Mention planning and development to anyone who’s undertaken a building project and they will tell you their horror stories of dealing with the planning system. No matter where you are – Cairns, Chatswood or Camberwell – meeting the often confusing criteria of the planning system can be a minefield.
Navigating this minefield and trying to make sense of it all is the Urban Development Institute of Australia, which has state-based bodies across the country. We spoke to the Queensland, New South Wales and Victorian organisations to get their take on the planning system in their respective states and it’s not all bad. Changes in government in Queensland and New South Wales are creating a glimmer of hope that some of the horror stories may be a thing of the past.
The recent change to a Liberal National Government in Queensland has Duncan Maclaine, Director Policy and Research, optimistic that some changes could be coming.
“There are lots of signals from the new government that change is on the agenda. During their election campaign property development was singled out as one of the four pillars of growth in Queensland.”
“We are expecting a review of the planning system to get underway soon. The government has already appointed an Assistant Minister for Planning Reform who also happens to be a planning lawyer and former member of UDIA.”
The current system has been described as being the worst in terms of costs, approvals processes and time taken for approvals.
One area that showed efficiency was the Urban Land Development Authority (UDLA), which had planning powers to identify areas of the state ripe for development for affordable housing.
“This was an efficient system in contrast to the parallel system at the local government level. If the UDLA powers are to be wound back then we’d like to see the best elements of this system transferred to local government,” Duncan said.
UDIA (QLD) does not see a need for a complete rewrite of planning laws. According to Duncan the main problem is the culture of planning and this could be fixed without wholesale changes to the legislation.
New South Wales
A review of the New South Wales planning system is well underway with the new government having now had a year since the state election to make some inroads.
Policy Manager at UDIA (NSW), Peter Naidovski has spent the past 12 months involved in the review process.
“The planning process in New South Wales is quite complex. A number of different instruments can apply to the one development and there may be a need for more than one approval. This takes time and when it comes to large scale developments it could lead to significant delays,” Peter said.
“Long delays in the decision-making process and economic uncertainty both locally and overseas have seen confidence in the industry drop and development in New South Wales slows down significantly.”
The state government undertook a review of the planning legislation starting with community consultation which then led to an issues paper being released where they sought further comment. The next stage in the process will see a green paper released very soon.
“The green paper will give us a fairly good idea of what the future legislation might look like,” Peter noted.
In the meantime, one of the first acts when the new government was elected was the repeal of Part 3A of the Environmental Planning Assessment Act, which gave the government powers to assess and approve developments deemed to be either of a state significance or a critical infrastructure.
“The significance in Part 3A was its ability to bring together all other agency approvals under the one roof. Its repeal, which UDIA (NSW) supported, has been replaced by independent bodies (Joint Regional Planning Panels - JRPP, and Planning Assessment Commission - PAC) that assess proposals on their merit. While this requires proponents to deal with multiple agencies, there are positive signs, but the jury is still out on how well they are working,” Peter said.
"NSW needs a planning system that is robust yet flexible enough to allow changes in the industry. There needs to be a refocus on a strategic planning that leads the efficient supply of housing, linked to funding and benchmarks to measure performance".
While the new Victorian state government has had 12 months longer to review its planning laws than its counterparts in Queensland or New South Wales, it has only just released the Underwood review report and the government response. Legislation changing some aspects of the planning laws is expected to follow later this year.
UDIA (VIC) Policy Director, Martin Musgrave said the major concern was the slowness of the planning and development approvals process.
“The Victorian system is in the hands of local government which tends to assess applications on a site-by-site basis rather than approaching approvals using a strategic framework. Developers are faced with too much council sign off rather than having work assessed in accordance with the building code,” Martin said.
“For this reason we believe there should be a system of private certification with council being the final decision-maker.”
In some instances developers are being forced to wait up to seven years to get the green light for major developments and the commercial reality of this is not appreciated by local government.
“We have a system that is in effect quite contradictory. For example in growth areas the planning is overly complex and needs to be streamlined and made a bit cheaper. While in brown field sites there is no formal process and councils can almost make it up as they go along,” Martin said.
Another major issue for Victorian developers of green field sites concerns biodiversity.
“We have examples where a threatened species has been identified and this has added significantly to the cost of the development because of the infrastructure needed to protect the habitat. While we agree with the need for conservation there is anecdotal evidence that the extra cost for habitat protection has been wasted as the animal or insect has shunned the area set aside for it and instead adapted to the urban environment.”
It looks like the planning process in each state is due for a shake up so expect some changes no matter where you are.
If you’re interested in finding out more about planning in your state check out the following sites:
Queensland – www.dlgp.qld.gov.au
New South Wales – www.planning.nsw.gov.au
Victoria – www.dpcd.vic.gov.au
The UDIA can be found at: