Minister for Local Government, Housing and Community Development
Honorable Premila Kumar
Parliament August 2021
Mr. Speaker Sir
Hon. Prime Minister,
Hon. Leader of the Opposition,
Hon. Members of Parliament,
1. Thank you, Mr. Speaker Sir, for the opportunity to present my Ministerial Statement on the review of the Town Planning Laws by the Ministry of Local Government.
2. Mr. Speaker Sir, Town Planning creates places where we live, work, shop and play. Without Town Planning Laws, and proper Master Plans and Town Planning Schemes, developments in the towns and cities will essentially lack direction and purpose.
3. It must be recognised that Town Planners have a difficult task of dealing with various challenges. From unsustainable development and population growth to climate change, this is where urban planning becomes extremely crucial.
4. Mr. Speaker Sir, the Abu Dhabi Declaration of February 2020 asserts that there can be no sustainable development without sustainable urbanisation AND no sustainable urbanisation without effective planning. Having the appropriate legal framework, financial backing and human capacity are required for effective planning.
5. Mr. Speaker Sir, I had informed this House previously that the Ministry of Local Government is reviewing the enabling legislation to ensure it is fit for purpose. Both, the Town and Country Planning Act of 1946 and the Subdivision Act of 1937, are no longer serving our interests. Unfortunately, our planning and development guidelines cannot support new thinking in planning, backed by innovative designs and technologies.
6. Mr. Speaker Sir, since 1946, there had been minor amendments made to these Acts, particularly to the definitions and inclusion of new town planning areas under the Town Planning Orders. These amendments were made till 1973. However, since then, there were no further amendments and a revised edition of the Act, bearing all amendments, was published in 1978.
7. Mr. Speaker Sir, we know a 70 or even 50 year old piece of legislation is no longer relevant in the field of planning. What we want for Fiji are laws that will create sustainable and resilient cities and towns. Laws that are forward looking and adaptive to changing needs.
8. Mr. Speaker Sir, the objective of the review is to create a planning law that will respond very well to modern day planning principles and practices, including development controls. Fiji’s Town Planning Act sets planning standards for land use and development through the Town Planning Schemes and the Town Planning General Provisions, which are now administered by the Municipal Councils.
9. Mr. Speaker Sir, prior to the enactment of the Town Planning Act, the Sub-division of Lands Act (Cap 140) was enacted to institute a system of creating and reconfiguring lots. This involves altering boundaries or amalgamating lots to create allotments on which development can then be planned and executed.
10. These legislations were loosely based on the United Kingdom’s Town and Country Planning Act at that time. Both legislations were introduced to ensure a well-organized planning system that controls land use and development within its unique and localized setting in Fiji.
11. Mr. Speaker Sir, although the existing laws have the basic town planning and land development control provisions that are still applied today, it is worth noting that the provisions cover planning issues and land development control matters that were applicable to the types of developments of the past decades.
12. Mr. Speaker Sir, planning and development control from those past decades up till now have greatly evolved worldwide, with newer planning principles and techniques introduced to respond to the changes.
13. Fiji, in the past decades from the 1970s, up till now has experienced big changes in development patterns and types due to increased urbanization and the need for a wider scope of development in peri urban, rural and maritime areas.
14. Mr. Speaker Sir, these are large residential, industrial and commercial sub-divisions and special uses e.g. hotels, outside main urban areas. This justifies the need to formulate this new proposed Act that aims to address the different planning methods and respond to the changing development patterns.
15. Mr. Speaker Sir, inflexible provisions relating to rigid planning requirements and standards, increase in illegal developments and lack of developer responsibilities, were some of the gaps that were identified in the existing legislations.
16. The current Act emphasizes the preparation of Town Planning Schemes for Municipalities. It does not explicitly cover the Policy and Planning aspects which is a fundamental component of modern planning to include macro level planning at State and Regional level and also at the lower level planning, which are District Plans and Local Area Plans.
17. Mr. Speaker Sir, the other important features of a modern day planning that the current Act lacks are:
a) Provisions of development planning based on new technologies and innovative designs for maximum return by using the land optimally;
b) Provisions to improve and fast track the planning process for major building applications; and
c) Clear provisions to apply and improve development enforcement.
18. Furthermore, Mr. Speaker Sir, the provisions of the current Town Planning Laws are too broad and do not adequately address some of the administrative issues that are encountered by the Municipal Councils.
19. For example, the Act mentions Rural Local Authorities and their functions. However, after the devolution of powers of the Rural Local Authorities in 2018, all responsibilities in the extended rural areas now rest with the Municipal Councils.
20. Mr. Speaker Sir, the revision now needs to reflect this to ensure that the Municipal Councils have full authority and powers to control development in both the town boundaries and in the extended rural areas.
