Most people will look blankly at you when you start to talk about structure plans but they are the first round of planning that occurs for new sites.  They are intended to give a broad understanding to all parties of what the land use will look like.  How dense would the residential development be?  Will there be shops? A school?  Parks?  Structure planning occurs for all types of development including industrial, commercial and residential.  Structure planning occurs at a district and local level and the bulk of the negotiations are usually with the Local Government.

One of the problems is that some councils have asked for far more detail than should be included in this initial planning stage. This is done with the best of intentions but still creates delays and significant additional cost.  For example, many people would think that asking which mature trees are going to be retained in a new development is a reasonable and logical thing to do.

The problem is that to determine which trees are to be retained you need to undertake full engineering plans to ascertain the level of the finished development as many trees don’t take kindly to being buried in a metre or more of sand. Whist the intent was good, the strategy caused other problems.

Whilst the reform of subdivision was under the spotlight during the boom in 2006/07, the bulk of the delays happen before development reaches that stage. With all of those negotiations needing to be done, District Structure Plans have been  taking up to three years (or more) to get through the system and Local Structure Plans further two years.

Making things even more complex is that local governments have their own methodology and processes which makes negotiating the structure plans complex. Some Councils do an excellent job whilst others could learn from their example.

What does this mean for the purchaser?  Basically the more that we can simplify and streamline the process, the more savings there will be in both time and money. In the current competitive market, those savings will be passed onto consumers.

Structure planning has been a “top three” issue in our discussions with state government and, whilst we have welcomed the release of the guidelines, this is just the first step in the structure plan reform process.

It has now been three years and three months since a supplementary discussion paper specifically relating to Structure Plans was released (in June 2009). When the “Planning Makes it Happen – a Blueprint for Planning Reform” was released in Sept 2009, the changes to the Regulations were anticipated to be finalised by mid 2010.

Now three years later the reform process must continue.  We need to have the “General Provision for Local Planning Scheme Regulations” gazetted.  This will give the reform process the teeth necessary to have the changes implemented in local government.  We need statutory timelines and appeal rights through the process as well as shortening timelines through the concurrent assessment of structure plans by the Western Australian Planning Commission and the local authority.

Whilst the market has been subdued for the last four years that situation will change so it is essential we get our house in order.