More than 2,000 planning zones could be consolidated to only five under a range of proposals as part of an overhaul of South Australia's planning laws which would also establish a state planning commission, remove councillors from planning decisions and enable development applications able to be lodged online.

Unveiling its final report entitled Our Ideas for Reform, which includes 27 recommendations for change, the South Australian Government’s Expert Panel said the state’s planning system generally worked well but there were areas in which it could be improved.

The absence of an overall planning commission, for example, meant there were few statutory levers to ensure decisions of the Minister are effectively implemented and coordinated, while the system of development plans was creating confusion, with considerable levels of local variation among zones of similar types and plans often being repetitive and contradictory.

Central to the reforms is the establishment of a state planning commission which would subsume the roles of a number of existing bodies and provide high level advice to the Minister and cabinet on planning and urban renewal as well as administering the planning system.

The state would also be divided into separate regions, each of which would have its own board which would work with local councils to coordinate planning policies and would prepare regional strategies, approve council rezoning proposals, undertake public hearings and appoint regional development approvals.

Other proposals include:

  • Creation of a state-wide suit of planning rules known as the state planning code, which would provide a single repository for planning rules applying to all forms of development and contain a comprehensive menu of zones
  • Goals for state and local governments to reduce the number of zones contained within the planning regime
  • Consolidation of heritage laws into a single statute administered by a singular statutory body
  • Replacement of existing prescriptive requirements for community consultation with a charter for citizen participation
  • Establishment of a centralised online portal through which development applications could be processed and which would link to government and council website to create a one-stop-shop for all information and processing regarding planning and development.

Master Builders Association of South Australia chief executive officer John Stokes welcomed the proposals, saying the current system was overly complex and that the proposed changes would unlock the potential for more housing and employment within the state.

 “The complexity of today’s planning regime is one of the biggest hurdles the sector faces,” he said. “It adds costs to any investment, holds up the creation of jobs, and forces would-be homeowners to wait for longer – or prices them out of the market.”

He cautioned, however, that the proposed new commission and regional structure could easily add a new layer of bureaucracy, and suggested that the new planning boards include a construction sector representative.

A Master Builders representative said the changes could mean that as many as 2,000 planning zones were consolidated into as few as five.

State Deputy Premier and Minister for Planning John Rau said the government would consider the report and hoped to introduce proposed legislative changes into the Parliament in the first quarter of 2015.