The Western Australian Government has begun work to identify legislative and regulatory measures that would allow temporary ministerial override of local councils in an attempt to speed up its response to COVID-19.
Amendments to the Planning and Development (Local Planning Schemes) Regulations 2015 provide the WA Minister for Planning, Rita Saffioti, with authority to temporarily override requirements and conditions set out in a local planning scheme, and existing conditions in planning approvals.
This could include exemptions relating to noise or amenity restrictions that guide supermarket deliveries, waste and recycling services and construction activities, and take-away and retail delivery services among other locally driven compliance requirements.
Under the amendments, Ms Saffioti can issue a notice to suppress local scheme provisions for a single council, across a specific region or across the state.
The regulations also provide for streamlined advertising and decision-making processes. In this COVID-19 crisis, where strict social distancing protocols are enforced, this provides for digital access to plans and safer means of public inspection rather than inviting community members to venture away from home and visit physical buildings.
A State of Emergency must be declared for these new regulatory provisions to have effect.
Ms Saffioti said that the “extraordinary” measures being identified were aimed at supporting urgent decision making, and ensuring the WA Government could appropriately provide and care for the Western Australian community.
“In a State of Emergency, these regulatory changes will provide the Government with an important mechanism to safeguard the supply of essential goods and services, help maintain civil order and lessen the administrative requirement for local councils in favour of direct frontline support in their communities,” she said.
“We have seen in recent weeks the community response to this health crisis and its impact on our key services – and we have mobilised quickly to accommodate the increase in demand.
“We need to keep the trucks rolling and the shutters open, and while there might be some short-term inconvenience, we need greater flexibility, speed and a higher degree of coordination around our planning regulations to prioritise these services, at this time.
“These powers would provide for a higher order of community service in the face of an emergency and are not about circumventing public input in our planning processes.”
Ms Saffioti thanked local councils and local government bodies for their collaboration and responsiveness to bring these regulatory changes into reality and across all COVID-19 response matters in recent weeks.
“I am pleased to have the support of the WA Local Government Association and all local councils in bringing these regulatory changes to fruition,” she said.