Planning must support growth

Our state and local government planning systems hold back the residential building industry from delivering more affordable home ownership options.


Simon Norris

simon norris
HIA National President Simon Norris

Decades of ever-increasing layers of approvals and complexity in our planning systems have left the residential building industry heavily over-regulated. During my 35-plus years in the industry I have lost count of the number of new state planning Acts and instruments that have been introduced across the country, let alone the much more numerous new local government planning schemes and amendments. No doubt all of these were introduced with the best of intent: to deal with population growth, and environmental, planning or infrastructure issues.


The great majority of these new planning laws and regulations have complicated and slowed the approval process with substantial negative impacts on affordability for consumers. As costs go up due to approval delays, fees and taxes we have no choice other than to pass these costs, plus a margin, on to the consumer; otherwise projects will not proceed. The biggest impact on profitability in a development project is usually time. The lengthier the delays, the less profitable the project becomes. End prices have to increase to maintain the viability of the project. 

Some potential solutions already exist.

Queensland has large body corporate master-planned communities with thousands of homes and apartments, where once the masterplan and development approvals are obtained (allowing for appropriate community consultation) the rest of the approvals for engineering works are streamlined. The developers’ engineers design all the engineering works to the appropriate standards and then they are approved by local council within a matter of days, rather than the many months usually associated with this stage of the development process. The reason for this quick turnaround is that the infrastructure assets are owned and maintained by body corporates and not local government. Established since the early 1990s, the roads, sewer and water infrastructure all still perform to the required standards even though their approvals were only ‘rubber stamped’ by the regulators. Why cannot all projects, including non-body corporates, be approved in a similar, quicker manner?

One of the more innovative planning solutions I have heard in recent years was in another industry. It was an example made by the then Assistant Minister for Cities, Angus Taylor, at the HIA Building Better Cities Summit in 2016. He presented the example of an application for a licensed restaurant and the dozens of approvals that were usually needed in Western Sydney. Recognising this complexity and the usual lengthy approval time frame, a project team was set up that collapsed the three levels of government regulation (local, state and federal) into one database so the application could be run concurrently through all levels of government. What usually took years to process was approved in months. What it took was political commitment, leadership and the willingness to collaborate. A brilliant outcome that in no way diminished the authority of any level of government.

Planning approval time frames can be reduced through strong leadership and a collaborative approach. The better planning outcomes are being achieved in those parts of the country where regulators acknowledge that growth needs to occur but want the growth to be well-planned and supported by appropriate infrastructure. When a state government introduces a planning instrument that promises to ‘assist in stopping suburban sprawl’ then alarm bells should ring. Often this type of vision leads to an adversarial culture and the resultant blow out in approval time frames.

HIA will continue to promote examples of good planning practice and lobby governments at all levels to not tinker with their planning systems for the sake of change, rather seek innovative approaches to speed up approvals and encourage a collaborative culture to processing approval applications. If we are ever to make inroads into our home ownership challenges this has to happen. HIA members can play a personal as well as a collective role in pushing for much needed political commitment.

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