Minister Garu Tables Bill To Amend Town, Country Planning Act

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Hon Moses Garu.

The Minister of Lands, Housing and Survey, Hon Moses Garu today tabled a Bill in Parliament seeking approval for the amendment of the Town and Country Planning Act to respond effectively to modern planning issues and needs in the country.

The Principle Town and Country Planning Act was introduced in 1980 to administer town and country planning in Solomon Islands, including the ability to make local planning schemes and to control how development takes place on non-customary land.

Hon Garu told Parliament when tabling The Town and Country Planning (Amendment) Bill at the Second Reading Stage that “This (Town and Country Planning) Act is out of date and badly needs overhaul. It does not adequately respond to modern planning issues and needs encountered in Solomon Islands.

“While the Act is based on British town planning law, the British have reformed their legislation over time but here in the Solomon Islands we have not,” the Minister said.

He said under the Act, administration and country planning as well as devising local planning schemes and controlling development on non-customary land are carried out by Town and Country Planning Boards.

He said Honiara and the country’s provinces should each have a Town and Country Planning Board but some of these boards lie dormant for many years and this has resulted in either unchecked or illegally authourised developments.

The Minister of Lands, Housing and Survey added that, “One (other) problem with the current Act is that it includes different definitions of Local Planning Areas and Control of Development Areas.”

He explained that ‘Local Planning Areas’ are areas where ‘Local Planning Schemes’ can be prepared and that ‘Control of Development Areas’ are areas where planning permission is required to carry out development.

“It makes no sense to have a Local Planning Scheme for an area where the Town and Country Planning Board cannot require planning permission. Vice-versa, it makes no sense if permission is required for development yet the Board cannot prepare a Local Planning Scheme to provide guidance as to whether and how a type of development should be approved.”

Minister Garu said the Town and Country Planning (Amendment) Bill therefore clearly states that the principle Act will apply to all registered land in Solomon Islands, ‘without the need to describe it in detail on several pages.’

He said another important change being proposed in the Bill is amending the title ‘Town and Country Planning Act’ to one that is more reflective of the true intention of the legislation, which is to create plans and control development.

As such, the Minister said the new title will be ‘Planning and Development Act’ and the ‘Town and Country Planning Boards’ will be renamed ‘Planning and Development Boards.’

The Minister for Lands, Housing and Survey said another very important change being proposed in the Bill is the categorization of development into four ‘classes. These are developments exempted from requiring approval, simple developments which the Planning and Development Board can delegate to an officer for approval, larger scale developments to be considered by the Board and developments that can be defined as prohibited in a local planning scheme and cannot be even applied for as a factory in a residential area.

He said these classifications are expected to give developers and other stakeholders more certainty and better guidance as to the application process.

Minister Garu said the bill also proposes that the Board publicises applications to allow neigbours or other interested parties to write submissions to the Board and that the Board must consider these submissions before making decisions.

“The Town and Country Planning Act does not require applications to be publicised. This can be a source of annoyance, dispute or argument between neighbouring landowners. We have to consider the interests of neigbours when we develop our land, particularly when it is an intensification of development or a development that can be harmful to neighbouring landowners and residents,” he explained.

He said the Bill further proposes the introduction of a Planning Appeal Tribunal to make decisions where a Board has either refused an application or imposed conditions that the applicant disagrees with.

“An appeal mechanism is important. At present, an appeal is determined by the Minister, without any need for consideration of the local planning scheme or any other relevant planning consideration.

“It would be fair to say that very poor decisions have been made in the past on appeal after a Town and Country Planning Board has made what it considers the right decision to refuse granting permission and this decision is overturned,” he also explained.

Minister Garu said the Planning Appeals Tribunal will comprise the Director of Physical Planning, a Legal Practitioner and the City Clerk or Provincial Secretary depending on the location of the proposed development.

He said the Bill also proposes that developments must be substantially completed and not just commenced within a set time-frame and the time-frames are 12 months for completion of simple developments and three years for more complex class three developments.

The Minister for Lands, Housing and Survey said the Bill also proposes that the City Council or Provincial Executive to step in act as the Board in the interim to ensure that there is always an authority to deal with applications.

He said the Bill also proposes that Board membership be clearly defined, with a requirement that members must be drawn from relevant government and statutory authorities and that the Board Secretary must be a qualified planner.

Minister Garu said other numerous minor amendments proposed in the Bill include an improved process for the Board to take action against nuisances which could include excessive noise, pollution, rubbish, pests, anti-social behavior or building maintenance.

He said the Bill also proposes increase in penalties to sums that are more appropriate to the offences they relate to. “For example the failure to act on an Enforcement Notice can attract a penalty of up to $50,000.00,” the Minister added.

The Minister for Lands, Housing and Survey said the proposed amendments to the Town and Town and Country Planning Act contained in the Town and Country Planning (Amendment) Bill came about after extensive consultation with Physical Planners and other relevant stakeholders.