Murky history

Documents finally released to Greens MLC Mark Parnell shine a light on the murky history that led to the decision to more than double the size of Mt Barker.Early in the process residents knew the push for the rezoning had come from landowners and developers who wanted to cash in on demand for housing in the popular tree change town.
Some cynically believed the expansion was a fait accompli, but hundreds put their faith in the State Government and its so-called consultation process.
About 540 people, councils, community groups, academics and even politicians genuinely believed their submissions would be heard by the Government and hoped significant changes would be made to the plan.
But the letters, minutes and notes released to Mr Parnell by the District Court last month now throw a cloud over that process.
What has been revealed is how a community and its council appear to have been treated with contempt by both the developers who wanted to sideline them and the Government elected to represent them.
They show how the developers, who did not want to work with the Mt Barker Council, went straight to the then Planning Minister to ask him to take control and fast-track their rezoning plans.
They show how a Minister acted against the advice of his own department and agreed to the developers’ request to start work on a Ministerial Development Plan Amendment.
Before the draft blueprint for the State’s growth over the next 30 years was even released for comment, he had agreed to initiate investigations into expanding Mt Barker.
And that process was well underway before the submissions from the Mt Barker community were even considered.
This community must now be wondering whether its concerns were ever taken seriously by the Government in this process that even the new Planning Minister, John Rau, has agreed was flawed.
But acknowledging the flaws in the process do nothing to fix the situation for Mt Barker.
Mr Rau argues it is too late to wind back the clock on the rezoning, for fear it could be taken to court by developers and landowners.
It is time the Government made amends for its past failings, by giving genuine commitments of funding for infrastructure, services and community facilities that will be needed to cater for this growth.
In the meantime, one wonders whether things might have been different had the court system worked faster.
Mr Parnell’s fight to access the documents went to trial in the District Court about two months before the MDPA was approved, but it took the judge about 14 months to deliver his verdict.