On 18 August 2011, the WA Ministers for Planning and Environment and the Commonwealth Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities announced that a strategic assessment of the Perth and Peel regions of Western Australia would be undertaken in accordance with s146 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
This strategic assessment will assess the impact of development outlined in the planning framework document ‘Directions 2031 and Beyond - Metropolitan Planning Beyond the Horizon’ (Directions 2031). Directions 2031 sets out long term goals to promote housing affordability within the Perth and Peel regions, and guides detailed planning and delivery of housing and infrastructure to accommodate expected population growth in Metropolitan Perth.
The stated advantages of undertaking such a strategic approach for environmental assessment pursuant to the EPBC Act include:
opportunity for early consideration of matters of national environmental significance in planning processes;
greater certainty to the local communities and developers over future development;
reduction in the administrative burden of preparing plans to take action consistent with a strategic assessment;
the capacity to achieve significant environmental outcomes, including addressing cumulative impacts, at a regional level; and
flexible time frames commencing early in the planning process.
Of particular interest to our developer and landowner clients is the progress of the strategic assessment agreement recently entered into by the relevant State and Federal Ministers and, in particular, the commitments contained in that agreement, namely:
the Perth and Peel regions have significant environmental values and that important environment, social and economic benefits may be derived from implementing Directions 2031 and a plan for the protection of Matters of National Environmental Significance in those regions (MNES Plan);
in recognising those environmental values, the State and Federal governments have committed to:
undertaking a strategic assessment of the impacts of actions under the MNES Plan;
share information, including but not limited to, mapping, spatial and other data; and
work collaboratively to undertake the activities within this agreement; and
In order to achieve the ends outlined in the agreement, the WA government is required to prepare a draft Impact Assessment Report (Report) in accordance with the approved terms of reference (appended to the Strategic Assessment Agreement) and to publish the Report for public comment by notice.
Following the public consultation period, the WA government is required to submit to the Federal Minister a copy of the MNES Plan, the Report (including revisions), public responses relating to the Report and comments on how the public responses have been taken into account in the final draft of the Impact Assessment Report. The Federal Minister will thereafter consider the final report and endorse the MNES Plan if he is satisfied that:
any recommended modifications to the MNES Plan or modifications having the same effect have been made; and
the final report adequately addresses the impacts to which the agreement relates.
Lavan Legal comment
The entering into of a Strategic Assessment Agreement for the Perth and Peel regions is a significant development in the context of residential development in the Swan Coastal Plain.
To date, interaction between the State and Federal environmental departments and the lack of clear policy criteria in relation to matters of national environmental significance (including the Black Cockatoo and the Graceful Sun Moth) has resulted in significant uncertainty for developers and decision makers seeking to implement Directions 2031.
The development of draft terms of reference to guide the assessment process and the preparation of an MNES Plan to clearly identify matters of national environmental significance will certainly assist in that process. However, it is of vital importance that landowners and developers gain an understanding of the progress of the strategic assessment process and provide detailed comment in relation to aspects of the MNES Plan that affects their development interests moving forward.
If you have any queries in relation to any aspect of the strategic assessment process, or have any comments in relation to the draft terms of reference or MNES, please contact partner Paul McQueen or senior associate Craig Wallace.