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It's now or never

It's now or never

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Genuine planning reform is critically needed as development plays a vital role in the Australian economy and shapes our way of living

Mike Hermon

Executive Director - Planning & Development at Housing

In the past decade, the planning system has become the remedy used by the government for any perceived regulatory oversight, making it extremely complex. Planning systems are increasingly cumbersome for government regulators and private practitioners alike. The list of social and environmental matters that need consideration continues to grow. However, planning frameworks to assess and determine an application have remained relatively unchanged, failing to keep pace with the increasing demands of new considerations. 

Most agree that Australia’s current development assessment processes need improvement. While many state and local governments have tried implementing planning reform measures, they often only scratch the surface. This isn’t enough to reduce barriers and constraints and create a streamlined planning approvals system. 

Most agree that Australia’s current development assessment processes need improvement.

Fundamental changes

Planning reform must rigorously challenge what isn’t working and develop fundamental changes to systems and regulations as needed. The federal government’s National Planning Reform Blueprint, released last August, provides many aspects for genuine planning reform, helping each state and territory reach their target under the National Housing Accord of 1.2 million homes by 2029.

The Blueprint provides a model for different jurisdictions to develop efficient, effective and nationally aligned development assessment systems. Its initiatives, if implemented, will simplify development assessment frameworks to achieve productive outcomes better suited for today’s environment. By adopting some elements of the Blueprint model, jurisdictions can substantially streamline and fast-track approval processes for all new housing forms, including greenfield, infill and multi-dwelling housing.

Blueprint Score Card

Of the 10 Blueprint items, HIA considers seven crucial for achieving planning reforms to reach the target of 1.2 million homes. HIA has developed a Blueprint Score Card focusing on four key themes based on the seven most critical Blueprint items: 

  • bringing more shovel-ready land to market 
  • higher density housing 
  • cutting red tape 
  • getting faster decisions. 

The HIA Score Card strategically assesses each state and territory’s metropolitan and housing strategies, to determine what actions are necessary for them to meet their share of the 1.2 million homes target by 2029. Look out for more information in the future about the HIA Scorecard and where each state and territory rates.

To bring more shovel-ready land to market, governments need to implement reforms in planning, zoning, land release and other areas to increase housing density and meet housing supply targets. These initiatives must be coupled with updating state, regional and local strategic plans to align with housing supply goals. Achieving higher density will involve promoting medium- and high-density housing in well-located areas.

We must continue pushing boundaries, breaking free from the planning shackles.

Cutting red tape

Reforms aimed at removing barriers to issuing development approvals promptly and supporting rapid delivery of housing will assist with cutting red tape. Mechanisms to assist with faster decision-making must include streamlining approval pathways, such as enhancing ‘call in powers’ and prioritising planning amendments to encourage diverse housing options across a range of areas.

Genuine planning reform is critically needed as development plays a vital role in the Australian economy and shapes our way of living. Continuing business-as-usual planning will not help achieve the 1.2 million homes target. Alongside planning reform, timely infrastructure provision is essential. This includes government funding for state, territory and local governments and private developers to stimulate housing supply. Additionally, targeted activation payments can facilitate the connection of essential services, speeding up the delivery of new housing developments.

As well as supporting elements of the Blueprint, we must continue pushing boundaries, breaking free from the planning shackles, and enabling the industry to get on with building houses. Topics such as private planning certification have been discussed for years but have never been tested meaningfully.

Now is the time to get serious on this, and it has the potential to dramatically speed up approvals and remove bottlenecks in councils.

Being bold

We must be bold and ask governments: Why settle for the status quo?

The amount of time and work poured into master planning and rezonings, only to end up with a suite of planning controls requiring development approval for a single dwelling, must be questioned. Adopting HIA's One House One Approval principle should be the primary objective of planning systems in all jurisdictions. 
HIA has long advocated for a thorough review of all state and territory planning systems, including their administration, and there couldn’t be a better time for this than now. The Blueprint offers a rare opportunity to examine planning through a national lens.

As both metropolitan and regional areas continue to grow, assessment systems must efficiently adapt to these pressures with clear policy objectives. Streamlined development assessment frameworks should deliver productive outcomes and better suit today’s needs.

Let the National Planning Reform Blueprint kickstart a much-needed national conversation on shaping the future of the built environment. It’s time to ensure our planning systems, from local levels to national scale, are efficient, effective and responsive to the evolving needs of our communities. By embracing this opportunity, we can pave a way so our planning system is fit for purpose for now and into the future.

National Planning Reform Blueprint

Here are the 10 Blueprint items.

1.  updating state, regional and local strategic plans to reflect their share of housing supply targets 
2.  undertaking planning, zoning, land release and other reforms, such as increasing density, to meet their share of housing supply targets 
3.  streamlining approval pathways, including strengthened ‘call in powers’, and prioritising planning amendments to support diverse housing across a range of areas e.g. by addressing barriers to subdivision for appropriate medium-density housing 
4.  promoting medium- and high-density housing in well located areas close to existing public transport connections, amenities and employment 
5.  reforms to support the rapid delivery of social and affordable housing 
6.  reforms to address barriers to the timely issuing of development approvals 
7.  adequately resourcing built environmental professionals, including planners, in local government 
8.  consideration of the phased introduction of inclusionary zoning and planning to support permanent affordable, social and specialist housing in ways that do not add to construction costs 
9.  rectifying gaps in housing design guidance and building certification to ensure the quality of new builds, particularly apartments 
10.  improving community consultation process.

First published on 19 May 2024

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