Opinion | Consultation rort reaches new heights in Newcastle

PEOPLE'S PROGRESS: The consultation process which occurred in Newcastle regarding East End building heights serves to exemplify the system's many failings.
PEOPLE'S PROGRESS: The consultation process which occurred in Newcastle regarding East End building heights serves to exemplify the system's many failings.

CONSULTATION fatigue is sweeping the nation. That should come as no surprise to Novocastrians.

A submission to the Australian Government's role in the development of cities inquiry being conducted by the Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities is quite specific in its critique of government consultation.

You’d be hard pressed to find a better example of tick-box time wasting than the totally bogus process of community consultation around the spot rezoning of height limits in what is now the East End project.

Yes, I know. It’s done.

Let it go mate. Sure.

But what a boondoggle for those who bothered to present arguments on why the height limits – as set out only a couple of years earlier in the Newcastle Urban Renewal Strategy – should remain intact.

It was always going to be a dead cert that once Jeff McCloy and Tim Owen appeared together in the Newcastle Herald arguing for an increase in heights, the planets would align.

What a truly magnificent example that height consultation fiasco was for demonstrating total disregard for hundreds of submissions arguing to keep the height limits in the area to eight stories. Anyway, it’s done. The sods have turned. Yay sods.

That turd of a process could have been exhibit A underpinning the submission from SAP Australia Pty Ltd (SAP) and the Regional Australia Institute (RAI) to the inquiry that met in Newcastle to little fanfare last Friday week.

Their submission points out that “while the mechanisms for rapid citizen engagement are available, the willingness to employ them is not always evident.

In large part, this is because validating local priorities will challenge the status quo – whereby public sector funding and resource allocation decisions are made by distant gatekeepers.

“There is work to do to build interest and in trust a new approach to citizen engagement. This work starts from a fairly low base of cynical citizens and regional leaders as government and business are deep into ‘stakeholder consultation’ but the reality is that precious little of this actually influences decisions.”

Surprise, surprise.

The submission outlines how South Australia – those coal-hating bastards – used an online vote in 2017 to determine the allocation of $1 million for community groups to provide programs or services for isolated, vulnerable or disadvantaged crow-eaters. More than 2,500 people took part in selecting from the 85 projects seeking funding. Real involvement.

But it’s not just a sceptical citizenry concerned about consultation. The submission from Newcastle City Council was unusual in its candour.

“Our experience of working with state government transport planners over the light rail link has not been easy, with local input and needs too often ignored. A broader view and planning perspective would have assisted this project and enhanced local acceptability.”

What will be the next drivers in Newcastle that contribute to the city’s development? Tourism? Beaches schmeaches.

They’re good, but no better than many others along the NSW coastline.

I don’t think anyone has any idea what Newcastle will offer locals, visitors and those seeking full-time work once the cranes are dismantled.

We all know what follows a boom, right?