The Town's Planning Department is reviewing the way it deals with development applications to encourage greater participation and engagement by the public.

This initiative comes not a moment too soon.

For too long, developers have had the whip hand. They have deep pockets and instant access to fancy-dancing lawyers, planners and other sundry experts ready to do their bidding for a fat fee.

And they have time on their side. They know that public discontent can flare up over a development proposal and after a few months - or even years - fade away as people get on with their lives and come to terms with the new reality.

Difficult to navigate

For the public, the planning system is notoriously difficult to navigate.

There is the jargon and the suffocating planning mumbo jumbo. And everywhere there are the "experts" attempting to elevate planning into a science - which it is not. There is, of course, a body of knowledge which planners and planning lawyers have to master but this should not be used as an excuse to exclude the rest of us from participating meaningfully in decisions which profoundly affect our streets, neighbourhoods and towns.

The entire planning process needs to be demystified to make it understandable and accessible.

So I welcome the initiative taken by the Town's Planning Department to give the public earlier notice of pending development proposals.

Legalese and planning babble

Last year, the Town moved away from public notices as slabs of text written in planning babble and legalese. We now have  images. That is a huge step forward. But the Town needs to go beyond plans and elevations. We need an artist's impression (to use a quaint old term) of a proposed development which places it in its immediate surroundings.

To fully understand how a new development might fit in, we need perspective which can come from our old friend the artist or, these days, more likely from 3D models or computer generated graphics.

When Ron Eibel unveiled his memorable polystyrene model of Bob Forrest's monstrous Clock Tower development it told us more in an instant than a thousand pages of text ever could.

Speeding up the process

The Town also wants to speed up development application processing and this, too, is good.

The Planning Information Report, published last week, tells us:

"Official Plan and Zoning By-law amendments address matters of land use (what type of activity), density (how much floor area), built form (height, layout, setbacks), and compatibility (buffering, protection of sensitive lands, etc). Site plan applications address how a property is laid out to ensure functionality and compatibility including landscaping, traffic and pedestrian movement, grading and servicing."

The Town now wants to deal with Official Plan and Zoning By-law amendments and Site Plan issues concurrently.

This new procedure is to be piloted at 514 Davis Drive - the site of a proposed five storey office building.

Meetings with developers

Quite separately - and on another issue entirely - we need to be told when developers have one-to-one meetings with the Mayor and Councillors and a record should kept of what was said. This seems to have disappeared from the radar.

Elected officials are, of course, free to meet developers. But when they do the rest of us should be told about it.

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