minister, Shadow Treasurer and Shadow Minister for Industry and Commerce, then Leader of the Liberal Party and Federal Coalition in Opposition for 4 years.  He has worked as an economist for the Australian Treasury, the Reserve Bank, the IMF.

And, most relevant to the topic of his panel at Tuesday’s conference, Dr Hewson is also the chair of the Asset Owners Disclosure Project (AODP), an independent global not-for-profit organisation whose objective is to protect members’ retirement savings from the risks posed by climate change.

A key activity of the AODP is an annual survey and assessment of the world’s 1000 largest pension funds, pertaining to their management of climate change risks and opportunities.  This results in published rankings to allow members, stakeholders and industry to see which funds are better than others at managing climate risk.  These funds currently manage in excess of US$52 trillion and of this high-carbon assets often constitute 50-60% portfolios, with low-carbon assets typically representing less than 2% (DB Climate Change Advisors, January 2010).

You can look up the AODP Climate Index of pension funds to see whether your super/pension fund is there and how it rates.  You can use the drop-down box at the top of the page to restrict the range of funds shown (e.g. Australia, or Asia-Pacific).  It’s interesting to see that six Australian funds are in the top-20 globally.

As a footnote, Australia’s Local Government Super (for local government employees and Councillors) ranked top of the 1,000 funds assessed last year, and second this year, for their climate-change-ready investment portfolio – while our Lockyer Valley Regional Council is still developing a climate change policy.

 

Nicole Foss in Laidley, talking about threats and options

Went to the talk by Nicole Foss (the person behind The AutomaticEarth website) in Laidley on Saturday afternoon on the threats to Australia from the combination of excessive personal debt, over-leveraged banks, the approaching global limits to growth (including peak oil) and climate change.

This wasn’t some gloom-and-doom hand-wringing session.  Foss takes a solution-oriented approach and explored a range of choices available to people at the individual, family and community levels. She covered the alternatives, ranging across urban, rural, suburban retrofit, intentional community, eco-village – and summarised the advantages and disadvantages of each option. 

Along the way she offered Australia an outline of a “Plan-B”: stop basing the economy on feeding the Chinese demand for resources; stop trying to feed 60 million people (and destroying Australia’s soils in the process) instead focussing on food security for Australia into the long term; and replace the sense of complacency with a sense of urgency.

The talk was a logical follow-up to the presentation she gave at the Queensland Institute of Technology in early July, on her speaking tour with David Holmgren.

Nicole Foss, who sometimes writes under the name of ‘Stoneleigh’, is a Canadian sustainability, energy, and finance expert. She is best known for her works on her website, The Automatic Earth.  She was editor of the Oil Drum Canada website where she wrote on the connections between energy and finance.  She now lives in New Zealand.

The event was organised by SavourSoil Permaculture (a Laidley-based small business), and in my opinion made an important contribution to local understanding of the most significant issues facing us and the Earth and, most important, provided a window into the approaches we will need to adopt to ensure personal and community resilience. Thanks Michael, good to see people wiling to make such a contribution to the community.

Rafaele Joudry from Atamai Eco-Village in the north of New Zealand’s South Island (where Foss now lives) gave an overview of Atamai and its philosophy.