Key Points:

he WA Government seeks comment on the draft Perth and Peel Green Growth Plan for 3.5 Million, the "largest undertaking of its kind in Australia", by 13 May 2016.

Described as the "largest undertaking of its kind in Australia" the Commonwealth and State strategic assessment of the Perth / Peel Region of Western Australia has achieved a milestone in releasing a draft Strategic Conservation Plan, known as the “Perth and Peel Green Growth Plan for 3.5 Million” (Green Growth Plan). The Green Growth Plan is out for public comment until 13 May 2016.

The Green Growth Plan includes:

  • a Conservation Program;
  • environmental objectives, commitments and an assurance framework; and
  • an indicative development framework up to 2047,

for the Perth / Peel Region of Western Australia (WA's most populous area).

What does the Green Growth Plan do?

The Green Growth Plan proposes to:

  • remove duplication in State and Commonwealth environmental approvals;
  • integrate environmental protection, land use planning and sustainability;
  • better address cumulative impacts within the heavily cleared Perth and Peel regions; and
  • provide for the development needs of 3.5 million people by 2050.

It includes an indicative development framework based upon:

  • the State's planning document “Directions 2031 and Beyond - Metropolitan Planning Beyond the Horizon”;
  • four subregional planning frameworks; and
  • an interim strategic assessment issued by the Environment Protection Authority in 2015.

One of its primary goals is streamlining environmental approvals. Once approved by the Commonwealth Environment Minister and assessed by the WA EPA, the plan will significantly change the landscape for environmental approvals. It will affect everyone developing land within WA's most populous region.

Conservation program

The Green Growth Plan proposes expanding the conservation reserve system in the Perth / Peel Region by 170,000 hectares, establishing a new wetland buffer policy, and replanting 5,000 hectares of pine foraging habitat for the endangered Carnaby Cockatoo. The expanded reserve will establish the Peel Regional Park, resolve tenure, ownership and management arrangements for almost all Bush Forever sites, and facilitate the acquisition of some private land of conservation value.

In all likelihood development contributions will be imposed on future approvals to fund the conservation reserve acquisitions. Details on this aspect of the Green Growth Plan have not been released.

Further, the Conservation Program will not eliminate existing requirements for project impact mitigation or environmental offsets. Those aspects of the current environmental impact assessment regime will remain.

Environmental objectives and commitments

The Green Plan contains environmental objectives, commitments and an assurance framework in Action Plans F, G and I. All future development will need to address these principles as an additional layer of policy guidance.

These principles will also supplement the State Government's Offsets Policy. The quantum of offsets may increase under the adaptive framework of the assurance program (Action Plan I) if environmental values are not maintained.

Indicative development framework

The Green Plan proposes development exclusion areas, areas for further environmental assessment, and indicative development footprints separated into five classes of action:

  • urban and industrial development (Action Plan A);
  • rural residential development (Action Plan B);
  • infrastructure development (Action Plan C);
  • basic raw materials extraction (Action Plan D); and
  • harvesting of pine plantations (Action Plan E).

While the Green Growth Plan does not prohibit development outside of the indicative footprints, such development will likely require proponents to address threshold questions of need and public benefit. This is because the indicative footprint was based on modelling future development needs.

Streamlined Approval Process

If a development proposal falls within one of the five "classes of action" identified by the Green Growth Plan, the proposal will generally no longer go through the usual environmental approval process at the State and Commonwealth levels. Instead, if a proponent meets the conservation and environmental commitments set out in Action Plans F and G the proposal will:

  • be deemed to have obtained Commonwealth EPBC Act approval; and
  • likely obtain a "not assessed" determination on referral under Part IV of the State Environmental Protection Act 1986.

However, other required approvals, such as planning approval, Aboriginal heritage and environmental licensing will still be required.

If a proposal falls outside of the Green Growth Plan then the existing State and Commonwealth environmental approval processes will apply. However, for development proposed outside of the indicative development footprints, an additional hurdle now exists in demonstrating the appropriateness of development or changes in circumstances.

It is therefore important to understand the classes of action and whether any current or future proposals fall within a particular Action Plan.

Next steps: make your views known

The Green Growth Plan will be a significant guiding instrument for future development proposals in the Perth / Peel region. Accordingly, land owners, infrastructure providers and developers need to evaluate its potential impact on their future development options and aspirations. Any proposals for amendment must be lodged with the Department of Premier and Cabinet by 13 May 2016.