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Spotlight on planning issues

LOCAL developers are becoming increasingly concerned about the State’s planning system, which they claim is too costly and lacking experienced planners.

At the heart of the matter are inconsistencies across the State’s local councils.

The Property Council of WA has reacted to these concerns and vowed to shift the spotlight onto planning issues in 2003 to force some change in this complicated process.

“Planning, particularly the area that deals with planning approvals, needs some urgent attention,” Property Council of WA executive director Joe Lenzo said.

“There are still considerable concerns about the time it takes to get planning approval.

“I know that there has been a review but that was just the appeals process.”

He said developers were forced to spend a lot of time trying to satisfy the existing approvals process.

“We see this as one of our real targets for next year,” Mr Lenzo said.

“Bearing in mind that we will have to wait until 2005 for a tax review, the planning process will be our target.

“More and more developers are talking to us about planning.”

Mr Lenzo claimed the nexus between the State Government, the local government and the Planning Commission was crucial.

“There’s no consistency at the moment and that can be detrimental,” he said.

Saracen Properties managing director Luke Saraceni said the amount of planning regulation in WA continued to increase.

“The time length has extended too,” he said.

“The planning profession is starting to become like the legal profession where they are just generating their own work. I believe there are far too many people involved.”

Mr Saraceni told WA Business News he believed the legislation needed to be consolidated.

“There are far too many agencies involved” he said.

“The environmental stuff is an issue that needs to be addressed and the whole procedure needs to be streamlined.”

Mr Saraceni said the industry would have to wait until hearings started early this year with regard to State Government changes to the planning appeals process.

“Whether it makes it more affordable for the average person to mount an appeal remains to be seen,” he said.

“The biggest problem is the ever expanding tentacles of the legislation.

“Local government is one area that needs to be brought into line.”

Mr Saraceni said a lack of experience in the planning departments of local government was a considerable concern.

“The experienced planners are out in private practice and a lack of experience is causing mistakes; it delays the process,” he said.

Planning and Infrastructure Minister Alannah MacTiernan said the Government was still working on the planning legislation.

“The objective is to get the department functioning better and to get the organisation structured right,” she said.

“We don’t think we’ve got the best structure in place yet.”

Ms MacTiernan said the new appeals tribunal would be operational soon.

“That will free us up to get on with the consolidation of the legislation. This has been talked about for many years and we want to finesse it and take it forward,” she said.

“We certainly hope to have something to take into the autumn session [of parliament].”

Ms MacTiernan said there were opportunities to remove a tier of the planning process by writing it into the new legislation.

“I don’t believe small lot sub divisions should go to the Planning Commission,” she said.

The minister conceded there was diversity across local councils in the State and that some councils had performed better than others.

“We are prepared to devolve more power to councils,” Ms MacTiernan said. “But it would have to be carefully monitored.

“Local authorities get subject to enormous pressure and often it’s in their interest to refer it up.

“But if we can reduce it we are happy to do that.”

One industry source said there was a significant degree of inconsistency across local councils in WA.

“I believe we need a central system and one body,” he said.

“Councils often only meet on a monthly basis. For a developer, if you don’t get onto the agenda, that equates to some serious money.

“There has to a be a process 100 per cent of the time to deal with planning issues consistently.

“Whether or not that body consists of representatives from each council as well as independent objective consultants I don’t know, but it needs to be something so that they can make planning decisions based on both sides of the story.”

Planning Institute of Australia [WA] president David Caddy said he believed the sleeping giant in all the discussions about the planning system was the Government’s new sustainability policy.

“The Government has developed something that we’ve all been thinking about for some years now,” he said.

“If the developers don’t pick up on this it will become law and no-one will be prepared for it.”

The sustainability policy will affect all players in the property industry including developers, architects, planners and suppliers.

“The [sustainability] score card will apply from mid this year to housing design and it will translate across to subdivision design,” the source said.

“It’s going to affect the way everyone does business.

“If people are not going to embrace it it’s time to tell the Government why.”

Earlier this month the State Government announced the appointment of Jennifer Smith to the position of chair of the revamped Town Planning Appeals Tribunal.

Most recently Ms Smith worked as the Industrial Relations Commissioner, following 15 years as the senior assistant crown counsel in the Crown Solicitor’s office.

Ms Smith will replace Les Stein, who retired from the (then) part-time position of chair of the tribunal late last year.

The Government has also announced the appointment of planner and lawyer Belinda Moharich as a member of the tribunal.

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