WA Government pushes for planning reforms to help kickstart economic recovery

The State Government has announced it will push for major reforms to WA's planning system in a bid to boost the State's economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The reforms, which will be introduced to Parliament today, contain a series of changes to planning legislation to cut red tape and increase support for small business.

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Changes include relaxing approvals for some small residential projects such as patios and decks, removing the requirement for small businesses to apply for Change of Use approvals, and abolishing cash-in-lieu contributions for car parking shortfalls.

Should the legislation pass, a new development application process will see approvals for "significant" projects fall to the WA Planning Commission with plans to create a new Special Matters Development Assessment Panel after an initial 18-month period.

A significant development would be defined as:

  • development proposals with an estimated cost of $30 million or more; or
  • residential dwelling proposals with 100 or more dwellings; or
  • commercial developments with a minimum 20,000sqm of commercial floor space; or
  • regional or tourism projects that may not meet the criteria but are considered important to assist in the COVID-19 recovery.

In a statement on Wednesday, Premier Mark McGowan said the changes were long overdue.

"These reforms will cut red tape, support small businesses, create more jobs and deliver an overall better outcome for our community," he said.

"The economic impacts of COVID-19 are devastating, we need projects that have investment certainty and are ready for construction and a planning system that lets business do business.

"This Bill will support projects that shape our communities and provide innovative ways for business to grow and prosper."

Housing Industry Australia WA executive director Cath Hart welcomed the simplification of approvals processes for the residential building sector.

"Some builders have more work stuck in councils than they do on site - with COVID causing a 50 per cent contraction in WA's residential building pipeline, getting work approved and on site is more critical than ever to support jobs and the industry," she said.

"The expansion and simplification of the Residential Design Codes should be prioritised - the residential building industry and their customers face average delays of 75 days as well as associated costs when required to lodge a Development Application for a residential home.

Some builders have more work stuck in councils than they do on site...the residential building industry and their customers face average delays of 75 days.

Cath Hart, Housing Industry Australia WA

"Expanding planning exemptions for residential projects like carports, patios, small renovations and additions is just a common sense approach."

Perth MLA John Carey said small businesses were the big winners in the proposed changes.

"Too often new small businesses have been hit with long and burdensome planning approval processes to set up a new café or restaurant or business enterprise," he said.

"Our changes will cut red tape and costs.

"For the first time, we will introduce visual representation of proposed developments on site, and mandate State wide community consultation processes, which includes a simple radius model for engagement."

The legislative reforms will be supported by changes to State planning policies, and will add to the launch of Design WA policies which prioritise the importance of good design in planning and development.

Most of the proposed amendments are part of the State Government's Action Plan on Planning Reform and follow three years of consultation to remove barriers in the planning system, provide greater clarity and consistency for users of the system and reduce the administrative burden on the State's 134 local governments.