Experts have long acknowledged the role of the built environment in promoting public health and the Western Australian health and planning systems are playing their part.

The Health System

The Department of Health has recently released the Interim Report on the Sustainable Health Review. The Final Report is due in November 2018 following a further period of consultation.

The panel undertaking the review has identified 12 Preliminary Directions for further consideration. Of note, Preliminary Direction 1 is to ‘Keep people healthy and get serious about prevention and health promotion.’ That prevention is listed as the first of the 12 Preliminary Directions highlights the importance of this issue in a system that has traditionally focussed on treatment. The Interim Report recognises that unsafe neighbourhoods and housing are social determinants of health as they directly impact on matters such as physical activity and mental illness.

The Sustainable Health Review follows the introduction of the Public Health Act 2016 which aims to ‘protect, promote and improve the health and wellbeing’ of Western Australians. While Part 5, which deals with Local Government Public Health Plans, is yet to come into force, many local governments are voluntarily preparing such plans. In response to this, the Department of Health has issued a ‘Public Health Planning Guide for Local Governments' which sets out the requirements for a local public health plan. Local Public Health Plans may recognise that factors such as physical activity, public open space, safe neighbourhoods and the environment (for example, contaminated land, noise and odour) will impact health, and provide measures to address these issues. Such measures could include encouraging active design principles in the built environment, lighting for safe spaces and construction of appealing roads and streetscapes.

As local governments have responsibilities under both the Public Health Act and local planning schemes made under the Planning and Development Act, the integration of public health objectives into planning decisions, including applications for development approval, will be inevitable.

The Planning System

The State Planning Strategy 2050 published in June 2014 recognised that issues such as obesity and mental health can be positively impacted by the built environment. The Strategy encourages the promotion of active lifestyles and community interaction by recognising that matters such as:

  • environmental quality;
  • developer contributions;
  • transit-oriented development; and
  • housing density and mix

are relevant to promoting community health and wellbeing. Local governments may also prepare more detailed planning policies setting out specific requirements dealing with health and well-being, particularly in the context of promoting health through the built environment. These policies will be relevant considerations in determining development applications as required by the Deemed Provisions of the Planning and Development Act. They will also be relevant to the determination of zoning for land, and structure planning in development areas.

What does this mean for developers?

As strategic planning focuses on health and well-being, developers will need to consider how their proposal promotes this objective. For example, proposals may encourage pedestrian access or include dual use of facilities to promote community engagement. While it is not yet a requirement for local governments to have public health plans under the Public Health Act, where these are voluntarily in place, the need for developers to address public health aspects of their proposal will be all the more important.

The content of this publication is for reference purposes only. It is current at the date of publication. This content does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be obtained before taking any action based on this publication.