21. Mr. Speaker Sir, following Cabinet approval, the Ministry carried out the review of the Town Planning Laws between 2012 and 2018 and a draft was produced. We then took this draft for public consultations in the three divisions, followed by consultations with iTaukei communities in 12 provinces.
22. Mr. Speaker Sir, in 2020, it was agreed that a fresh review be carried out in consultation with the Office of the Solicitor-General. This took into account feedback from all the initial consultations.
23. The Ministry of Local Government engaged the services of Nadkam Consultants to carry out the review of both Acts. A thorough desktop research was undertaken to understand and benchmark international best planning principles and legislations applied in other jurisdictions. These principles have been incorporated in the draft Bill to suit the local planning context in Fiji.
24. Mr. Speaker Sir, the proposed Bill is currently in its final draft after the completion of five stakeholder consultations convened in the three divisions with relevant Government Departments (Lands Department, TLTB, various Ministries) Utility and infrastructure agencies (FRA, WAF, EFL), Municipal Councils, Professional Bodies (Institute of Architects, Engineers, Surveyors), the Chamber of Commerce, Roko Tuis of the provinces, developers and tourism associations.
25. Mr. Speaker Sir, the draft bill was also reviewed by the former Directors of the Department of Town and Country Planning after stakeholder consultation. The draft Bill addressed the shortfall identified by the stakeholders who were using the planning laws. Some of the new inclusions are:
(a) Clearly specifying administration of the proposed Bill. This will strengthen the operations of the Department of Town and Country Planning and the Municipal or District Councils as local planning authorities to ensure services are more efficient and effective;
(b) Clear demarcation of the 3 tiers of planning, commencing from State, Regional to Local Planning at district and Municipal levels. This will facilitate a well-coordinated holistic, national planning with the participation and contribution of key stakeholders and communities;
(c) Introduction of development control with policies to streamline and fasten the approval process with new mechanisms like pre–assessment of applications, fast tracking approval process by development assessment panel and the use of online service; and
(d) Strengthening enforcement to deter illegal developments.
26. Mr. Speaker Sir, it is proposed that the existing Subdivision of Lands Act will be repealed and harmonized into a principal legislation for uniformity and consistency in the policies that can be applied to both town planning and land sub-division matters.
27. Mr. Speaker Sir, for the information of the House, the proposed Bill will drive substantial changes and clarity in terms of strengthening and modernizing the Department of Town and Country Planning’s approach to service delivery. For example, it will allow the Department to better utilize the online platform to store, receive and process applications electronically to reduce processing timelines.
28. Mr. Speaker Sir, it should be noted that illegal developments are rife in some municipalities and even in extended rural boundaries. It is therefore the responsibility of Municipal Councils to ensure that:
a) Developments are not located in areas or zones where it can create public health problems, disturbance and nuisance to people in the surrounding areas due to the impact of its operation in a place where it is not permitted;
b) Development for land sub-divisions are not undertaken before development approval is granted. This will deter any negative impacts on the environment and people living around the development site; and
c) Buildings are not constructed before approval is granted as it should comply with planning requirements, building regulations for structural safety and public health requirements for the overall safety and well-being of the owner and surrounding neighbours.
29. Mr. Speaker Sir, there are numerous cases where buildings are partly or fully constructed without prior approval of the Municipal Councils and the Department of Town and Country Planning. In other cases, buildings are not constructed as per the approved plans and are non-compliant.
30. The Ministry will therefore strengthen support to the Municipal Councils to ensure that their enforcement teams are fully resourced to curb illegal developments.
31. Mr. Speaker Sir, the Ministry has noted in recent years that a high number of sub-standard building applications had been received by Municipal Councils. For example, Suva City Council received over 200 building applications in 2019 that were deemed sub-standard. The plans were not drawn to scale, there were issues of structural integrity and detail designs were merely copy and paste.
32. Unfortunately, the existing Town Planning legislation does not provide any form of guidance as to who can lodge building applications.
33. Mr. Speaker Sir, to curb such issues and to protect the interests of the developers and the public, the draft Bill now makes reference to applications being lodged by ‘Accredited Persons’. This means that only those professionals who are qualified and have the necessary experience, and rather carry professional Indemnity Cover, will be permitted to lodge building applications with Municipal Councils.
34. Mr. Speaker Sir, my Ministry had also engaged the services of an experienced Planning Consultant specialising in Planning Law from Melbourne Australia who carried out an independent peer review of the Draft Bill. The relevant comments and suggestions were taken on board by the local consultant and included in the final draft.
35. Mr. Speaker Sir, the final draft of the revised Town Planning Act has been submitted to the Office of the Solicitor-General for legal vetting. The Ministry will be inviting written comments from the public on the draft Bill through the Ministry’s website and Facebook platforms.
36. Thank you, Mr. Speaker Sir, for allowing me to brief the House on the progress of the Town Planning Laws.