The State Government has proposed new powers and processes to facilitate the delivery of urban renewal projects on a precinct-by-precinct basis, in line with the objectives of the State Planning Strategy. These are contained in the Housing and Urban Development (Administrative Arrangements) (Urban Renewal) Amendment Bill 2013 (Bill).

Processes

In very broad terms, the Bill would enable the Minister to declare a specified area of land to be a “precinct” and to appoint a “precinct authority”. Council, the Urban Renewal Authority and other statutory corporations may be precinct authorities.

The primary functions of the precinct authority are to prepare and maintain for the relevant precinct:

  1. a precinct master plan;
  2. precinct implementation plans

Precinct implementation plans may include many matters currently addressed in development plans, including design guidelines, desired allotment patterns, height and density controls, maps of proposed public and open spaces and an infrastructure implementation framework.

Implementation plans may also specify certain classes of development as a complying form of development for the purposes of development assessment.

In preparing a precinct implementation plan, the precinct authority must have regard to the provisions of the relevant development plan for the area, and must take unspecified “reasonable steps” to consult with each council that has a direct interest in the matter.

Once adopted, the Minister may use the “fast-track” process under s29 of the Development Act 1993 to amend the relevant development plan to give effect to a precinct plan.

Precinct plans will automatically override any inconsistent council by-laws in respect of the precinct, to the extent of the inconsistency.

Powers

Precinct authorities may be authorised by regulation to exercise specific statutory powers relevant to the management, development or enhancement of a precinct. This expressly includes powers to grant approvals, consents, licences or exemptions; to provide services or infrastructure; and to impose and recover rates, levies or charges.

The regulations could, for example, empower precinct authorities to grant development approvals, road alteration authorisations or liquor licenses; to require persons to connect to a local service (eg recycled water); and to impose and recover additional rates and service charges.

Before exercising certain powers, the precinct authority must consult with the authority in which the power is primarily vested before exercising the power (for example, the local council). It is not, however, bound to comply with any directions given by that authority. Nor is it required to consult in relation to other kinds of powers, such as imposing or recovering rates, levies or charges.

No draft regulations have been released yet.

Broader implications

Of concern is the absence of clarity as to the role of local government in its capacity as the primary rating authority and as the owner and manager of community land and infrastructure. For example:

  • Will a precinct authority be able to determine how existing community land will be developed and managed?
  • Will a precinct authority be able to require councils to accept the vesting of new community land or infrastructure, even where a council may have concerns or objections?
  • Will decisions about the provision of services and infrastructure – and the recovery of rates – impact on the long-term financial sustainability and strategic objectives of councils?

In our view, these, and other similar questions, will require careful consideration – and possibly public debate – to ensure that the interests of local government are not prejudiced by the reforms. In addition, the issue of rates being recovered by bodies who are not responsible to those being rated is a difficult one. It would appear that there is potential for taxation without representation.

Conclusion

The Bill proposes a framework which is likely to result in removal of development policy-making and assessment functions in declared precincts from local government.

It is also likely that precinct authorities will be given other ‘development-related’ powers traditionally exercised by local government.

Of concern is how the Bill may impact on local government in its capacity as a rating authority, and as owner and manager of much community land and infrastructure. In this regard, certain aspects of the Bill are not as clear as they might be and further clarification is desirable.

We note that similar regimes interstate, such as the Queensland ULDA, NSW Barangaroo Project and WA’s Elizabeth Quay, have attracted significant attention.