DAPs – are there better ways of enabling development and density?

DAPs are a contentious issue in Perth right now. You might have read about a growing campaign against them led by predominantly inner-ring and western suburbs councils (ABC story here). While they are getting lots of press and “Scrap the DAPs” is a punchy slogan, I am not convinced that the current anti-DAPs movement offers the best way forward if we are interested in creating a more liveable Perth.

Former WA planning minister John Day recently dismissed the DAP opposition as ‘cause célèbre‘ and I am not sure this dismissal is quite right either.   There are some real and concerning issues with the current DAP system that need to be reviewed and rethought. DAPs have been shown to be slower, more expensive and less representative than the approvals process was before – and that is when they are not approving developments that are pushing the bounds of local planning schemes and good design.

In fact, a WALGA report in collaboration with the Local Government Planners Association conducted a comprehensive analysis of all DAP agendas and minutes from meetings held between July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2014. Analysis of the 520 development applications dealt with by Development Assessment Panels during this period revealed that:

  • there has been an increase in applicant fees by 19%;
  • it takes longer than 100 days to process applications (on average);
  • the process results in a high number of SAT appeals at great expense to the Department of Planning; and
  • DAPs expended vast resources in determining a significant number of relatively straightforward and clear cut applications that could have easily been processed under delegated authority by Local Government officers.

While DAPs might not be performing as well as promised it is important to remember that they were brought in, in part, because Perth was failing to realise its urban infill targets and address suburban sprawl in a coherent and strategic manner, in part due to an overly localised, NIMBY attitude to new development and density in some areas.

While in a post-DAP world we are now seeing higher rates of urban infill and higher density development slowly emerge (we have gone from 27% to 31% infill in recent years) I am not convinced that this approach is working as well as hoped. For a start Perth’s urban infill rate of 31% is still way off the 47% target signed up to (See recent report in  The West)

I am even more concerned that the urban density that we are currently getting is not the high quality, strategic kind of smart density Perth really needs. By that I mean density located in around train stations and good transit, in activity centres and close to jobs and schools and shops. Instead we seem to be getting haphazard often dumb density away from good transit and centres and often approved by DAPs. This dumb-density is angering local communities who can clearly see what this density is costing them in terms of their suburb’s amenity and character but cannot clearly see what benefits smart density could achieve in terms of a less congested, more diverse, sustainable and liveable city.

In other words DAPs have failed to adequately solve the problem they we largely created to address and are instead in danger of fuelling a new density hangover that will once again set back community support for density for decades.

I am increasingly of the view that we need to rethink DAPs and more fundamentally how we best achieve greater density in Perth. To do this we should consider turning the DAP idea on its head by returning power to local communities how and where they put density. But to avoid the NIMBYism that has plagued development in Perth so far local Councils should be required to sign up to agreed density targets and the onus should be on them approve developments that achieve these.

If these targets are met then those local governments should be rewarded with greater infrastructure spend by the State Government This localises power and responsibility and with the right incentives to communities it should result in better informed and strategic decision making. This is covered in part of the DAP item that came to Fremantle Council last week which (along with other possible improvements) called for:

Consideration of incentive based replacement for DAPs which rewards local government for setting appropriate density targets for their area (through community led design) and making strong progress towards meeting these targets. This should include a particular focus on development and density located in areas adjacent to transport and near designated activity centres. Local governments who are delivering on agreed density targets will be rewarded with infrastructure and other funding that will not be available to Local Government not meeting their targets.”

The DAP debate in Fremantle has a fair way to go but I am pleased that the Fremantle Council’s approach so far has been about more than a catchy slogan that says “no”. Both the Labor and Liberal parties in WA support DAPs so this approach is not likely to lead to much change. That is why we are looking towards a more sophisticated approach that is willing to work through the complex issues so we can then advocate improved and workable solutions to our challenges of development and density.

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11 Responses to DAPs – are there better ways of enabling development and density?

  1. freoview says:

    I quite agree with most of what you say, Brad. Inappropriate, ugly, dumb density is the problem and the DAP system seems to support that and that is not good. We need well designed new buildings in the right locations.
    Infill needs to be a priority and that means for local governments to not get sucked in by the NIMBY attitude. Find appropriate locations, introduce scheme amendments, get those signed off by the State and the DAP won’t be required to rule. It also means writing more precise policy and amendments that set proper targets for height, location, architecture, public open space, streetscapes, etc.

    Roel Loopers

  2. Philip Griffiths says:

    I think that we do need to be focussed on outcomes and give the community assurance about the future. Community supported planning schemes that are in line with State objectives should be the aim. Consistent decision-making out of this process should ultimately meant that DAPs are unnecessary.
    I am not sure that a lot of communities are involved in and understand what their planing scheme is likely to deliver, though Fremantle is better informed than most.
    If the basic planning tools are in place as you suggest and then the planning vision is form based in a way that the community can comprehend, we will all be in a better position.
    Looking forward to a State Planning Policy that has a design dimension to it to provide some benchmarks for outcomes.

