17/12/2008 - 22:00

Day wants to speed approvals process

17/12/2008 - 22:00

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THE state government is looking to add a new layer of planning expertise to sit above local government as part of its bid to streamline approvals in the land development sector.

THE state government is looking to add a new layer of planning expertise to sit above local government as part of its bid to streamline approvals in the land development sector.

Planning Minister John Day is looking at legislation to create a new type of body to oversee planning in distinct parts of the metropolitan area, especially those where local councils are under-resourced.

Mr Day is part of a regular working group that includes relevant ministers and Premier Colin Barnett looking at ways of speeding up approvals across a range of sectors.

He acknowledged that the pressure on planning had reduced from to four years ago when policy changes and staff shortages had slowed down the approvals process at a time of very high demand - leading to a shortage of affordable housing.

But past experience had led to the need to look at some changes, like the concept of Development Assessment Panels.

These bodies would determine development applications under delegation from a group of neighbouring councils, generally two or three, and make decisions independent of the WA Planning Commission.

Mr Day said the panels would help smaller councils that often struggled to resource their planning departments, something that had slowed the development application process considerably.

"That may help speed up the process and enable the bigger picture to be looked at in some cases," he said.

"At more senior levels of local government there seems to be an understanding that there does need to be some reform in local government without necessarily amalgamation but a greater sharing of resources is supported."

Local governments in many areas already share resources in areas such as waste management.

Outside Perth, Mr Day said the government was proposing to extend the spread of regional planning committees to areas such as the Mid West, the Pilbara and Kimberley to overcome the planning bottlenecks created when industry in those areas booms.

While the concept of regional planning committees has been operating in WA for years - in Perth, Peel and the greater Bunbury area - Development Assessment Panels are untested here.

Mr Day appeared cautious with regard to more radical approaches to streamlining the approvals process, such as implementing time lines that forced authorities to look at applications by a prescribed deadline.

"That is some we'll consider," he said. "We need a lot more information about the workability."

Mr Day said the department was restructuring to better attract and retain planning expertise.

On the question of height restrictions, the state government appears to be closely aligned with the previous policy, which is encapsulated in a draft coastal planning strategy currently out for comment.

Mr Day said the general coastal height restrictions brought in by the Carpenter government appeared appropriate, with modest development to ensure the public had access to services it required.

"I don't really see that being changed," he said.

"The debate has been had, largely, the policy is now in place unless there is considerable pressure to revisit it, it is essentially there."

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