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Break the planning shackles

Break the planning shackles

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Too much subjective control has entered planning systems, leading to unnecessary delays and costs. It’s time to challenge the status quo and let industry get on with building houses.

Mike Hermon

Executive Director - Planning & Development at Housing

Planning, like many other processes and systems, has been shuffling down a path for the past few decades with incremental layers of control being added along the way. The path is now overgrown with protracted decision-making timeframes and exorbitantly high building costs.

Housing supply is impacted the most by overburdened and highly constrained planning systems as assessments are required to consider a wide range of subjective and quantitative matters.

It would be unproductive to throw away the book and start again. But it has become increasingly obvious that we can’t continue operating within planning systems that stall residential building activity when Australia faces a shortage of houses. With the impact of soaring interest rates and NCC 2022 coming into effect in many states and territories, it’s time for industry to be bold and challenge the status quo.

There is no silver bullet that will shoot down barriers to housing supply in the planning system. But there are ways we can break the shackles that hamper the efficiency of how housing is delivered.

Lost potential

Current local council planning assessment systems for detached dwellings cause undue delays and inhibit housing supply. It is well known in the land development and home building sector that a residential parcel of land is assessed a minimum of three times by local council prior to a dwelling being constructed.

Most state and territory planning systems have code assess provisions. Theoretically, these are meant to offer a solution to some barriers to housing supply that exist in the planning system. In principle, code assess provisions are sound and generally supported by industry. It is a planning control that provides an identifiable approval pathway based on a quantitative criterion being satisfied.

Disappointingly though, the intention of code assess provisions is often blurred and whittled away with requirements for secondary planning controls. These are implemented as a way of addressing more subjective planning matters, such as neighbourhood character and heritage. 

However, there is much potential for code assess provisions to help with reducing barriers to housing supply in the planning system, provided their objective and purpose is well understood and maintained. They also, if drafted correctly, need not only apply to detached dwellings but to many multi-dwelling scenarios and building typologies.

Housing supply is impacted the most by overburdened and highly constrained planning systems
PPC for detached dwellings on land zoned residential must be the first step in reforming planning systems nationally

The case for private planning certification

The housing industry considers an open conversation about Private Planning Certification (PPC) as the best starting point to break down the barriers to housing supply in the planning system. 

It’s a contentious topic, with many holding polar opposite views. Some staunchly believe that PPC will lead to a catastrophic breakdown in the planning system, with the private sector taking over and community stakeholders ignored. The view on the other end of the spectrum believes PPC will bring about extreme time- and cost-savings, and once introduced, would ensure we would never look back. 

Neither are realistic. But to get the optimal benefit from moving to a PPC planning system, we must agree to maximise the productivity of planning assessments and decision making. 

The current council-led approval processes are unwieldly, though the potential to rein in the process and introduce much needed efficiencies and gains need not be difficult or complex. The final planning assessment for dwelling approval should be a quantitative assessment only and therefore able to be undertaken and determined via a PPC process. 

Regulatory duplication, such as current detached dwelling approvals processes, is a significant barrier and constraint to addressing housing affordability in a timely manner.

PPC for detached dwellings on land zoned residential must be the first step in reforming planning systems nationally. PPC for detached dwellings will enable the industry to demonstrate the efficiencies that can be achieved and further develop PPC processes for other residential development applications. 

It’s time to release the tight hold local councils have over this process and allow the private sector to actively participate in the quantitative planning assessment for detached dwellings on land zoned residential.

The current council-led approval processes are unwieldly
The housing industry is ready and open to a frank discussion about how the shackles can be broken.

A new model

The application of private planning professionals in the development assessment process will assist local government in the timely delivery of planning approvals and allow local councils to focus on planning rather than planning administration.

A primary objective must be to ensure that once land is zoned for residential purposes, there are no further environmental constraints that have not been investigated adequately which may potentially reduce lot yield after zoning.

HIA supports the introduction of PPC to ease the burden on planning authorities and see the improved performance of planning systems. Suitable models of delegated development assessment could include:

  • Pre-lodgement endorsement 
  • Assessment to report stage 
  • Full approval process. 

The housing industry is ready and open to a frank discussion about how the shackles – those barriers to housing supply in the planning system – can be broken. It must involve all relevant stakeholders who are committed to seeing change that will considerably reduce decision-making timeframes and high building costs. A PPC approach to developing and implementing a planning system that supports residential development and housing supply is an integral outcome. 


First published on 31 July 2023

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