WA’s New Development Rules and the Death of Planning
23 February 2023
Over the last two days the State Government has announced sweeping new planning changes. While some of these announcements (like the long overdue medium density code) are worthwhile, most of the changes I’ve seen so far enable drastic ministerial overreach that could result in the death of well-placed and community-supported urban density in WA.
We’ve already seen major changes to WA’s planning legislation over the last 3 years under the guise of the COVID emergency, that have really just been power grabs by this State Government.
For example, the government created a ‘special development pathway’ that lets developers bypass local councils and community altogether and have the newly formed State Development Assessment Unit (SDAU) assess their proposal. WA Labor now wants to make this pathway *permanent* and erode the transparency and due process that should be given to development applications.
Another new change will be that any multi-dwelling development, or any project valued at more than $2 million can now opt to have their proposal assessed by Development Assessment Panels. As most new developments will fall under one of these two categories, the new rules would let developers cut communities and local councils out of having a say about development applications in almost every instance.
I am a massive advocate of well-built density and creating more housing in WA, especially in the context of this housing crisis. But the way that you build integrated, vibrant, connected, and liveable cities is not by cutting communities out, it’s by co-designing density with residents and bringing them along on the journey. If the State Government genuinely wants to improve support for density, they should be collaborating with local councils to create incentives rather than bulldozing right over them.
This is what we did while I was the Mayor of Fremantle, and not only did we double Fremantle’s CBD population and meet our density targets, but we also brought the community on the journey.
Today’s announcement flies in the face of good planning practices, undermines public support for the good density that we so desperately need to build in this housing crisis, and erodes residents’ faith in the development process. Local communities are rightfully concerned that WA Labor listens to the big developers on planning far more than they listen to residents.
What WA really needs to address the housing and affordability crisis is a proper metro-wide plan that aims to build well-designed, thoughtful density around existing transit hubs like Perth, Midland, Fremantle, Joondalup, and Armadale, not just the mostly outer-metropolitan Metronet stations.