Taylor Burrell Barnett

TBB Reacts – Next Stage of Planning Reforms


TBB Principal

Jarrod Ross

24 Feb 2023

At Property Council’s ‘Vision for the State’ lunch on 22 February Premier Mark McGowan announced the next stage of reforms to the Western Australian planning system.

Planning reform is a vital step by the State Government to improve consistency and efficiency across the planning system and support the growth of the property and housing market. The next stages of reforms are heavily focused on ‘turbo-charging’ the delivery of infill development in the right locations through infrastructure funding subsidies and modifications to the planning approvals process.

But let’s just be clear that, despite the heavily weighted media narrative, these measures are not simply about undermining the power of local government to control of their own destiny. The problems that need to be fixed, and the drivers for this reform, are far more nuanced than that.

We very much welcome this stage of reforms, as whilst detail of each proposal is yet to be released, the changes outlined are sensible and appropriate ways to improve the efficiency and consistency of approval processes, and assist in improving the feasibility of much needed infill housing projects.

Permanent Pathway for Projects of State Significance

Following the relative success of the State Development Assessment Unit (SDAU) pathway which was introduced as part of the COVID19 emergency measures in 2020, the Premier announced the decision to create a permanent State development assessment pathway for development proposals deemed to be of State or regional significance.

These changes are the culmination of the Departments’ review of submissions on the previously advertised ‘Special Matters Development Assessment Panel’,

IT WAS PLEASING TO SEE that the Department has responded to a number of concerns raised with the advertised proposal.

In particular we note that:

  • The new pathway will be headed by the Western Australian Planning Commission (or a Committee thereof), addressing concerns raised with the advertised proposal for the determining authority to comprise a range of industry representatives not necessarily qualified or experienced in town planning;
  • Applications of State significance will be subject to a determination period of 120 days, addressing industry feedback with respect to the length of time taken to determine many of the SDAU applications under the current process;
  • A refinement to the eligibility criteria for applications to qualify as of ‘State or Regional Significance’ – though the details of this are yet to be confirmed. We eagerly await these refined eligibility criteria, as a number of concerns were raised with the rigidity of the advertised ‘Special Matters DAP’ precincts and eligibility criteria.
  • Retain the State as the agency which coordinates referral agency and stakeholder feedback as a component of assessment, as this has been an effective method of ensuring timely and relevant feedback is provided by each of these stakeholders.

What is still yet to be confirmed, however, is:

  • Whether the new pathway will be mandatory for proposals which meet the refined eligibility criteria. We hope that the criteria have been broadened to ensure that the new process is an opt-in process rather than mandatory, and available to all projects of State and regional significance rather than those that fall within a narrow band of precincts or localities.
  • Whether the new pathway will have the ability to consider local planning schemes as a document of due regard. The previously advertised ‘Special Matters DAP’ provisions did not propose to carry over the ability to treat local planning schemes as documents of due regard, which in our view is one of the key benefits of the SDAU process and allowed proponents to overcome archaic scheme controls which were clearly inconsistent with the broader State framework. Whilst such powers need to be used sparingly and only where significant justification and rationale is provided, this was an important addition to the WA Planning system which ought to be retained.

We look forward to the release of further information on the significant development pathway.

Refinement of Development Assessment Panels

Following previous announcements of reforms to the Development Assessment Panel structure in WA, the Premier announced that regulatory changes are anticipated prior to the end of 2023 which:

  • Reduce the number of DAP’s from the five panels which currently operate throughout the State to only three – one for each of the inner and outer Perth Metropolitan areas, and a third panel to service all regional areas.
  • Appoint full-time, permanent members to serve as the Presiding Member and Deputy Presiding Member on each panel.
  • Modify the eligibility criteria so that any proponent with a development proposal with an estimated cost exceeding $2 million may opt to have the application determined by a DAP, removing the current mandatory application thresholds. This is a modification which TBB advocated for as a component of the previously advertised amendments, as providing applicants the flexibility to have an application determined by the DAP or by a local government will provide greater efficiency and effectiveness of the planning system overall.
  • Modify the eligibility criteria so that apartment proposals of less than 10 dwellings, provided that the overall development costs exceed $2 million, will be eligible for consideration by a DAP rather than being excluded from the system. This is also a modification which TBB advocated for as a component of the previously advertised amendments, as smaller apartment developments are often some of the more challenging applications to seek approval for, and the guidance of the DAP in determining these will be highly advantageous.

There are a broad range of other DAP process improvements which TBB has raised in our discussions with the DPLH planning reform team, and will continue to advocate for in the drafting of the regulatory amendments and guidance materials, including

  • Ensuring that Panel Members are highly qualified and experienced, and are well versed in planning law and discretionary decision-making guidance to ensure that decisions are well considered and defendable;
  • Ensuring that local government lodgment and assessment processes are efficient and timely, and are not subject to unreasonable or unsubstantiated delays.
  • Ensuring that referral agency feedback is thoroughly vetted by the local government and the DAP to ensure that it is relevant to the development proposed, and will result in valid and appropriate conditions of approval.

We are pleased to see that further reforms to the DAP system are progressing, and commend the State Government for its responsiveness to industry feedback thus far.

Infrastructure Development Fund

The Premier announced the allocation of $80 million of infrastructure funding to be shared equally between the metropolitan and regional areas, with applications to open in March for a period of 18 months.

The Infrastructure Development Fund is to consist of three funding programs, being:

  • Targeted apartment rebates for new apartment developments, with up to $10,000 per multiple dwelling available to assist with water, wastewater and electricity infrastructure connection and contribution costs, with funds paid direct to the Water Corporation or Western Power on the successful proponent’s behalf. The rebate will be restricted to apartment projects within the Perth metro-central sub-region, Metronet precincts and Housing Diversity Pipeline site, and development will be required to commence within two years of approval and complete construction within four years.
  • Unlocking infill precincts through the funding of projects which address constraints in the water, wastewater and electricity network at a precinct scale, and facilitate medium to high density development. This funding is again limited to projects within the Perth metro-central sub-region, Metronet precincts and the Housing Diversity Pipeline sites.
  • Unlocking opportunities for regional workers accommodation, again through addressing constraints in water, wastewater and electricity networks at a precinct or strategic site scale which are directly impacting the delivery of regional workers accommodation.

We welcome the establishment of the fund as an opportunity to assist the development industry in delivering on the State’s vision for infill housing diversity and density within key precincts. We are cognisant, however, that:

  1. $80 million is unlikely to go very far given the extent of projects included for eligibility within the fund, and the extent of servicing constraints within some of the specified precincts;
  2. The fund doesn’t address other key infrastructure shortfalls within these precincts which are equally important in incentivising infill development, including community facilities, quality open space, streetscape amenity, stormwater drainage and placemaking.

$80 million is unlikely to go very far given the extent of projects included for eligibility within the fund

We hope that this is the first in a series of funding initiatives put forward by the State Government, and look forward to working with our clients and the broader industry in delivering on the vision for these areas.

If you would like to discuss the implications and opportunities of the next stage of planning reforms on your project further, please feel free to contact Jarrod Ross, or your usual TBB contact.


Related Links

Read the media release on the next tranche of planning reform here

Development Assessment Panels reforms


TBB Principal

Jarrod Ross