The prohibitive time and costs associated with planning applications for new business ventures will be slashed in a bid to breathe fresh life into town centres and high streets suffocated by unnecessary red tape.
In a sweeping action plan to be unveiled on Tuesday, Planning Minister Rita Saffioti will outline her vision to unshackle the economic potential of stagnating empty buildings across WA.
It comes in the midst of a campaign by The West Australian highlighting the unnecessary council red tape holding back business owners and frustrating families across the State.
Chief among Ms Saffioti’s goals is dismantling the bureaucratic council systems that can take up to 90 days — and cost in excess of $10,000 in consultancy fees — for routine “change of use” applications for commercial properties.
What is little more than a box-ticking exercise forces prospective business owners to delay opening up to three months and shell out thousands of dollars upfront, acting as a major hurdle to entry for enterprising West Australians.
Ms Saffioti wants those processing times cut to just seven days, and simplified so that business owners can complete the applications without the aid of expensive planning consultants.
“This is a key issue that is raised with me all the time,” Ms Saffioti said. “A small business person who signs a lease is sometimes waiting months to get a change of use approved and it costs them so much in holding costs they are on the back foot from the outset.”
Perth MP John Carey, who has been tasked with enacting the action plan, said it was time for all levels of government to get out of the way of small business.
“What we are aiming to do is, say you lease a property in a town centre or on a high street, you will automatically get council approval to do a change of use for a certain number of purposes,” he said. “So, for example, if you take over a building that used to be a laundromat and you want to open a restaurant, you won’t need to go through a drawn-out approval process.
“I’m sure there will be some local governments that won’t like this because it means they are losing control. But I say tough, we need to support our high streets.”
In an address to the Planning Institute of Australia on Tuesday, Ms Saffioti will also propose trimming the number of planning zones across WA about 70 per cent, from 1000 down to closer to 300.
She said there was a lack of consistency in the definition of planning zones across local government boundaries which created doubt and confusion for builders and business owners.
“Every council has variations in how they name things and what is permissible and that makes it very complex and difficult to understand,” she said.
Ms Saffioti also wants greater collaboration between councils to develop uniform planning policies along arterial roads and train lines.
“We want to hear from councils who want to participate and work with us and come up with solutions that can be applied across the board,” she said.
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In another major shake-up, she will announce her intention to cut the number of development assessment panels from nine to three and establish a small group of about 10 full-time experts to assess major proposals alongside councillors.
They would replace the 48-member pool, who are drawn from the planning industry and have come in for criticism over a lack of consistency in their decision-making.
Ms Saffioti said her preference was for the three DAPs to focus on regional, inner-metropolitan and outer-metropolitan proposals.
Here’s cheers to ‘change of use’
Without the foresight to negotiate a very generous lease agreement there is every chance Golden West Brewing Co would have fallen over before filling a single keg.
Red tape forced co-owner Daniel Burt to wait nearly six months between receiving the equipment required to set up the operation and finally being permitted to use it.
Located in a small Leederville warehouse that used to house a mechanic, like most new ventures Golden West was required to lodge a “change of use” application with its relevant council — in this case the City of Vincent.
“We had to use a planning consultant to cover all our bases and make sure it went through which took about three months and cost a few thousand dollars at a really critical period,” Mr Burt, left, said. “Then the actual processing time was the full 90 days — and from all reports that was quite quick.”
Mr Burt said the City of Vincent could not have been more helpful throughout the process but that the delay represented a massive barrier to small business owners.
“Waiting on that kind of red tape seems so nonsensical because there was never any doubt it would be approved,” he said.