Urban planning

Conflict-of-interest row mars pier survey

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 July, 2008, 12:00am

Where the government will locate the heritage-important Queen's Pier in its redevelopment of the Central harbour waterfront is a controversial matter. The soon-to-end consultation process will help authorities decide whether it should be put back at its original location, in the midst of reclaimed land, or moved - concrete slab by concrete slab - to the newly defined harbourside. Plumping for either will have its share of detractors.

Given the circumstances, common sense says that the Institute of Planners should have taken the utmost care in canvassing the opinions of members for its submission. Yet, it appears that the group's board has gone about putting together a plan with a lack of sensitivity to concerns about conflict of interest.

More than half of the institute's members work for the government; 11 of the 18-strong board are on its payroll, eight of them in the Planning Department. The government favours the pier being put on the waterfront. Suspicions were therefore naturally piqued when an e-mailed survey to members on the issue had an attached position paper showing the pier where the government would like it located - as if the matter had already been set in stone.

That many members of the Institute of Planners work for the government cannot be avoided - it is the body in our city that most needs the services of planners. A similar situation exists with other professional bodies, as the government is one of the largest employers of professionals. This means the institute should have adopted appropriate measures or procedures to prevent any rows about conflict of interest. Members involved in drawing up the government's plans should have refrained from taking part in the discussions about the institute's position. Those not involved but who are civil servants should also be conscious of other people's perception that their official capacity may affect their personal views.

Planners as a group are entitled to have a say on our city's appearance, and they are professionally most qualified to do so. But their views are of value only if they are seen to be given fairly and objectively.