The WA premier announced sweeping changes on the 23rd February 2023 and made no secret of his criticism of local councils and desire to replace them with a more objective planning committee to make more expedited decisions for major projects. In a presentation at the Property Council, the premier stated ‘We’re all tired of quality multi-dwelling proposals becoming a vehicle for grandstanding by anti-development councils and individuals facing re-election at local council level’.
What is proposed?
Under the changes there will be 3 permanent planning committees for WA, one each for the inner urban, and outer metropolitan Perth and one for regional areas. Each committee will consist of 10 qualified, experienced members who will decide on planning applications. The premier stated the changes were aimed at “Ensuring there is a consistent approach to planning across our growing city is essential, and this second tranche of reforms continues our government’s ambitious reform agenda’, you can read the governments press release here.
The changes seek to make permanent temporary measures that were introduced during the covid 19 pandemic to ensure major projects continued to be streamlined during the pandemic. The government believe the changes made in response to the pandemic resulted in improved consistency of decisions and seek to make them permanent. The core focus of the WA government continues to be infrastructure projects but they have lessened the criteria for what can be considered a project of state and regional significance that would be subject to a 120 day timeframe for assessment and decision post lodgement. The reduced criteria includes applications as minor as multiple dwelling applications with a construction cost of more than $2 million, you can read more about the changes proposed here.
Planning Minister Rita Saffioti denied the reforms were aimed at cutting local council out of the planning process in a press interview but did criticise Councils for not making timely updates to their planning schemes and relying on policies that are 20 years old or more. The minister stated that the local council still retains a critical role in the future planning of their areas through creation of their planning schemes.
What has been the reaction of local government?
Local councillors, and the WA Local Government Association (WALGA), say it leaves local voices shut out of the conversation.
‘What’s wrong with that?’
“What we’re trying to do is make sure that if you want to build a house … or you want to do a development that creates opportunities for people to live, that you can get through that process more effectively, efficiently and quickly. Now what’s wrong with that?” the premier responded.
Opposition leader Shane Love acknowledged change was needed to support the future densities forecast in WA but stated “I think it’s pretty clear this government doesn’t think there’s a place for communities in community planning, and that’s very unfortunate.”
Are the changes good for the industry?
The influence of local politics in planning decisions is ubiquitous in all states and territories of Australia and indeed around the world. The changes announced in Western Australia are clearly a robust response aimed at removing the politics from the process. Critics of this approach will point to the loss of input from residents and the public to development outcomes as an unreasonable cost of the changes. The benefits of removing politics and ‘NIMBYISM’ from planning decisions will undoubtedly reduce red tape and ensure quicker delivery of housing and other infrastructure but it also reduces the opportunities for transparency in the system. Akin to most major industry changes, there will be benefits and consequences of the changes that will become evident with the course of time. We don’t foreshadow a similar scale of changes to the planning system here in Victoria under the new minister Sonya Kilkenny but we certainly hope the Victorian government is keenly observing the changes.