  3. grainneod says:

    I’ve been thinking that there may be merit in putting in light rail or other transit early – before the population growth demands it – because it would act as a honey pot to draw higher density development to it. Better that than have the sometimes haphazard development that you mention. But it would require government taking a proactive approach to planning.

  4. dianaryan1 says:

    I’m not sure parts of Freo’s call isn’t a re-hash of the conceptual framework that began to mainstream around WA Labor’s Network City approach, with community involvement from the start and greater emphasis on what sustainability of systems and people entails. Today this approach has become common place and has lost its momentum.

    However, I like your idea of “incentivizing” – with one proviso – can we not encourage the state to provide that, maybe not in advance of infill and I don’t know we can rely on receiving it after the fact of infill, but is it possible to arrangement for the incentives to occur concurrent with key projects being achieved? It would break cause and effect down in to blocks that could be as tight as a five year turnaround time or less.

    My references, somewhat obliquely, as I think of this are (1) the progress payments that business makes for contractors to deliver to, or the successful refinancing of development as sales of plans increase of building does – or even progress payments made to private consortiums that build rail, ie, a payment when 5kms of rail are laid, or a station or tunnel built, or even how quickly NSW responded to former Fed Treasurer Joe Hockey’s offer to direct infrastructure funds to states that sold off electricity networks, ports and recycled that capital in to more infrastructure?

    I know that’s being done of sorts, but my point is I think the community would find [everything] easier to believe in if Council progress on [dense infill targets] saw incentives/rewards occur along that timeline and that are at “human attention scale”. Maybe once two blocks of medium storey are built, the State could subsidize increasing buses and routes down that street every 15 mins, or pay out a grant that meant you had fully articulated green space in the area much quicker?

    (I like the idea of incentivizing, and it occurred to me people will find it easier to “believe” if they are getting rewards perhaps earlier than expected – having said that I am now struggling to think of something brilliant, but I hope you get the drift. Anyway, you’d need a shorter time frame on incentives, we only have four year state govt terms, with a maximum of two terms, but then again time is contracting faster now – if we don’t achieve a lot of in concert planning in 8 years we’ve failed anyway. Isn’t the Stirling/State Govt Alliance, our “second CBD”, still waiting for actual bricks, mortar and rail?)

  5. Paul says:

    Hi Brad,

    Great opinion piece on Dap – FYI your DAP article is recieving some interesting commentary over on the Skyscraper City Blog….


    • thanks Paul. Appreciate you pointing that out.

      I’ll post them below here too:

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      Old July 26th, 2016, 01:31 PM #2031
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      All good points and a fantastic commentary raised by Brad.

      The problem is though, when you have developments in the right places (around train stations and activity centres) the community is still opposed to it because for decades its just been single houses or units/battleaxe blocks. And the Councillors are always going to side with the community cos they want to be re-elected. Thats why DAPs were implemented.

      Its not the DAPs fault if City of Stirling, for example, rezoned quarter acre blocks 5km from a train station into R40 or R50 and then someone proposes 5 units on it. They have to approve it even if its the wrong sort of density – “dumb density” – and even if the old couple next door who still lives in their asbestos home from 50 years ago doesn’t like it (even though when she passes it onto the kids they’ll do exactly the same thing!).
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      Old July 26th, 2016, 01:36 PM #2032
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      They were talking to the guy who edits the Nimby Post about his hobby horse – DAPs.
      I sent a message that was read out mentioning that local people call anything over 2 stories “high rise” and you get laughable renders published in the papers to scare people.
      He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.
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      Old Yesterday, 07:18 AM #2033
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      Originally Posted by BartBart View Post
      They were talking to the guy who edits the Nimby Post about his hobby horse – DAPs.
      I sent a message that was read out mentioning that local people call anything over 2 stories “high rise” and you get laughable renders published in the papers to scare people.
      i hate anyone who thinks any structure over 2 stories is highrise. They are all
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      Old Yesterday, 12:15 PM #2034
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      Discussions | Planning, Sustainability & Environment
      That really was a good article by BP.

      I never did get time for my rant on planning, but it was basically going to say a similar thing. Local councils shouldn’t get the right to determine the level of infill their area must accommodate. That is a decision for citywide planning and the needs of the whole city must come before the wants of a small minority of existing residents in a local area.

      But what local communities can control is the form of the increased density. If the local community wants to do it by allowing high rise around train stations while keeping most of their suburb as single residential blocks then so be it. If a community would prefer a broader area of 5-7 level mixed use buildings along transport routes and through their town centres then that should be ok too. And if a community wants to restrict density to subdivision of blocks and increased townhouse development then that’s still up to them, provided they can meet their targets.

