Planning the next Government move

A STATE Government push to streamline planning laws has been criticised by industry players for not going far enough.

The focus on amalgamating all the different acts won’t necessarily provide a more steamlined process, according to industry players.

These acts pertain to planning, subdividing, and developing land in the State.

The most difficult aspects of the planning process from an industry perspective are the lengthy approval processes and the fact that the system lacks integration between local councils and the Ministry of Planning.

The Court Government addressed this issue previously and a Green Bill was developed for public comment in November 2000.

Urban Design Institute of Australia-WA councillor Peter Goff said the recent legislation didn’t really address the central concerns regarding planning policy.

“There are some minor positives but, by and large, it remains very similar to the way it functions now,” he said.

“The process is still too slow and in many ways it’s reactionary.

“For example, if you look at the subdivision approval pro-cess, the statutory time for consideration is 90 days.

“I think the department has an objective of considering 80 per cent of all applications within the 90-day time frame.”

Mr Goff said even working towards a target of 80 per cent didn’t represent a high level of compliance.

The Government announced its intention to review the planning process in the middle of April.

A spokesperson for the Minister for Planning and Infrastructure, Alannah MacTiernan, said the period for public submissions had been extended following a forum with industry players.

The Government is expected to draft a Green Bill after the submission period has closed.

The Government has already indicated that it intends to further empower local councils in the planning process.

“At the local council level it gets tied up in political issues,” Mr Goff said,

“The system is in no way integrated. A subdivision approval lasts three years, however the applicant may have gone through an environmental approval, which lasts five years.”

The length of the process means that small developers can’t afford the holding costs to stay in the game and are forced to withdraw.

“Most of the major developers can stay with the process and they are successful,” Mr Goff said.

“The system doesn’t discriminate between good and bad developers.”

The planning process is even more complicated for applicants seeking changes to local town planning schemes, he said.

“If an applicant wants to re-zone land rural to urban it’s quite likely that they will have to undertake a formal environmental assessment that will take about 12 months,” Mr Goff said.

“The process to amend the metropolitan scheme will take about another 12 months.”

For certain planning issues the applicant must address both the Ministry of Planning and then get approval from the local council, he said.

“I don’t think the process necessarily leads to good outcomes,” Mr Goff said.

“For example, let’s take a property like the University of WA’s land out in Shenton Park. You have a few hundred people who are objecting to the development of the land.

“It’s probable that the land will not be developed.

“Is this a proper outcome?”

Despite the criticisms Mr Goff believes the review will lead to certain improvements, however the chronic issues still won’t be addressed, he said.

It’s not just the legislation that is under the microscope. Planners and developers have also expressed concerns about the appeal process.

“My main concern, if I understand the legislation, is that they are limiting the avenues of appeal,” Bollig Design Group managing director and WA Business News 40under40 winner Edwin Bollig said.

However, Mr Bollig does have some concerns about giving the local council more power.

“To give councils more power is both a good thing and a bad thing,” he said.

“South Perth Council do run a design advisory committee, as does the City of Perth.

“The trouble is two fold.

“Most council planners are statutory planners, and if you work for local government it’s not like working in the real world.”

Mr Bollig cites Joondalup as an example of statutory planning in action.

“It looks like Lego land. It was a nice idea but, if you take Subi Centro, it’s successful because of its diversity.”

If the State Government gives local councils more power, industry analysts fear it will lead to an even more prescriptive approach to planning.

“We’ve become very conservative and scared of change,” an industry source said.

“That’s why I think we should have just one level of legislation.”

The trouble for some developers is that they can’t fight the planning legislation because it requires too much money.

“The trouble is you can’t fight it … well, you can if you have deep pockets,” an industry source said.

“The City of Perth is unbelievably good to deal with but a lot of it comes down to the quality of the councillors.

“A lot of the councillors at the City of Perth have business backgrounds.”

Consolidation of the legislation will bring WA closer to the planning policies of most of the other States of Australia.

“In most States there’s only one major piece of legislation,” an industry spokesperson said.

“Even people in the industry have difficulty (with the planning process) at times.

“Whether it will result in a streamlining is yet to be seen.

“The difference might be marginal rather than significant.

“One of the issues that isn’t being addressed is how the environmental approval process interrelates in the planning process.

“At this point there’s no intention to review this.”

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