Australia’s Best Planning Systems Unveiled

Monday, July 13th, 2015
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The Northern Territory, Western Australia and Victoria have been confirmed as the nation’s leading states in terms of planning policy and development application processes and procedures.

In its most recent report card, which ranks the performance of states and territories against 10 criteria, the Property Council of Australia said policy maker awareness about the importance of effective development application systems was improving.

“Over the past decade, most, if not all state and territory governments have attempted to undertake reform to improve housing affordability, albeit with mixed and often isolated results,” the Council said in its report.

“While there have been success stories, there have also been some notable failures. However it is clear that all levels of government now understand the broader impacts of planning reform.”

Leading the pack was the Northern Territory, which also led the way in 2009 and 2012. Already having been recognised for its straightforward development application process, the Territory was commended for its introduction of a new Planning Commission in 2013, which the Council said would help to progress strategic plans and policies as well as providing independent advice.

Close behind is Western Australia, which has the most comprehensive reform blueprint of any state and has chipped away handsomely at its reform agenda, while Victoria was also ‘leading by example’ with its proactive and businesslike metropolitan strategy and accompanying new planning authority.

At the other end of the scale, lacklustre performance in areas of having objective rules and tests, private sector involvement and an absence of built-in improvement systems saw Tasmania come in last notwithstanding the recent introduction of a Planning Reform Taskforce with a clear remit to drive change and simplification.

Despite record levels of building activity, meanwhile, New South Wales sits second from the bottom notwithstanding the existence of a strong appeals process. The Council cited lacklustre performance in policy development, objective rules and tests and built-in improvement mechanisms, saying the state delivered ‘too little, too late’ with the ‘particularly disappointing’ planned overhaul of the Planning and Environment Act being derailed in late 2013 amid a hostile Senate.

Property Council of Australia chief executive officer Ken Morrison stressed that the importance of effective policy cannot be understated.

“Planning systems have a direct impact on housing affordability,” he said. “When they’re efficient, streamlined and fair they reduce the time it takes to build new houses, and shrink the cost of doing so.

“On the other hand, poor planning systems stifle development, denying people the ability to live close to services and job opportunities.”


Your State at a Glance

According to the report, key strengths and weaknesses of each state’s planning systems include (in order of ranking):

1. Northern Territory

  • Already a strong performer, finished top in latest report card
  • A single planning scheme with assessment performance criteria and straightforward development applications
  • New Planning Commission will help develop strategic plans and planning policies
  • Could speed up land releases and expand the number of land uses categorised as ‘permitted’ and therefore exempt from the need for development consent.

2. Western Australia

  • Comprehensive reform program
  • Planning Commission well regarded and strategic structure of planning is strong
  • R-Codes applicable to residential construction are well-practised and understood
  • Strategic planning processes can be cumbersome.

3. Victoria

  • Good strategy through Plan Melbourne and Regional Growth Plans
  • Good standardised planning provisions ensure consistent approach to assessing development applications
  • New infrastructure body a big plus
  • Too many planning assessment decisions made at local government level
  • Overlays are abundant, making straightforward development assessment matters unnecessarily complex
  • Third party appeal rights substantially more entrenched than in any other system

4. South Australia

  • New city and regional plan structure is comprehensive
  • New development pathways created for significant projects
  • Significant Development Plan variances between councils
  • Merit based assessment exists for 90 per cent of applications. The number of DAs that are assessed under the ‘complying’ track is minimal and needs to be expanded
  • Limited role for accredited professionals to determine routine or low-risk applications

5. Queensland

  • Well-established planning policy framework and regional plans applicable to most areas
  • Creation of single lodgement and referral agency for all DAs where state has planning jurisdiction a significant plus
  • Planning schemes are largely process-driven and prescriptive in approach
  • Many planning schemes are lengthy and contain impractical assessment codes

6. Australian Capital Territory

  • Starts well with obviously having only one single level of planning control
  • New DA finder app considered to be ‘fantastic’
  • ‘Confounding’ layers of codes and controls in development application ‘tracks

7. New South Wales

  • Broad application of certifiable complying code development a positive
  • Adoption of e-planning was well-received
  • Poor state agency engagement and lack of clear planning policy development
  • Disappointing pull-back on much-needed planning reform 

8. Tasmania

  • New Planning Commission will help oversee planning system and provide advice on matters relating to land-use planning
  • State has historically suffered from inability to introduce state based planning policies with broad economic focus as opposed to a single issue approach
  • System viewed as overly litigious
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