      Under this model the state government wouldn’t get to determine what does and doesn’t get built in, say, South Perth, but the council would have a clear responsibility to put in place planning policies that would allow significantly increased densities to reflect the areas proximity to the CBD. If this were the case, an amendment like the one recently imposed in South Perth would probably have had to include concessions to density elsewhere. For example, the new planning policy with reduced height and density around mill point road would only get state government approval if allowed densities were increased along, for example, laboucher road or around the Angelo St shops.

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      Old Yesterday, 03:40 PM #2035
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      The DAPs cannot override the R-Code assigned to a lot but what they can override is a poorly worded Scheme provision such as the building height one in South Perth. It basically stated that buildings could be built higher than the height restriction if they met a number of criteria but the criteria were not well defined and were open to interpretation. This meant the DAP could approve to much higher than was intended for the area.

      This is one example of an “issue” with the DAP system, but even if DAPs didn’t exist and the Council was determining it and they had refused it, the applicant could have appealed to SAT and SAT may have been able to approve it due to a differing interpretation of a Scheme provision.

      The take away message is that the Local Planning Scheme needs to be watertight so that the intended outcomes of the Scheme occur and nothing larger/taller/denser etc occurs. This means appropriate zoning in appropriate locations and appropriate Scheme provisions.
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      Old Today, 01:50 AM #2036
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      DAPs are utterly essential to the future of this city. They have been instrumental in the last 5 years of growth we have had.

      Local governments are completely incapable of removing politics from planning decision making. That is the almost the sole reason for the DAPs.

      Almost all planning powers are delegated from the State to local governments, it is perfectly within their right to rescind some of that delegation.
      A scheme with strict absolute limits to me is really poor planning. These are documents that will realistically be around for 10 years or in a modified form. There should always be scope for variation.

      Also, I personally don’t understand the want to restrict density to major transport routes. Who the hell wants to live on a highway. A lot of local governments are pointing to plans that cram density in crappy locations, and think that means they are meeting their targets.

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      Old Today, 04:35 AM #2037
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      In support of PG, Central Park in NYC has great high density buildings right alongside major public spaces were people can make use of the amenity.

      Perth has so many parks with low density house directly adjacent. Wouldn’t it be great if local councils had minimum R codes on the roads directly surrounding all parks ?
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      Old Today, 04:39 AM #2038
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      I’m not convinced the ability to approve developments that vary from planning schemes is always a good thing.

      Yes is some places it works, for example where taller/better developments can get approval if they meet other criteria in high profile locations, but in other places it just adds a layer of complexity and time to the development application process, partly because councils set height and density limits artificially low in a misguided attempt to control design by forcing all new developments of appropriate scale for an area to seek scheme variations.

      I’ve used the example before (because I see it everyday) but the Canberra planning scheme, in which there is no ability to vary from planned height/density limits, generally results in better outcomes than any local gov area in Perth. There were some teething troubles with low quality developments initially (particularly in the early 2000s when the first large apartment blocks went up), but since the market has matured the vast majority of developments are simultaneously affordable, well designed and decent quality.

      The only major black mark in Canberra is the absolute RL height limit in the CBD. There are now something like 25 height limit buildings with another half dozen being planned and there is a distinct ‘block effect’.
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      • dianaryan1 says:

        Extract from AndyGM above:

        “Perth has so many parks with low density house directly adjacent. Wouldn’t it be great if local councils had minimum R codes on the roads directly surrounding all parks?”

        Now that’s an idea. Is anyone doing this, Brad? One of the things that has concerned me in recent times is how many new apartment blocks are kinda encouraging people to isolate themselves inside their citadels with gyms, swim pools, sun decks, nowadays common kitchens, dining room in some cases and BBQ areas, etc. It is always preferable, surely, to doll up a park with outside versions of the above, to cater for the many, rather than lock it up in buildings (which must be costing buyers more, taking up space that could be otherwise used), but what if we picked parks, dolled ’em up, increased the density codes around them, making that a key feature, as possible alternative to locating next to public transport? The reality is a lot of people aren’t going to let go of their cars, maybe other density benefits could apply.

      • Diana
        I found this thought provoking too. While I think Rob Adam’s idea of density along transit makes sense I also think this does too. High amenity areas like park that more can enjoy.
        cheers, Brad

  6. Steven Innes says:

    Just get used to the fact that with a couple of decades and probably much less, Fremantle and it’s neighbouring suburban areas, regardless which municipality, will sport a wide array of proper tall towers and high rise, like it or not.
    If local government cannot implement the required high density and infill required for a future population of 3.5 – 5 million (even that is conservative), then of course local government will lose such planning controls and it will be the relevant State Minister calling the shots.
    And this will be all over the Perth Metro area and major regional centres, subject to CASA and PAN-OPS regulations of course.
    I look forward to highly developed, very tall and well thought out populations centres in the future, with good public transport and greater residential availability to coastal, riverine and hills living.
    NIMBY’S should just get used to the inescapable future.
    Perth, indeed WA, must grow.
    And grow it will.
    Like it or not.

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