Plans to simplify and improve efficiencies in the State’s planning system could deliver real benefits, but risk losing the 'local' focus of the current system.
The State Government’s Action Plan for Planning Reform released today outlines a range of possible changes to both State and Local Government planning frameworks with stakeholder groups to work together on the detail of each initiative.
The WA Local Government Association welcomed the release of the Action Plan, as it is in line with its 2017 request for a full independent review of the Planning Framework.
WALGA President, Cr Lynne Craigie said the sector was pleased to see acknowledgement of Local Government as a key stakeholder in the delivery of planning functions and would welcome the opportunity to work out the detail of initiatives before their implementation, providing substantial data already collected through existing improvement projects.
“Being able to work together on possible actions and trial some of these proposals will mean a much greater chance any improvements will be able to be efficiently implemented, and will ward against any ill-conceived legislative changes,” Cr Craigie said.
“It will also provide us with the opportunity to share outcomes of several planning improvement projects already underway in the sector to ensure their data and outcomes are captured in the planning for these changes.”
Cr Craigie said it was of concern that the Action Plan lacked any detail of how the reforms would be resourced at the local level, particularly given there had been no action on the sector’s call for a review of existing State imposed planning fees and charges for some years.
“Should these actions result in any additional functions or requirements of the sector that need substantial resourcing, it will be critical that our members are able to ensure cost recovery is possible for these services.”  
The Action Plan identifies a target reduction in the number of Development Assessment Panels in order to achieve a more consistent and robust process, acknowledging the current system as ineffective.
“It’s interesting to note the report acknowledges inefficiencies in the DAP system, as we have been calling for a full cost benefit analysis of the system for several years,” Cr Craigie said.
“Our research clearly indicates that the DAP system is less efficient than the Local Government sector, is more expensive for the development industry and creates a new layer of unjustified and unnecessary red tape.
“We will continue to advocate for a full cost benefit review of DAPS as it is clear that they are not delivering process efficiencies.” 
Cr Craigie said whilst the sector was not opposed to a conversation around increased uniformity of the planning system, there was great concern about the removal of the 'local' from local planning instruments.
“Local Governments are established to reflect the individual needs and wishes of their local community, in this case in upholding the specific local character and objectives of an area.”
“To standardise local planning instruments may put at risk the flexibility Local Governments need to respond to local contexts, setting frameworks that work efficiently for their circumstances whilst aiding economic development of their local area and the State.
“The Minister herself has recognised this flexibility as important in the release of the Precinct Planning Policy, and it is something we will be seeking to discuss throughout the consultation process.”