Planning approval for a Subiaco office project under a new assessment model has run into stiff opposition and could lead to more legal challenges to the state government’s fledgling planning application process.
Subiaco resident and lawyer Angela Hamersley has mounted a Supreme Court challenge to the process that led to a development assessment panel (DAP) granting approval for the $15 million project on Catherine Street.
Ms Hamersley has questioned whether the public consultation period was appropriate given the changes that were made to the proposal in negotiation with the panel.
The project is being developed by Subiaco-based architects Meyer Shircore and Associates.
Supporters and detractors of the DAPs claim the latest action represents a “test case” for the new development application system, introduced by the state government in July 2011.
Advocates fear legal challenges to panel decisions could undermine their effectiveness. They were introduced as part of a state government push to streamline the development application process for projects of more than $7 million.
The City of Subiaco is understood to be also considering a court challenge to the system, with a number of major development projects on the horizon for the precinct.
Applicants can appeal the DAP decisions to the State Administrative Tribunal but this avenue is not available to local councils.
Councils can seek to intervene in a matter that is before the SAT, as was the case with the City of Stirling’s unsuccessful bid to review a number of conditions a panel imposed on a development site on Liege Street, Woodlands.
In the ruling, SAT senior member Peter McNab said “permitting a local government to too readily intervene in such circumstances would significantly undermine the objects and purpose of the new statutory framework”.
“The legislative intent of the new planning regime … was to displace local governments as the primary decision maker and to make the relevant development assessment panel the respondent in any tribunal review,” Mr McNab said.
Meyer Shircore said its plans for the office project had been delayed by at least 12 months and would cost it up to $400,000.
Director Stephen Shircore said the DAPs were long overdue in Perth to overcome costly delays in processing development applications.
“I have seen first-hand how easy it is to have projects railroaded by the mums and dads on council,” Mr Shircore said.
“If we follow the guidelines and meet all the criteria of the local council planning scheme, a DAP can’t refuse an application just because of an aesthetic idea of what is good or bad.”
He said it had also drawn attention to the power of well-resourced residents to delay projects and ultimately undermine one of the key mandates of the panels.
“Everyone is seeing this as a test case for the DAPs,” Mr Shircore said.
City of Subiaco councillor Julie Matheson would not comment on any possible legal action by the council but claimed the SAT appeals process was “secret” and denied the public the right to witness the negotiations.
“I am involved with one (DAP application) at the moment … and I am part of these secret negotiations, which really irks me because I can’t tell the community what is going on,” Ms Matheson said.
“I have been to three mediations now … and I think these mediations are trying to force outcomes.
“If you can’t resolve what it is in one mediation it either needs to go to a hearing or the applicant needs to put up a fresh application.”
Ms Matheson said she wanted to see the City of Subiaco’s town planning scheme enforced and, where there were variations, she wanted them to be “subtle” and “to the benefit of the community”.
The City of Subiaco is facing a number of major development proposals, including the redevelopment of the Princess Margaret Hospital site and the proposed expansion of the Bunnings outlet on Salvado Road.
All of these projects will go to the development assessment panel for approval.
The Department of Planning said in a statement it was open to making changes to the process.
“As with any new planning reform, refinements to the DAP regulations will be undertaken as the system develops and evolves,” a spokesman for the department said.
“The Department of Planning can and will take steps to make any appropriate improvements.”
Mr Shircore said he was confident the challenges would not derail the DAPs.
“If this (legal) challenge is successful it’s my opinion and of my counsel … what will ultimately happen is that there will be changes to the DAP process but it won’t kill it,” he said.