03 Dec 2021
We’ve been working on a number of new child care centre approvals to meet the growing demand for centres... here Michael Willcock shares some key lessons learnt from the process.
It’s a $13.4bn industry in Australia and it’s expected to grow by 7% in 2021. The latest figures show that 46.7% of children aged 0-5 years were enrolled in Child Care, and plenty more are sitting on wait lists at multiple centres.
The demand is high, and the sector has seen plenty of new development come through the pipeline, in an attempt to bring make more places available. In fact, when reviewing all of the development applications actively being assessed by Development Assessment Panels, 20% of the proposals were for child care premises.
We’ve been working with a number of clients to take their applications for new centres through the process, with some interesting challenges along the way. In this article I'll explain how the planning framework works, our experience with community views on this type of new development, and some lessons learnt along the way.
Child care and the planning framework
Child care is regulated through its own legislation and regulations, which for example require minimum indoor and outdoor areas per child, and minimum staff numbers.
A number of local governments also have local planning policies to assist decision-making. In addition, the Western Australian Planning Commission has published Planning Bulletin 72/2009 to provide a greater level of guidance in the assessment of such proposals. Specific matters for consideration include:
- the location, siting and design,
- the potential impact on the amenity of the locality (including anticipated noise impacts and the hours of operation),
- traffic generation and safety, and;
- availability of parking.
Liveable Neighbourhoods discusses the importance of ensuring community services and local facilities are conveniently located and accessible. Local planning policies also tend to outline their own particular objectives and policy measures. There is a significant range of requirements that differ between local government areas. Despite this, there is recognition that such facilities should be located within their service catchments, resulting in facilities being proposed within residential areas.
Within the gentrifying inner and middle ring suburbs, demand is met with ever-more challenging environments where surrounding landowners and communities are naturally cautious of the perceived impacts of noise, traffic, amenity, and the resultant ‘impacts’ that increasingly larger centres may have. Child care premises have been trending towards larger number of placements and as a consequence, require increased land to provide playscape and on-site parking.
There appears to be a shift towards online coordination and organisation amongst community members when child care centre approvals are in progress. We note there is a growing use of petitions or pro forma submission templates to bolster the ‘volume’ of feedback that local governments receive. Based on the analysis of twelve recent development applications, the median facility size was 83 places, and from advertising received 31 objections (median) and 2 submissions in support (median).
There is a growing need to ensure that applicants provide rigorous responses to submissions, to ensure that issues are clearly addressed and responded to with evidence. This is where good planning advice becomes so critical to strategically prepare material to release to the public in a coordinated manner with advertising processes, to aim to dispel myths, and to provide for fact checking.
For decision-makers, the JDAP pathway provides an opportunity to ensure that evidence-based technical analysis of relevant matters is taken into account and duly considered on the merits of the proposal. This is an ongoing challenge of the planning system, to improve consistency and certainty in decision making.
Given the larger building footprint and scale of child care premises, it is becoming necessary for operators to amalgamate several properties to facilitate the development. This approach to land assembly can create concern amongst the community, as it can be perceived to be a commercialisation of a site and concern is raised of possible impacts.
As a result, it is important for developers to examine service areas for suitably sized lots that maximise opportunity whilst mitigating potential interface and amenity impacts. Aligned with site selection is the ability for the development to be designed to address matters and leverage on its opportunities. As part of this, early advice from traffic, waste and acoustic disciplines can help to provide a way forwards for preliminary discussions with local governments and streamline the detailed design process.
In my experience, child care premises can be presented to Design Review Panels prior to a local government or JDAP decision. The design review process adds rigour and can validate the design principles and elements for these projects, which can prove beneficial if the project becomes contentious within the community.
Our team is increasingly cognisant of the need to represent the needs of child care operators, particularly when local governments review and update local planning policies. It is sometimes more important to consider future needs of a community in order to ensure that there is increased certainty for implementation of developments.
There are several approaches that can be taken for ensuring suitable sites are provided within local communities. For a local government it is possible to plan for child care through the strategic and statutory planning framework to:
- Identify suitable locations for non-residential uses including (but not limited to), child care services, medical services, community facilities, activity centres, activity corridors, and other opportunities to create hubs for a range of complementary uses;
- Ensuring that the movement network is safe, convenient and legible to encourage alternative methods of transport, encouraging short trips via walking or cycling;
- It would be appropriate to involve the child care sector to help ensure that suitable sites are identified and where possible, protected for such uses. This can be through zoning, structure planning, and precinct planning; and
- Ensure local planning strategies, schemes and policies are providing a clear and consistent outcome with respect to the delivery of child care.
TBB’s reputation, extensive experience and long-established network of contacts has allowed our clients to achieve a number of high-quality outcomes with child care centre approvals. Chat with our team to learn more.