WA Local Government Authority oppose change to Development Assessment Panels

Concerns raised over planning reform

The state government's planning reform has come under scrutiny after it was revealed that a 'significant development' proposal could be approved without the usual consultation.

Last week the Mail detailed how a multimillion dollar development on Smith's Beach could go ahead without the application going through the City of Busselton first.

The Smith's Beach Project would be eligible to use the state government's fast-track pathway for developments which was implemented as a response to COVID-19.

Feedback is currently being sought for phase two of the planning reforms in which the WA Local Government Authority said it opposed certain elements of.

The government proposes to reduce the amount of Development Assessment Panels from five to three, include permanent panel members and establish a Special Matters Development Assessment Panel.

An information sheet on the reforms states 'Reforms are aimed at ensuring decision-making for developments will be timely, consistent and allow for earlier delivery of community benefit from developers seeking bonuses.'

The aim of the special matters panel will be for complex proposals which could include proposals located in areas with significant tourism, unique aesthetic qualities or other unique features.

WA Local Government Association president Mayor Tracey Roberts said its current policy position was to oppose the panels.

"We will continue our advocacy to ensure elected member representation on Development Assessment Panels is maintained, and that DAP decisions are not able to be made in contravention to existing local planning schemes," she said.

It's understood that the association believes the proposed system adds an unnecessary layer of costs, removes local decision making and does not deliver the purported benefit of streamlining decision making.

A Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage spokesperson said while the total number of panels would be reduced, there were no changes proposed to the representation of local governments.

"All Development Assessment Panels comprise two local government representatives and three specialist members," the spokesperson said.

The City of Busselton director of planning and development services Paul Needham said the changes to the development panels were unlikely to impact the city directly.

"The number of Panels for Regional WA has already been reduced from five to one, with a majority of the workload of the Regional Development Assessment Panel relating to the South West Region," he said.

Mr Needham said the city did have some concerns about the direction of planning reform at a state level.

"Reforms often seem targeted at standardising the approaches to planning across the State without recognising the unique character and values of regional communities and landscapes," he said.

The state government's phase two action plan outlines potential changes under three categories; Planning creates great places for people, Planning is easier to understand and navigate and Planning systems are consistent and efficient.

Within these categories potential changes includes finalising new State Planning Policy to guide medium density development and introduce new requirements for plain English, one-page community focused summaries of proposed local and regional planning scheme amendments.

Mr Needham said the priorities for reform were somewhat difficult to understand.

"For instance, there is an urgent need for further reform of bushfire planning policies, as the current policies are often unworkable and sometimes do not deliver significant bushfire safety benefits, while having significant environmental impact," he said.

"That important work, however, has not progressed while newer reform ideas have emerged as priorities.

"Finally, while the State has an 'Action Plan', the Government doesn't really seem to have a clear 'roadmap' for reform.

"The solution to a perceived problem with the system, which is often that the system is seen as having become too complicated and hard to navigate, is to add something new while leaving much of the current system still in place.

"Over time of course, that makes the system even more complicated."

Public consultation for phase two closes on August 31 and can be done by going to https://consultation.dplh.wa.gov.au/planning-reform-phase-2/

It is expected the reforms will go to parliament in 2022.