WHEN former WA premier Mark McGowan retired without notice in May, he left a ‘landmine’ behind in WA’s town planning landscape.
This scrap of ordinance guarantees full-scale war in Perth and Fremantle ‘burbs, and while it’s the pollies who laid this trap to cause local conflict, hardship and despair, it is they who will suffer the deepest wounds.
Just before heading into the sunset declaring himself exhausted, the premier and his powerful planning minister Rita Saffioti quietly and without much fuss enshrined the provisions of the 2021 Covid economic recovery legislation into WA’s town planning regime, despite it originally being a temporary fix.
In doing so, the WA government created a monster that is a developer’s wildest dream, but the worst possible nightmare for every other property owner threatened by a no-holds barred high-density and/or high-rise development goldrush in the ‘burbs.
WA now has a three-tiered ‘planning’ system where the top two favour the richest, most powerful developers – read fast track for high density and/or high rise and bugger the rules. Those developers are now cosily parading alongside the WA government and its bureaucrats, while neighbouring land owners are left to watch glumly from the sidelines.
The rest of us are herded into the third tier, forced to follow the old democratic ‘please-respect-your-neighbours’ planning rules.
A portent of what’s to come is Brisbane City Council paving the way for 90-storey high-rise apartments in the Kurilpa Precinct in South Brisbane, where residents currently “grow tomatoes and mangoes and vegetables in their backyard”, according to an planning expert who’s recommended they drop their “selfish” nimby opposition.
Brisbane plans to do it with WA-style fast-track planning controls, pegged only by aviation flight thresholds and with no hint of impact on local residents.
This could soon be coming to a suburb near you.
The original intention of this pandemic recovery legislation, which was to expire recently, was in part to sideline local governments (who’ve long been central and important democratic moderators of excessive planning and development) and their residents. The premier wanted fast-track, large-scale land and property development to provide, in his own words “… jobs, jobs, jobs …”
As premier McGowan made this defining call, we at the Chook raised our eyebrows. While we understand the economics of his call, where was the championing of orderly, measured town planning and development? That’s always been much more about keeping neighbourhood peace over land-use decisions.
Why? Because every war in history – every one – has been about land, whether between nations or neighbours.
With suburban land skirmishes such as the former Woodside maternity hospital site, Canning Bridge or the myriad of disputes across Perth’s western and southern suburbs, the pages of local papers like ours have endless fodder.
These disputes, minor and major have always been about who owns the land, who wants to own it and what they want to do with it.
by ANDREW SMITH
(former mayor East Fremantle, Dalgety Street resident, democratic town planning expert)