CHANGES to WA’s planning laws announced by premier Mark McGowan last week could undo the work updating Fremantle’s planning scheme to usher in higher densities, says former mayor Brad Pettitt.
The reforms will see a “special matters” panel which was set up to fast-track big projects during Covid, become a permanent fixture with the power to ignore planning schemes. It has been criticised by Opposition planning spokesperson Neil Thomson and others for reducing local residents’ input into how their neighbourhood develops, given the seven-member panel has just one local government representative.
Development Assessment Panels, which adjudicate on the next rung down and are also top-heavy with state-appointed members over elected councillors, will also cut councils out of assessing projects worth $2 million; previously the cut-off was $10m.
Dr Pettitt, who now sits in WA’s Upper House as a Greens MP, said the reforms could also be the “death of good density”.
“Frustratingly, all of the planning work that the City of Fremantle and community did to update and improve the planning scheme and come to an agreement around carefully placed higher densities, will be undone by these planning reforms,” Dr Pettitt said.
“In Fremantle not only did we double the CBD population and meet our density tragets, but we also brought the community on the journey.
“What were emergency Covid provisions will now be the new, less accountable normal that disempowers and often excludes local community input.”
Dr Pettitt said the government should have worked with local governments to create incentives for density, rather than “bulldozing” them.
“History shows that WA Labor listens to the real estate lobby far more than they listen to the community on planning decisions.
“The announcement … fries in the face of good planning practices, undermines public support for the good density that we so desperately need to build in this housing crisis, and erodes residents’ faith in the development process.”
Dr Pettitt said Perth needs a metro-wide plan to increase density around existing transit hubs like Fremantle, but said the planning system was already leading to ad-hoc development.
East Fremantle mayor Jim O’Neill isn’t a fan of the changes.
“I don’t think there is a need for high rise of 15 – 20 storeys outside the CBD or the main transport hubs,” Mr O’Neill said.
“Western Australians are prepared to accept medium density and the increase in storeys that brings, but we’re not Singapore.”
Mr O’Neill said another difference between Perth and Singapore is that the Asian economic powerhouse makes sure that it’s medium-density suburbs have adequate parklands for residents.
East Fremantle is awaiting a decision on a 19-storey apartment development on the old Roofing 2000 site on the corner of Stirling and Canning Highways.
The council included a “strong objection” to the project, known as “The Entrance”, but the application is being assessed by the special matters panel and the final decision rests with the WA Planning Commission.
Mr O’Neill says as a result of the premier’s planned changes, councils might become more reluctant to look at rezoning potential development sites out of fear of losing control over what gets built there.
Mr McGowan, speaking at a Property Council lunch, said critics were trying to “drum up fear” about density and the new rules were mainly aimed at recalitrant western suburbs councils who were stubbornly refusing to embrace apartments.
“It can help revitalise neighbourhoods and promote economic development,” Mr McGowan said about density.
by STEVE GRANT