Ian MacRae, President LGPA
The LGPA welcomes the release by the Minister for Planning of the State Planning Strategy for public comment. The State Planning Strategy is a potentially important document to guide local government planning in Western Australia.
The key questions to apply in reviewing the Strategy are:
- Is it credible as a basis for policy?
- Does it address the key issues for the planning of the State,
- Does it provide a strategy to guide the planning of the State, and
- Can it be implemented?
Is the document credible as the basis for policy?
The document starts with appropriate principles, vision and strategic goals. This is followed by Strategic Directions which comprise of ten subject areas each of which is divided into short statements entitled objective, overview, key facts, approach, and challenges. These should encapsulate the strategy but it is not possible to find anything representing a strategy in these pages. The Strategic Directions culminate in a series of bland statements with no confidence that they are actual policies or coherent intended strategies.
While it is known that this 2012 State Planning Strategy has been a number of years in the making, and has been at some considerable cost to judge from the consultants acknowledged on page 88, this is the first release and there is no supporting documentation. There are no background research papers which have led to the broad statements made in the document. While 542 documents are referenced in the bibliography, these appear to be a listing of participating department’s publications rather than evidence used to develop a strategy. The statement is made on page 6 that “Development of this State Planning Strategy involved considerable research and consultation across State Government”, but there is no information to be accessed to show for it.
Some of the observations within the document may be generally acceptable and may be what people want to hear, but it is not appropriate to raise hopes without having any strategy to realise them. For instance, it is easy to say that all small country towns should be supported by equivalent services to large cities, but it is wishful thinking and no strategy is presented to achieve it.
On page 31 we have a typical statement based on be wishful thinking rather than a serious basis on which to allocate resources. “Improving housing affordability, investment in infrastructure, creating attractive places and the delivery of key services will create a level of liveability in the regions that can retain rural families, as well as attract a varied regional workforce, in order to both stimulate and maintain education, training and knowledge transfer there”.
This is a stringing together of what everyone in the regions wants to hear but there is no evidence that it is founded on reality or well thought-out government policy. If this really is the Strategy, then how would it be achieved because clearly it will not happen by merely wishing it?
Another illustration from page 69 contains aspirational statements on Housing Diversity and Affordable Living: TIONS
- All development provides a variety of housing styles, types and sizes to accommodate changes in demographics and market demand
- Incentives and requirements for affordable housing are enabled through the planning system, and
- Innovative housing tenures such as housing cooperatives and community titling are introduced into the market.
These may be appropriate aspirations, but it is not sufficient for a state planning strategy to just be a listing of aspirations, the strategy needs to indicate how such aspirations are to be achieved. The Strategy does not say who would be responsible and how these suggestions would be implemented.
Housing diversity could be said to be in part within the control of planners so policy outcomes should be easier to establish. When you turn to areas beyond land use planning control one feels even less confident that there will be any commitment to implement. For instance in the Strategic Directions Health and wellbeing and Security the WAPC is seen to stray into areas clearly the responsibility of others.
All planning projects need to have a clear idea of what the end will look like to know how to begin. Also if there is no specific focus it is difficult to edit-out the wishful statements of other departments on grounds of relevance. While it is tempting to be comprehensive and include statements on such matters as global competitiveness, economic diversification and technological change (as the 2012 SPS does), if these cannot be acted on there is little point in having them in the Strategy. The advantage of a Strategy focused on land use planning is that those statements with no implications for land use planning can be rejected without upsetting anybody.
What we have in the 2012 State Planning Strategy is a document theoretically prepared to meet the requirements of the legislation, and nicely illustrated with arty photos and graphics, but of absolutely nil utility when it comes to identifying the key planning strategies that are needed to guide planning throughout the State of Western Australia. It certainly lacks focus in its desire to cover all the areas of government. It is not a credible basis for policy.
Does the document answer the key issues for planning the State?
Ten Strategic Directions are identified which appear to be equally weighted with no clear statement about the strategy required to guide planning into the future. The Strategy does not even raise the questions that people most frequently ask when talking about development in Western Australia. Such questions deserve raising to either address them or dismiss them if there is a rational basis to do so. Surely a State Planning Strategy should have some sort of position on these questions:
- Should we divert Perth’s growth to somewhere else?
- What can reasonably be expected from the Pilbara Cities and Super Towns initiatives?
- Can Perth’s growth at in excess of an additional 50,000 persons a year be managed?
- Should fly-in fly-out be discouraged or facilitated?
- Are there enough resources for the State to support a 5.4 million population by 2056? Are there any that need particular protection?
- Can we affordably house the growing population? What changes to building and planning regulations would assist?
- What are the State’s infrastructure investment priorities?
- How will climate change affect future living?
- Is the natural environment getting worse or better and can it be managed?
Reading the State Planning Strategy does not leave the reader with any confidence that these sort of questions have been addressed or that there is any commitment to use the Strategy as a means of providing strategic guidance in these critical considerations. Even the most obvious clients for such a strategy, local government planners undertaking a review of their town planning scheme, would be at a total loss to know how they should go about taking the Strategy into account during their scheme review.
