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Developers claim log jam

PLANNERS and developers warn that WA’s planning system has ground to a halt, with a backlog of appeals building up in Planning and Infrastructure Minister Alannah MacTiernan’s office.

Some key industry players believe the situation has become so dire that development and investment in WA could stop.

One major developer told Business News that he would not consider any development that might result in a planning appeal or require rezoning.

It is claimed the Ministry of Planning (Planning Appeals) has been sending letters to appellants asking if they wish to continue with their appeal, in an attempt to reduce the backlog.

The backlog dates back to former Planning Minister Graham Kierath and has been building since the new Government was elected in February. However, Ms MacTiernan told Business News the claims that the planning system was grinding to a halt were nonsense.

“When I took office there was a backlog of 370 appeals. There are now 344 outstanding and in the past three months I’ve heard 107,” she said.

“There are 182 appeals that have been in limbo, some dating back to 1996, where the proponents have not given grounds for their appeal or have asked for them to be put on hold.”

Ms MacTiernan said she was putting a new planning appeals process in place that would abolish the ministerial appeals process.

The Planning Appeals Amendment Bill, foreshadowed during Labor’s election campaign, is expected to go to Parliament in the very near future.

Under WA’s existing planning system, about 80 per cent of all planning appeals are still referred to the Planning Minister. The remainder go to the Planning Appeals Tribunal.

But many consider the tribunal to be too legalistic and expensive.

Planning experts have claimed the Planning Minister brought more “compassion” to the appeals process than the tribunal.

The new planning appeals process involves a three-level structure.

Depending on the severity of the claim an appeal will either be heard by a single arbiter or a junior tribunal. A senior tribunal will hear appeals at the larger end of the scale.

There will be a call-in power for the minister if the matter is of “State or regional significance”.

Australian Association of Planning Consultants WA president and Planning Group managing director David Caddy said there was concern among members that little was being done on planning appeals.

“We’re getting feedback that the system has become bogged down,” Mr Caddy said.

“The minister has disdain for the ministerial planning appeal system. She has sought to slow it down as much as possible.”

Saracen Properties managing director Luke Sareceni said he would not consider any develop-ments that could involve an appeal or need rezoning.

Mr Saraceni’s company is involved with the multi-million dollar CBD

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Woolworths and Myer Warehouse developments.

“It has become very clear the new Minister won’t uphold any appeal against a planning authority’s decision,” he said.

Mr Saraceni said the existing tribunal system was too expensive to use. One appeal his company took against a City of Cockburn decision cost it more than $200,000.

He believes the new system will not be cheap either.

Property Council of Australia WA Branch chief executive Joe Lenzo said there was a risk that appeals could be sent to the wrong level of the tribunal.

“We could also have appeals on appeals and eventually the situation where the whole appeals process becomes bogged down again,” Mr Lenzo said.

However, one part of the changing planning appeals structure is drawing support from the development community.

Reports prepared for appeal hearings are being given to both parties in the appeal before the matter is heard, giving them a chance to make final submissions.

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