Cold comfort

For many in Mt Barker who opposed the State Government’s expansion plan for the town, the release of the SA Ombudsman’s report last week will indeed be cold comfort.
The report is damning in its findings that the consultants who were paid to write the Government’s Growth Investigation Areas (GIA) report had a “clear” conflict of interest because they were also working for developers who wanted land around Mt Barker rezoned.
This conflict was flagged in State Parliament by Greens MLC Mark Parnell in 2009. At the time the then Planning Minister, Paul Holloway, defended the appointment of consultants Connor Holmes to work on a project that recommended widespread development around Mt Barker, despite its work in also lobbying Mr Holloway in 2008 on behalf of five land developers with interests in Mt Barker.
What is more alarming, however, is the fact that the Ombudsman found Connor Holmes disclosed its developer interests to the Government’s planning department, but that the information was not passed on to those awarding the GIA contract.
The Government breached its own procurement policies in the handling of this process.
The Mt Barker community is rightly outraged at the Ombudsman’s findings, however, it appears the investigation will change little. Planning Minister John Rau has ruled out reversing the development rezoning, and nor will he use his powers to freeze subdivisions on the new residential land until the matter is probed further.
And there can be no doubt that further investigation is needed – preferably by the new Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).
The issues raised in the Ombudsman’s report raise a red flag for the Government’s urban growth projects in other areas around the State.
Was Connor Holmes also representing developers in other areas that were eventually rezoned, such as Gawler East and Buckland Park?
In the interests of transparency, the GIA report must be publicly released.
If it was prepared by consultants with a vested interest, how can South Australians have any faith that the document was a truly independent report?
This report underpins the State’s 30-year Plan for Greater Adelaide, which is now the guiding document for development in SA. The Government must also reveal whether the GIA report was scrutinised by its planning department or whether the urban expansion boundaries it recommended were simply adopted verbatim.
If so, then there is no doubt that the State’s planning blueprint is tainted.