Alternative dispute resolution in local government planning in NSW: understanding the gap between rhetoric and practice
This thesis examines the use of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) for local government planning and development disputes in New South Wales. Set within broader theoretical concerns around key concepts, this research comprehensively documents, for the first time, how the ADR process of mediation was introduced to NSW councils and then used by their staff and independent ADR practitioners for disputes over development applications and the formation of local planning policies. The thesis also
... ovides a systematic overview of the use of mediation and conciliation for development appeals brought before the Land and Environment Court of NSW (LEC). In the 1980s there was considerable interest in ADR in Australia. Mediation was in use for community, family and business disputes and by the early 1990s was being suggested for environmental, planning and development matters. Its use was encouraged by government agencies keen to see a reduction in the costs of often delayed council decisions on development applications. There was also a desire by councils to find a way to reduce the community disharmony that often occurred over large or contentious applications, or when changes to planning policies were proposed. Mediation held great promise in these early years but as this research shows, its take-up has been modest and its use variable. A detailed analysis of the encouragement to use ADR for planning and development disputes before councils and the LEC, together with an examination of policy and survey evidence, uncovers a significant gap between the promotional rhetoric and actual practice. From extensive in-depth interviews with council staff and ADR practitioners and through personal knowledge, it can be seen that the initial enthusiasm for ADR has not continued, with council staff now more commonly seeking to directly negotiate solutions to development disputes. The thesis concludes by considering the likely future for ADR in local government planning and development disputes.