Earlier this month, the WA Government made amendments to part of the Planning and Development (Local Planning Schemes) Regulations 2015 (WA), allowing exemptions for some planning requirements applicable under local planning schemes.

With the current lockdown and social distancing measures impacting a multitude of industries and related businesses, these amendments empower the Minister for Planning to issue exemptions from certain planning requirements. The Minister can grant these exemptions if she considers them necessary to respond to, or recover from, a state of emergency. These include compliance with development or planning requirements imposed pre-COVID-19, but these exemptions will only be granted whilst WA is under the current state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

So what are the changes?

Under Schedule 2 Part 10B of the legislation, the Minister may issue an exemption from planning requirements under a local planning scheme to which Schedule 2 applies.

The affected planning requirements are broad and include:

  • A requirement to obtain development approval;
  • A requirement under a condition of development approval;
  • A requirement relating to the permissibility of uses of land;
  • A requirement relating to works;
  • A provision having the effect that a non-conforming use of land is no longer permitted because of a discontinuance of that non-conforming use; and
  • A requirement in relation to consultation, advertisement, applications, time limits or forms.

NB: It is important to note that the Minister cannot issue a notice exempting compliance with environmental conditions that apply to the scheme as a result of an assessment carried out under the Environmental Protection Act 1986 (Cth).

What are the implications of these amendments on both the construction industry and local governments?

The notified exemptions will give businesses, especially those in the building and construction industry, some breathing space to cope with the challenges brought by COVID-19. For example, the time for commencing substantial development has been extended, allowing civil and construction contractors to commence certain temporary works without development approval, upon seven days' notice being given by the principal. This should assist developers and contractors to maintain cash flow and commence works earlier where COVID-19 has disrupted supply chains, prevented close collaboration in confined workspaces and otherwise affected cashflow.

Those in Local Government will have quite a task working through the numerous exemptions, as different conditions apply to each. To perhaps make the task somewhat easier, Local Governments have been exempted from some of their own obligations: for example, to make documents available for public inspection or to adhere to requirements when changing local planning policy. This will help streamline local government processes in accordance with constantly shifting social distancing protocols.

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