The status of coastal planning in Western Australia

The Hon Lynn MacLaren MLC (Greens) recently introduced the Climate Change Readiness (Coastal Planning and Protection) Bill 2012 (Bill) into the Western Australian Parliament, citing a need for a legislative (ie not a policy driven) framework to guide the development and protection of the Western Australian coastline.

Ms MacLaren makes the statement that the current planning framework has many shortcomings and loopholes which resulted in the sale and development of Leighton Beach in 2001, which the Greens strongly opposed, and the development of other areas of coastline throughout WA.

The Bill addresses those concerns by providing for the creation and enforcement of a statutory “WA Coastal Plan” by the Western Australian Planning Commission (WAPC) (similar to a town planning scheme for coastal WA, with zones and permitted uses).

A review of this Bill identifies some contentious provisions, including:

  • A restriction on all development within the “coastal zone” (which is not defined) until a “WA Coastal Plan” has been developed and a vulnerability assessment of the site has been conducted.

  • In preparing the “WA Coastal Plan”, the WAPC must have regard to the views of “natural resource management groups, environmental advocacy groups and local coast care community groups” (such groups are not defined).

  • If the “WA Coastal Plan” is in conflict with, or inconsistent with a scheme or local law, the WA Coastal Plan prevails to the extent to which it is in conflict or inconsistency.

  • The only development which may be approved in the “transition zone” of the “WA Coastal Plan” is short term development or exempt development (renovations to existing development or essential infrastructure works).

  • Land depicted in the “WA Coastal Plan” as located within the “transition zone” must be “surrendered” to the state for coastal management, without compensation.

  • Compensation will not be payable in respect to land that is injuriously affected by the making or amendment of the WA Coastal Plan or any local coastal plan (inconsistent with the Planning and Development Act 2005, which provides for compensation for injurious affection when amending schemes).

Lavan Legal comment

It is unlikely that the proposed Bill will progress in the current political environment.

However, it is important to recognise as a consequence of the rationale for the Bill the important role that planning plays in maintaining the coastline throughout Western Australia. In this vein, the WAPC have recently released (December 2012) a comprehensive coastal planning document entitled the “Status of Coastal Planning in Western Australia” (Report), which is the result of an audit, commissioned every four years by the WAPC into the status of coastal planning in WA, and builds upon the findings of four previous audits.

The Report describes the plans and strategies which apply to each region, and/or local government, and delineates the nature of the plan (strategic, statutory, structure, scheme etc) and the responsible authority for implementation and regulation of those plans and/or strategies.

The Report is in essence an overview of the planning framework as it applies to different areas of the coast.  It is a planning tool which will greatly assist town planners and regulators in establishing whether a plan or strategy applies to a certain coastal area identifying locations which require further studies, plans and strategies to be completed prior to development and identifying areas in which new plans and strategies are currently being prepared, either by state government agencies or local governments.

Coastal planning will no doubt become a major area of consideration and change over the next half century as population pressures and the impact of climate change place increased strain on the coastal environment.  Lavan Legal welcomes any pro-active changes to the planning framework, so long as those changes are properly advertised, scrutinised, supported by scientific evidence and result in best practice planning outcomes for the community and the environment.

Disclaimer – the information contained in this publication does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. You should seek legal advice in relation to any particular matter you may have before relying or acting on this information. The Lavan team are here to assist.