Lack of alignment in local/state planning strategies ‘needs fixing’

Local and state planning policies need to be better aligned if city or state-wide development objectives like housing supply targets are to be realised.

In a new information paper on short-term planning and zoning policy reform options, the Productivity Commission also canvasses “more flexible and adaptive land-use regulation”.

Moving to fewer and more broadly stated land use zones would allow a greater diversity of land uses, encourage business start-ups or expansion, and enable planning systems to respond to changing land use activities, the paper argues.

The commission prepared its Plan to identify planning and zoning reforms after the Council on Federal Financial Relations (CFFR) asked it to identify planning system reforms that jurisdictions could consider as part of their response to, and recovery from, the Covid-19 pandemic.

While asserting that planning and land use regulations, and regulatory practices, “can adversely impact housing affordability and the cost of doing business”, the paper notes that many jurisdictions have already streamlined development assessment processes or reformed zoning regulations.

“However, conflicts on development objectives can arise between different levels of governments due to:

  • different visions for urban areas, particularly how they accommodate population growth;
  • the need for local governments to interpret how to implement state strategic plans and statutory planning requirements; and
  • the discretion of local governments to determine local land uses in accordance with community preferences.

“That there often appears to be few consequences for local governments that do not ultimately seek to implement state-level policies can compound this issue,” the paper says.

“Genuine consultation and better guidance from states on their strategic objectives for cities could help promote mutual understanding and alignment of goals.

“State planning policies should provide clear guidance on how local government plans should be developed, including specification of policy priorities, preferred methods for achieving them, and the relevance of state planning policies to which local council must have regard.”

The paper further notes that “In considering options relating to planning policy, jurisdictions may also need to consider resourcing and planning capacity across specific local governments and state agencies”.