Ben Ponton named new head of ACT Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development directorate
« That’s really what I’m driving and I’ve already put communications out to my team to ask them to think about the citizens and always have the customer experience at the forefront of their thinking, » Mr Ponton said.
« If we don’t have citizens in mind then we’re not going to succeed in delivering the government’s policy so it’s about understanding what’s important to communities, what’s important to government and working to provide for high quality public spaces and improved environmental management. »
Mr Ponton isn’t new to Canberra’s planning space – in fact he was the deputy director-general of the same directorate several years back.
He has also been the deputy chief executive of the soon-to-be defunct Land Development Agency, deputy director-general of the Chief Minister, Treasury and Economic Development Directorate and the coordinator-general of urban renewal.
Before that, he worked for regional councils, including Yass and Yarrowlumla Shires, where he said he learnt the importance of « working with communities and not against them ».
And while he wants build up Canberrans’ trust in the planning process, he doesn’t think that lack of trust is strictly a Canberra problem.
« It’s not unique to Canberra in terms of trust in the planning and development space. For me it’s about being genuine, listening, engaging with key groups, whether they be residents groups or industry groups or others and making sure you provide feedback in terms of what you’re doing with the information that’s being provided, » Mr Ponton said.
Mr Ponton has asked his team to look at new ways to loop more Canberrans into the planning process earlier.
« It’s really important to not think we have all of the answers, » he said.
« Clearly the government will have certain objectives it will want to achieve and often that will be on advice from the directorate but once we start going into communities in terms of planning or development opportunities we need to engage with the local residents because they know the area better than anyone and often it’s those interactions and listening to people that will provide often gems of information that are critical to the planning for those areas. »
And those who are worried about about developments in their backyards need not fear being lambasted for speaking up about it.
« Look I don’t use the term NIMBY. I think anyone who is raising concerns has a right to do so and it really comes back to that building of trust early in the process, » Mr Ponton said.
« Often when you see a negative reaction to proposals, whether that be a development proposal or a policy proposal, it’s because people feel like they haven’t been engaged early enough and they’re surprised at what they’re reading about and what they’re seeing.
« If you have people joining you on the journey early as you work up the proposal, you’re going to have a smoother ride. »