Monday, July 4, 2022

We need to embrace strata reform for Western Australia

If the Government is honest about increasing inner urban density, then it needs to get its priorities straight and focus on Strata Reform and the touchy subject of Strategic Planning Reform.

There was a great article recently by Emma Young titled Even Adelaide is beating Perth when it comes to inner city density which talks about Bernard Salt’s research into Perth’s inner city density. If you draw a circle with a 5km radius around the center of Perth there are only 154,000 people living inside this ring, as opposed to 168,000 in Adelaide, 268,000 in Brisbane, 379,000 in Melbourne and 471,000 in Sydney.

Further, Perth stretches 124km from Yanchep to Mandurah and has a population of around 2 million, while a city like Los Angeles stretches 139km with a population of around 19 million. With such a low density, we cannot continue to spend on growing outwards, we need to be focused on growing inwards.

While the WA State Government is setting infill targets to try and address inner urban density, they continue to spend billions of dollars on rail and road extensions to the extremities of Perth. There are less than 10,000 people living in Yanchep and just over 22,000 living in Ellenbrook.

Over the coming weeks, the debate on the strata reforms will commence in Parliament and this will expand into the media. Issues like the Termination Provisions will be raised and the need for greater protections for people buying into strata will be highlighted.

Why the amendments to the Act failed to license the strata industry is something I have already written about 97% Want Licensing of Strata Managers in WA – Landgate Terms of Reference for Licensing is 11 Years Old. You cannot let people with no education requirements, nor need to be affiliated with a property association, manage millions of dollars in trusts and peoples primary assets, without any oversight.

Unfortunately, these amendments have been missed this time around and for the second time in 18 months the importance of the current strata reforms have been outlined in a united submission by the Strata Community Association (SCA WA), Urban Development Institute of Australia (UDIA WA), Property Council WA (PCA), Real Estate Institute of WA (REIWA), Australian Property Institute (API), Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) and Facilities Management Australia (FMA).

The Act was written in 1985 and the last minor amendments were in 1996; we cannot wait any longer!! Our politicians need to pass the current strata reforms and the introduce the Community Titles Act, however, they also need to immediately establish a committee to review the amendments and seek to make further improvements over the next twelve months. If we do not start the review process now, momentum will be lost, it will be a further 20 years before we get further reforms and Perth will continue to fail in growing strategically.

To achieve infill targets, the strata reforms need to pass and this needs to be followed up by strategic planning reform. These essential reforms will lead WA’s growth and diversity over the next couple of decades.

The WA Planning Minister commissioned an independent Green Paper on modernising WA’s Planning System in May 2018 Modernising Western Australia’s Planning System. The Paper highlights that the planning system has become complex and focuses heavily on process.

Planning efforts need to shift from development led to a strategically led system in which strategic planning is the centrepiece. The introduction of the Community Titles Act and the strata reforms which introduce the ability for staged developments will help achieve this outcome.

The Paper proposes ways to modernise the planning system to make it fairer, more open and understandable, less complicated and able to reach effective decisions quicker. Currently local planning strategies and local planning policies sit outside planning schemes and are out of date, ambiguously drafted, inconsistent and hard to find. It is proposed that State Planning Policies all be consolidated into a single, concise State Planning Framework making it easier for all.

There are a number of positives proposed within the Paper, saying this, there needs to be greater discretion allowed where higher density developments that exceed sustainable and architectural merits can be approved. This will help ensure they are affordable for a wider percentage of the population to live within. As I have discussed previously, How strata and mixed use precincts can change the future of Perth, I believe that if we have a clear vision of a vibrant, expressive design that is sympathetic to public open spaces and features a broad range of uses then we need to take a step back and, allow some discretion when it comes to planning approvals.

We are constantly talking about the need to deliver better outcomes, if we honestly want to see a more affordable, vibrant and sustainable Perth, we need to embrace inner urban living and ensure the Strata Reforms are passed this year and updated Planning Reforms are achieved next year.

This is my personal view and not the view of the organisations of which I am affiliated.

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