Community group Save Perth Hills Inc has formulated a draft plan to protect the area from widespread development under rare state planning legislation.
The ‘Perth Hills Planning Bill’ has been modelled on the Swan Valley Planning Act 1995 and has secured key support from the WA Greens.
The group believes the area is under development pressure from poorly planned urban development, quarrying, logging and bauxite mining, which are contributing to a degradation of the natural values and beauty of the Perth hills.
The plan proposes the creation of a committee of 15 government and community representatives to review important development applications, and to advise local government and the Western Australian Planning Commission on planning schemes or amendments, in accordance with eight planning objectives for the Perth Hills Zone.
These objectives include the preservation and enhancement of the area as a clean water catchment, preservation of flora and fauna, and the preservation and enhancement of the area as an accessible and visible rural backdrop to the coastal plain.
Others concern the recognition and protection of Aboriginal, cultural and historical areas of significance, protection of recreation, tourism and cultural activities, and the limiting of residential, commercial and industrial development to areas, where it detracts from the conservation values or character of the Perth Hills Zone.
Greens MLC Giz Watson said she was seeking community and local government input on the draft bill, so that it could be finalised and introduced to parliament in 2008.
Ms Watson said the proposed planning act would apply to the entire hills area from Chittering to Serpentine, incorporating the Chittering, Mundaring, Kalamunda, Serpentine/Jarrahdale shires and the cities of Swan, Gosnells, and Armadale.
Determining the exact parameters of the Perth Hills Zone, however, remained very much dependent on community feedback, she said.
“It’s still early days and I plan to consult with people in planning forums in the new year and will be writing directly to relevant councils for their input,” Ms Watson said.
“The west boundary is not so contentious because the escarpment provides a natural boundary. Determining the eastern boundary is not so clear cut…it will probably end up being along shire boundaries.”
Under the proposed act, she said, the Perth Hills Planning Committee would have the power to compel local governments and the WAPC to follow its advice, unless the relevant planning minister decides otherwise, among other conditions.
“There’s no point passing legislation that is mothering in its nature. People are saying to me that they want something with a bit of clout,” Ms Watson said.
The committee would also provide a forum for the development of initiatives that cross local government boundaries, such as the creation of a recreational and nature conservation buffer along the hills escarpment.
“The best ways of preserving the ecological integrity of the region is to consider natural corridors and connectivity between areas. At the moment this is being considered on a shire by shire basis,” Ms Watson said.
Given the Swan Valley legislation has operated successfully with bi-partisan government support for more than a decade, the Greens are confident the new bill will be supported.