By Anthony Fisk
This week’s announcement by the McGowan Government to reduce red tape on major developments is a game changer for many in the development industry.
These new laws, if passed, will streamline the lengthy and complex development application process and kick start significant projects to boost economic activity in the State.
The WA Planning Commission (WAPC) would, for 18 months, be given the power to approve or reject developments worth more than $30 million, or with more than 100 dwellings or a minimum 20,000sqm commercial space.
Developers that meet the criteria would be able to lodge plans directly with the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage, which would facilitate consultation, assess proposals and provide recommendations to the WAPC.
Regional and tourism projects of “State significance” could also be referred to the Commission by the Premier on the recommendation of the Planning Minister.
Under the current system, major projects require involvement from a range of agencies to deliver water, roads, fire safety, environmental outcomes and more. In the absence of a coordinated approach, each agency often has requirements that differ or even conflict with those of other agencies.
For example, a residential development on the urban fringe may be required by the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) to cut down swathes of trees to act as a fire break. However, cutting down acres of native forests may not be consistent with the preferred outcomes set down by environmental agencies.
Without a coordinated approach and a level of urgency to see these major projects succeed, developers can find themselves negotiating complex access and other arrangements across multiple government departments for months and even years.
While the industry has welcomed the move to streamline the approvals process, there has been some concern that these new rules could sidestep local councils and reduce engagement with the communities likely to be affected by these major developments.
But while these concerns are understandable, it’s worth pointing out that the new legislation is expected to establish a consistent approach to community consultation and engagement for these major projects. The State Government is very much aware of the ability of communities to connect and activate very effectively over local issues.
West Australians expect to be listened to and engaged with when it comes to developments in their own backyard. Despite the laggard economy, locals can and will organise against developments they see as inconsistent with their community. You only have to think of the recent failures of the Roe 8 Freight Link, Point Grey Marina, and Scarborough Beach Twin Towers to understand the power of organised community resistance.
Our communities are not only looking for more engagement, they’re demanding best practice community engagement, including the framework established by the International Association of Public Participation (IAP2). Despite these proposed legislative changes, CGM Communications will continue to help developers gain community acceptance and support for these major projects using these best-practice models.
Our experience with our developer clients is that the most significant project delays are not caused by the local community, but by the red tape dispensed by government. WA Planning Minister Rita Saffioti is hoping to speed up the development approval process by having agencies prioritise major projects, by cooperating better and by providing advice earlier.
This new approach aims to tighten this process to make sure all agencies involved in providing advice to developers are doing it in a more timely and efficient manner, and without the need to bring issues and conflicts to the attention of government.
We anticipate this will bring projects we have been discussing with our clients for several years off the drawing boards, and significant developments, which may have stalled due to COVID-19, back to life.