Calls for more investigation into Planning Row

The ACT Opposition says more investigation is needed into a bitter battle between the Territory’s planning chief and the former chief minister.

Documents obtained by the Opposition under Freedom of Information (FOI) laws show former chief minister and property services minister Jon Stanhope raised concerns about a development application at the Giralang shops last year.

He urged the ACT Planning and Land Authority to take into account the Government’s supermarket competition policy when making its decision.

Chief planning officer Neil Savery saw this as political interference, and in a scathing brief he accused Mr Stanhope of bringing politics into planning.

Mr Stanhope was cleared by the Government solicitor of any wrongdoing and the dispute was resolved.

But the Opposition says the incident raises broader questions about the integrity of the ACT’s planning system.

Opposition Leader Zed Seselja says more investigation is needed.

“The reality is that Neil Savery raised far more widespread concerns which were never dealt with,” he said.

“He raised concerns not just about one letter, he raised concerns about ongoing interference and he repeated those concerns, even after that legal advice is out there, even after he had to clarify some of his other comments.

“If they sweep this under the carpet, as we’ve seen in other areas, then it would be impossible for the community to have confidence in the integrity of our planning process.”

Chief Minister Katy Gallagher says it was an unfortunate and isolated case, and legal advice shows no political interference was intended

She says the recent public service restructure was in part designed to resolve confusion around planning issues.

“Those issues have been addressed. The two current ministers, Minister Barr and Minister Corbell, have been having a number of discussions about how to enter into a memorandum of understanding between their directorates to make sure this issue doesn’t occur again,” she said.

“It is important to make sure that if one arm of Government is talking to another arm of Government, I think it’s really important that they actually resolve their issues.

“It shouldn’t be that issues remain unresolved and escalate in to the sort of outcomes that we saw over this issue.”

Mr Stanhope says he was deeply offended by allegations of impropriety.

“Neil Savery did allege that there had been undue interference in his statutory authority. I was most concerned by that allegation. Deeply shocked and offended by it, surprised,” he said.

“I referred it to the ACT Government solicitor who refuted the claim absolutely.”

Mr Savery has not been available for comment.

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