Introduction

In August 2014, the Minister for Planning announced wide scale reforms to the planning system, many of which will occur in the coming 12 months.  The proposals will result in further erosion of local councils’ powers. As well as the diversion of more decisions to Development Assessment Panels (DAPs), the Western Australian Planning Commission (WAPC) will become the sole arbiter on structure plans, subject to certain exceptions for local matters, which will still involve local councils. Affording local councils a limited role in this process will potentially also lessen local community involvement in contentious proposals.

The proposed reforms are outlined in ‘Planning makes it happen: phase two – Blueprint for planning reform’,published by the Department of Planning (Department) and the WAPC.  The proposals will build upon the phase one reforms that began in 2009.

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Background to reform

The Department and the WAPC are progressing the State Government's reform agenda. Many changes occurred during the first phase; including:

  1. the establishment of DAPs
  2. a comprehensive review of the R-Codes
  3. revised Model Subdivision Conditions
  4. the establishment of a strategic planning framework, including the State Planning StrategyDirections 2031 and Beyond and the Capital City Planning Framework, and
  5. new Structure Plan Preparation Guidelines.

New Model Scheme Text provisions and a review of the Metropolitan Region Scheme Text are still outstanding from phase one, but are expected to be completed by the end of 2014. Likewise, phase one projects to reviewState Planning Policy 3.6 Development Contributions for Infrastructure, and to integrate planning and environmental approvals for the Strategic Environmental Assessment process, are ongoing.

Phase two consultation outcomes

Phase two commenced in September 2013 with the ‘Review of the Planning and Development Act 2005’discussion paper. The key objective is to consider the operation and effectiveness of the Planning and Development Act 2005 (PD Act), in accordance with the Minister for Planning’s statutory obligation to review the legislation.  The ‘Planning Reform’ discussion paper was released at the same time to take the opportunity to consider broader reform measures.

Consultation closed in December 2013. The broad themes of reform received strong support, particularly the following proposals:

  1. improving the local planning scheme amendment and review processes;
  2. an online portal for the lodgement and processing of all WAPC applications;
  3. streamlining the amendment process for region planning schemes; and
  4. improving the function of the Infrastructure Coordinating Committee.

Several proposals will be put on hold, including the concept of local government accreditation for planners, and automatic region scheme amendments to reflect endorsed sub-regional structure plans, which were unpopular with stakeholders.

Second phase reform agenda

The second phase will concentrate on statutory decision making processes and land use planning and supply. The key changes that the State Government has decided to implement are summarised below.

1          Review of the Metropolitan Region Scheme and standardised delegations

The State Government’s intention is to align the Metropolitan Region Scheme (MRS) with the newer Peel Region and Greater Bunbury Region Schemes. For example:

  1. only specifically stated development will require WAPC approval under the MRS, reversing the current default position of all development requiring approval unless specifically exempted, and
  2. a new ‘Industrial Deferred’ zone will be introduced and possibly other zone or reserve types to reflect changes in land use and development trends.

The State Government is also keen to ensure that local council schemes of delegation, by which council decision making powers are delegated to planning officers, are consistent and uphold the principle of subsidiarity. That is, the principle that a central authority should only those tasks which cannot be performed at a more local level. To the extent that this review results in greater delegation from council members to officers, efficiencies are likely to be achieved in the decision making process.

2          Improve amendment process for region planning schemes and introduce concurrent amendment of region and local planning schemes

The proposals for streamlining processes under region and local schemes are intended to remove many of the delays in the current planning system, by simplifying application processes and fast-tracking land supply.

While the region planning scheme amendment process provides a necessary level of scrutiny, many changes are straightforward and comply with the strategic planning framework. Therefore the State Government has decided that a less time-consuming review of proposed changes would be adequate for basic amendments. Where appropriate, it is also proposed to allow inter-dependent region and local scheme amendments to be processed together.

Most amendments will be processed as ‘standard’ (the equivalent of the current ‘minor’ amendments) unless they are classified as ‘complex’. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will help identify categories of amendment that will not need to be referred to the EPA. Proponents will still need to notify neighbouring landowners of their proposed amendment, but advertising periods will be reduced to 60 days for ‘complex’ amendments and 42 days for ‘standard’ amendments. 

3          Improve local planning scheme review process and streamline structure plan process

The introduction of a new Model Scheme Text, to replace the current Model Scheme Text which accompanies the Town Planning Regulations 1967, will simplify processes in order to fast track land supply and housing approvals. The text will provide a set of standard provisions for development applications, structure plans and development contribution plans.  Standardised scheme provisions and consistent terminology (zones, land use definitions, structure planning provisions etc) should improve operational efficiency in development applications and consistency in decision-making.

State Planning Policy 3.6: Development Contributions for Infrastructure will be reviewed to clarify the range of infrastructure to be covered by the policy and to establish guidelines for effective implementation.  This should provide greater certainty for developers on the likely amount of infrastructure contributions in both new and existing urban areas. The Structure Plan Preparation Guidelines introduced in the phase one reforms, will also be reviewed to help simplify the content of structure plans. 

4          Improve local planning scheme amendment process

The local scheme amendment process will be reviewed along the same lines as the region scheme amendment process. New categories of ‘standard’ and ‘complex’ amendments will replace the current categories, and the EPA will help to identify categories of local scheme amendment that will not need to be referred to the EPA.

5          Private certification of development applications

Although this proposal generated much opposition and many questions from consultees, the State Government proposes to exempt compliant single houses from requiring planning approval, and possibly allow building certifiers to certify compliance with the R-Codes and local planning requirements. Detailed consideration will be given to a private certification system for determining development applications too. These measures are intended to fast track housing approvals.

6          Electronic application process

An online application and tracking system for WAPC applications is already under way and was popular with consultees. The WAPC expects to be receiving subdivision and structure plan applications by the end of 2014, followed by schemes and other applications in 2015. Consideration will also be given to rolling the system out to local governments in due course.

Conclusion

The time frame for implementing the reform agenda will vary depending on the specific nature of the proposed initiative.  Many of the changes will require amendments to the Planning and Development Act 2005 (WA) and the Town Planning Regulations 1967 (WA). However, the State Government anticipates that most changes will be complete within the next 12 months.

The State Government’s key aims are to: embed best practice in the planning system; further streamline planning processes; enable more integrated land use and infrastructure planning; and support the timely release of development. The proposals are promising and look set to achieve these objectives fairly quickly. Concurrent amendments to local and region planning schemes should improve efficiencies in the approval process and the lower opt-in threshold to go directly to a DAP will give many developers more flexibility to choose between a local council or DAP as the decision-maker.

In addition to the planning reforms, the State Government plans significant reform to local government arrangements in metropolitan Perth, including reducing the number of local councils from 1 July 2015.   This, sits well with the second phase planning reform agenda, providing various opportunities to help streamline and improve efficiencies in the planning system, as well as an opportunity for the Model Scheme Text to be adopted by the new amalgamated councils.