Legislative Council

GREENS BILL: Promoting Use of Vacant Land

October 18th, 2017

On the 18th of October, Mark introduced the Greens Private Members Bill, Planning, Development and Infrastructure (Promoting Use of Vacant Land) Amendment Bill 2017.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: It will come as no surprise to members when they see the full title of this bill, the Planning, Development and Infrastructure (Promoting Use of Vacant Land) Amendment Bill 2017 to realise that this bill is yet another attempt on my part to deal with the appalling situation that we see on the Le Cornu site where we have a prime piece of real estate left vacant for 28 years. The last time I put this issue on the agenda it was as a motion and it was calling on the government to take steps, unspecified steps, to secure the use of that land for public purposes, in particular a park, until the developer, the owner, was ready to develop the land, and I think that is still the preferred way to go. Given the reluctance of the government and even the opposition to support that motion last time, I figured we need to try a different tack.

The main rationale that was offered for rejecting my previous motion was that this land is in fact privately owned land and therefore there is nothing that the government can or should do about this situation. I find that to be a remarkable state of affairs because the entire purpose of our planning system, in fact a great deal of what is on the statute books, is about modifying the behaviour that people would otherwise display in all walks of life, and when it comes to development, that is mostly what the legislation is about. It is about regulating what people can and cannot do on private property. I have let the government off the hook slightly in terms of this bill because the bill is drafted in a way so that the state government does not really have to act if it does not want to, but the question is: why shouldn't local councils then be able to act?

My bill is very straightforward. It says that if a local council or the state government forms the view that land is vacant and unused, and that there is no likelihood of it ever being used for any worthwhile purpose, then they can step in and secure what this bill calls a 'statutory lease'. In other words, they will take control of the land and they will relieve the owner of liability for the land. They will be able to relieve them of rates and taxes and charges and all manner of things and, as soon as the owner is ready to develop, as soon as they have permission to develop and they can show that they are about to develop and they are ready to go, they get the land back. It really is not at all Draconian. This is not compulsory acquisition of freehold title; it is basically saying, 'If you're not going to develop it, then at least let the public have the use of it.'

Some key definitions in the bill include 'public purpose'. The only reason that a council or a state government can acquire a statutory leasehold interest in this land is for a public purpose defined as use of land as a public park, a playground or for the purpose of recreational sport, or any other purpose declared by the minister by notice in the Gazette. I have left the government in control but the default is we are talking grass, we are talking parks and playgrounds and picnic tables. It ought not be that hard. The bill is also different from the earlier motion that I brought forward in that it does not relate exclusively to the Le Cornu site; it relates to any situation in South Australia that has those similar attributes, that is, land that is not being used and is unlikely to be used.

I think it would probably be very rare with all the vacant blocks all over South Australia that the council would want to step in and say, 'We'll use that as a park.' It is not going to happen to the block of land that someone has bought out in the bush to build their retirement home on; it is just not going to happen. But Le Cornu—28 years vacant with a fence around it, an eyesore that is the laughing stock of Adelaide—when cases like that come up why shouldn't the council be able to?

There is even more. It is not as if the council can do this is as the first resort; this is a last resort. They can only use this power in this bill if they have tried to negotiate with the owner and failed. Really, it is very much a last resort option, not a first resort. With those brief words, I commend the bill to the chamber.

For more information see a copy of the Bill

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