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Perth: a city without a plan (Op ed in the West)

2 July 2024

Below is an Op-ed I had published in Saturday’s West Australian

Perth is a city without a plan. The longest city in the world without a plan to slow ever-growing urban sprawl.

The lowest canopy cover of any capital city without a plan to protect urban bushland or plant new trees.

Over the past few years, this WA Labor Government has quietly walked away from good planning that would ensure one of the world’s most liveable cities stays that way.

Instead, it has left Perth’s future largely in the hands of property developers. Perth reached peak developer-led planning last week when Premier Roger Cook asked the property industry to “identify State government land that could be developed for housing.

That means any land holdings that are not already reserved for future schools, hospitals, road utilities, or essential civic infrastructure, will now be considered for housing.”

I know that WA is in a housing crisis, but this knee-jerk response is lazy and absurd. There is no shortage of government land — already planned and approved for housing — sitting idle and undeveloped.

Take Fremantle, where I was mayor, as an example.

There are hundreds of potential housing sites sitting empty; vacant areas that could house thousands of people.

There is the Heart of Beaconsfield, which has been earmarked for development for years, but which has sat largely derelict with huge areas of empty, cleared land and a handful of residents remaining.

There is the Knutsford land, which the Fremantle council submitted a plan for development in 2014 that has never been heard of again until very recently, when the Government introduced a piece of legislation to enable it to be sold or developed.

Fremantle is not alone.

As we saw in The West Australian last week, the Bassendean community overwhelmingly supports an eight-storey mixed-use development on State Government-owned land, but that too is sitting idle.

Yet another community actively calling out for higher density housing for first-homebuyers, downsizers, and essential workers next to good public transport.

We can see a lack of orderly planning right through from small developments — like enabling granny flats to be built without planning approvals — to much bigger projects that the Special Development Assessment Unit can and does override planning schemes and approve any development, no matter how non-compliant.

Even metropolitan-wide planning to protect our dwindling urban bushland was recently thrown out when the State Government abandoned the Strategic Assessment of the Perth and Peel Regions after 11 years and more than $7 million.

The Government has also actively stymied any regulation or protection of trees on private property by local governments and abandoned large parts of its medium-density planning reforms. Underlying all of this is a deliberate attempt by the Government to dismiss community voices and exclude local government from most planning decisions.

The cumulative result of the slow death of good planning is an increasingly treeless, sprawled and car-dependent city. Unless it get back in the driver’s seat this will be the defining legacy of the Cook Labor Government.


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