Academic journal article URISA Journal

Australian Local Governments' Practice and Prospects with Online Planning

Academic journal article URISA Journal

Australian Local Governments' Practice and Prospects with Online Planning

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Public participation is a very important part of the planning process that provides opportunities and encouragement for the public to express their views (Burke 1979, Day 1997, Beder 1999, Campbell and Marshall 2000, Brody et al. 2003). Public involvement in planning, however, requires a system to be accessible to all. To achieve broad participation, authorities will have to check their arrangements for public access to planning information and services. These arrangements include effective use of information and communication technologies (ICTs). Today, ICTs are providing new opportunities for public involvement in urban planning and also addressing the digital divide to make sure everyone can take part in the planning process (Innes and Booher 2000, Jankowski and Nyerges 2001, Craig 2002).

Online planning--sometimes referred to as Internet-assisted urban planning--is a new frontier for the planning discipline. It creates a new platform for planning operations and processes, and increases the opportunity for public participation. Online planning offers people access to a seamless record of the progress and approval of planning proposals and policies (Shiode 2000, McGinn 2001).

The Internet is the main medium of information exchange for online planning, and geographic information systems (GIS) are another significant technology that plays an important part in online planning. A decade ago, Pickles (1995) stated that GIS technology is beyond the reach of ordinary citizens, because GIS and spatial data are expensive and require high levels of training for competent use. Fortunately, with the substantial decrease in technology costs and introduction of Internet GIS, online data and analysis tools are becoming widely accessible to the public. Internet GIS applications increase public access to information and promote active participation in the planning process (Ceccato and Snickars. 2000, Kingston et al. 2000). Schiffer (1995) saw the promise of online planning, and according to Carver (2003), use of Internet GIS for planning is a step in the right direction: that of citizen empowerment through greater involvement and openness and accountability on behalf of decision makers. Thus, planning benefiting from the Internet and GIS can help local authorities organize planning schemes to involve residents' interaction with their planning processes.

This paper examines Australian local governments' potential and experiences in implementing online planning. In Australia, local councils have statutory powers over land-use zoning and the development approval processes and they are obligated to develop and implement strategic and local plans. This paper considers the extent to which those local councils are willing to embrace ICTs as planning tools, and the extent to which households might be ready to access new computer technologies.

In this research the following questions are considered: (a) What are the patterns of computer and the Internet use across households? (b) What might be done to narrow the digital divide? (c) What are current local government policies, capabilities, and projects with respect to online planning? (d) What are the potentials of local government areas (LGAs) in implementing online planning?

The research reported here is based on primary data collection and analysis, and secondary data analysis.

Primary data collection and analysis involved conducting a survey of planning officers in Australia's local councils to obtain information on the extent to which they are making use or plan to make use of ICTs to support online planning. The results of that survey are used to assess the potential and willingness of local governments to adopt ICTs for online planning.

Secondary data was used to ascertain the degree to which local councils are using Internet in their planning departments. This was carried out through a search of council Web sites. …

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