WA State Development Assessment Unit & State Design Review Panel Process Changes

The Western Australian Planning Commission (WAPC) recently held a briefing regarding changes to the Part 17 Significant Development pathway. 

The new Part 17 significant development application process has been in operation for the past six months.

Interest in the pathway and assessment and determination of the first few applications have provided an opportunity to reflect on the process. Subsequently, to improve efficiency and ensure design review occurs at the optimal time in the assessment process, some changes are being made to the design review process for all projects accessing the Part 17 pathway.

At the recent briefing, the WAPC Chairman, Government Architect and Chief Planning Advisor explained the new process as follows:

In order to obtain a timely and clear recommendation from the State Design Review Panel in respect of any proposed development, proposals will no longer be presented for design review until key assessment considerations have been demonstrated to the State Development Assessment Unit. Proponents will be required to first clarify how projects have had regard for:

  • the purpose and intent of the local planning scheme; and 
  • orderly and proper planning, and the preservation of amenity of the locality; and
  • how the project responds to the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic; and
  • any relevant State planning policies, and any other relevant policies of the Commission.

This will ensure that any significant design alterations and key issues can occur before the proposal is presented to the State Design Review Panel, and before any lodgement of an application.

Undertaking design review before critical planning and COVID recovery matters are considered, may risk a project being rendered premature and invalid. 

So what have we learnt during the first six months?

Design review does delve into the planning framework, perhaps a little more forensically than some proponents would imagine that it should, but it is important that the State Design Review Panel is actually reviewing a proposal that the Commission is, within reason, able to approve.  Granted that Part 17 of the legislation bestows upon the Commission a perceived seemingly unlimited level of discretion, the reality is that the discretion must be exercised responsibly.

By way of example the State Design Review Panel has reviewed some projects 4 or 5 times before an application is lodged and prior to the proponent having actually addressed the planning framework. This is an inordinate waste of resources within the State Development Assessment Unit and the State Design Review Panel and actually costs your clients more time and money.  Before applying to come into the Part 17 pathway it would be expected that preliminary investigations have been completed to identify what the constraints to development might be for your client’s site and that this information has informed the appropriate scale, form and design approach for the development and the appropriate uses for the site.

It is also timely to inform you that for applications using the State Design Review Panel for Part 17 reviews, the ‘traffic lights’ mechanism in reports will no longer be used. The Government Architect and SDRP support sdrp@dplh.wa.gov.au welcome your feedback on this approach to help inform future process improvements.

My very simple message is to request that you please apply to come into the Part 17 pathway with a degree of clarification as to how your project will be financed to ensure that substantial commencement can occur within the timeframes likely to be granted by the Commission [up to 24-months], how it might comply with the applicable planning framework and then how it may benefit from a reasonable exercise of discretion, if required. 

David Caddy, Chairman WAPC