The closest the Strategy comes to identifying and addressing key issues is in the challenges identified for each strategic direction. However, these all follow the pattern of being aspirational statements and do not give the required direction needed for a consistent strategy. It would be expected that a response would be given for each challenge, however there are no responses to the challenges.
For instance a listed Economic Development Challenge is: To create the level of liveability in the regions that can attract a varied workforce to maintain diverse economic activity, a Tourism Challenge is: Enhanced recognition and investment into cultural tourism is required, a Movement Challenge is: The provision of effective movement systems at an acceptable cost is a major challenge for the public and private sectors, and a Remote settlements Challenge is: To ensure that the economic and social role that remote settlements play is not lost due to lack of adequate support.
These type of statements do not make a State Planning Strategy. The challenges in most areas can be summarised as a generalised plea for more investment and coordination to cater for future growth – however they do not constitute a strategy.
The big planning questions that needed addressing in 1997, through the State Planning Strategy, appeared to be the need to achieve sustainable development and manage the growth of Perth and major centres (in the face of continuing decline of lesser centres). These were adjudged to be the key planning issues for the state and while many people did not want to hear that Perth was dominant and would (from all research) only get more dominant the State Planning Strategy provided a reality check and a strategy to deliver regional planning schemes for the main centres beyond Perth and a refocus on Perth.
The 2012 State Planning Strategy provides no equivalent focus on the key questions for planning the State.
Does it provide a strategy to guide the planning of the State?
In the Minister’s Preface it is stated that the predecessor 1997 Strategy had a primary focus on landuse planning. Certainly the 2012 Strategy has no primary focus on landuse planning, although it remains important in view of the specified requirements under the Act to prepare “a planning strategy for the State as a basis for coordinating and promoting land use planning, transport planning and land development in a sustainable manner, and for the guidance of public authorities and local governments on those matters.” The current Strategy appears to stray too far from these requirements leaving it with a complete lack of focus, and possibly, utility.
The 2012 State Planning Strategy, according to the Minister, “seeks to better anticipate, adapt to and manage the drivers of change most likely to influence the future development of Western Australia”, and “the state planning strategy will be used by the Government as a basis to plan for and coordinate regional and urban infrastructure investment; improve efﬁciency of infrastructure investment; and to facilitate the consideration of project approvals, delivery of services and urban land supply.”
However, it is difficult to see how the document would be used in the ways suggested by the Minister and who would use it. Various planning agencies will find it difficult in reading the document to decipher what their responsibilities are and what is expected of government departments in implementing the Strategy. As it is implied that it is for all of government, it is likely that it will be ignored by all in the hope that it all applies to someone else other than them.
Articulating challenges or aspirations is not a planning strategy. Even for subject areas readily understandable to planners, (bland statements are made about the challenge of good urban design and the aspiration of streets designed for people), does not constitute a planning strategy. Possibly requiring 50% of Activity centres to be two stories and over and all residential streets to have a footpath on at least one side, would be a strategy. But there are no statements as useful as that in the document.
The State Planning Strategy should address the spatial implications of future change. It should not attempt to be all things to all men. It should also not be an uncritical mouthpiece for current government policy or a document that avoids debate on such policy.
Obviously it is difficult for the Strategy to question favoured current Government political commitments such as Royalties for Regions, PilbaraCities and CountrySuperTowns (which apparently will relieve pressure on the Perth Region -p.12). But if critical state planning issues are off the table or there is a need to identify priorities that may lie elsewhere, what is the point of the exercise? The Strategy provides a unique opportunity for the Commission to show its independent voice in the interest of planning for the State’s future. The draft Strategy is a total abrogation of the Commission’s duty to offer this independent view.
Can the Strategy be implemented?
The State Planning Strategy is not structured in a way that leads to clear policies that can be implemented and it is unclear what participants are supposed to do in support of the Strategy. The drafting of the document clearly did not focus on implementation, as illustrated by there only being three mentions of “implementation” in the text of the 104 page document (the main part of the 55 page 1997 SPS made 15 such references). There is a deficiency in articulating a Strategy, there is a deficit of suggested policies to achieve the Strategy and there is a total lack of direction in identifying who would be responsible for its implementation and how it would be implemented.
The 2012 State Planning Strategy is not a State Planning Strategy. The structure, content and basis of the draft Strategy are so lacking that it will plainly not be implemented – indeed there is nothing articulated as a strategy to implement. The State Planning Strategy should provide a framework for the making of hard decisions to improve the prospects for the State’s future – this it conspicuously fails to do.
This is a missed opportunity because clearly there is some acceptance in government (evidenced by the list of participating agencies) of the possibility that the planning agency should provide a framework for government decision-making. The document has secured a Foreword by the Premier which provides formal whole–of-government recognition not previously achieved – although perhaps the Premier should be asked what precisely in the strategy “will help Western Australia sustain its growth and continue to build prosperity for future generations”.
It is with regret that the LGPA concludes that the 2012 State Planning Strategy lacks utility for its members and its preparation has been a waste of resources that could have been more productively employed elsewhere.