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Scheme headaches

NEARLY 20-years-old, the City of Perth City Planning Scheme is outdated, legally complex and causing problems for both council and the development industry.

Despite being initiated in 1990, City Planning Scheme 2 is yet to be formally implemented, caught up in a series of finalisation delays.

Unsure of when the CPS2 will be gazetted and increasingly aware of the development industry’s rancour towards aspects of the existing scheme, the City is making an attempt to remove its ambiguity and has initiated a raft of changes.

Following its loss in November in the Supreme Court case pertaining to a development approval on 990 Wellington Street, council has had to change the way it calculates plot ratio for commercial and residential buildings in the city.

This has caused much uncertainty for the development industry.

Under these changes, developers of residential projects situated on non-residential land have been regularly losing 15 to 20 per cent of their calculable floor space due to the application of residential design codes on residential projects on land with a non-residential zoning.

Under the R-codes plot ratio calculations, bathrooms, toilets, thickness of external walls, balconies that are not open on two sides and above ground parking are included in plot ratio. 

Prior to November council excluded these factors from plot ratio, increasing the gross floor area of residential developments on non-residential land.

While council can use Clause 48 in the scheme to award bonus plot ratios, bringing residential developments in line with commercial scheme provisions, and have awarded bonus plot ratios of anything from 14 to 56 per cent, the development industry is complaining about the process.

Developers say the current system does not provide development certainty or encourage developers to invest in inner city residential projects.

Inner City Housing Development Association president Laurance Goodman said there was little residential-zoned land in the city and the decline in commercial land prices had allowed a window of opportunity for residential development.

However, Mr Goodman said, the uncertainty in the process to calculate plot ratio was inhibiting development and investment in the city.

“Uncertainty is the worst enemy of development in the city.”

Mr Goodman said the large bonus plot ratios that had recently been awarded by council, such as that for Ralph Sarich’s Icon development, could inflate land values as people would think they could get more onto a development site.

He said the method used to award bonus plot ratio was not consistent and developers did not know where they stood.

In an effort to tidy up the scheme while CPS2 is still in the protracted gazettal process, City of Perth approvals director Peter Monks has initiated 10 amendments to the existing City Planning Scheme.

Mr Monks said the scheme amendments were directed at addressing the problem of plot ratio calculation in the existing scheme, given that there was ongoing uncertainty associated with the finalisation of CPS2.

Changes include applying residential design codes to residential land only and not the central city, and establishing the same definition for residential and non-residential developments on non-residential land.

Even if the WA Planning Commission and the Planning and Infrastructure Minister approves the amendments it will be another nine to 12 months before the changes are implemented.

Mr Monks said council was covering its bases in case there were further delays with CPS2.

“Our preference is to have an amended gazetted Scheme 2 because it is the new scheme of the future,” he said.

With the approval of both CPS2 and initiated amendments still many months away, Mr Monks said council would continue to consider each development application on its merits.

Developers, meanwhile, will have to continue to hope their developments receive the bonus plot ratio required to make their developments viable.

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