South Australian Planning Reforms: A Year in Review 

The 19th of March 2021 was a date that brought dramatic change to the South Australian Planning System. 

More than a year has passed since the reforms, which presents an opportunity for us, as industry professionals, to review the benefits the changes have brought to our state.

Before we start, though, it’s helpful to remind ourselves of the path taken to reach this point.

Although the final element of the reforms came into effect on 19 March 2021, with the third phase of the Planning and Design Code going live across Greater Adelaide, there was a calculated and measured implementation of the new system in the years prior:

  • In early 2016, the Planning, Development and Infrastructure Act 2016 (the governing legislation) came into effect.
  • In mid-to-late 2017, the State Planning Commission, SCAP and the Council Assessment Panels (CAPs) were established.
  • From late 2017 to the present day, Practice Directions have been gradually released and updated.
  • In mid-2019, Planning and Design Code Phase 1 was released, followed by Phase 2 in mid-2020 and Phase 3 in early-2021.

This staged implementation helped to mitigate some of the potential issues with planning reforms. For example, it allowed for real-time troubleshooting from all levels of both the State and Local Governments, and it fostered community consultation, which occurred throughout the entire process.

However, despite the efforts of all involved, there have been clear teething issues with the new planning system. It should be noted that the Department has worked tirelessly over the past few years to correct these anomalies, and help the private sector understand the new system’s nuances and processes.

Within the first year of implementation, a contradictory term or new procedural issues seemed to be identified and corrected every week; developing a system that continues to improve in its efficiency and function.

To that end, we will now highlight areas across the new planning system that work well.

The most notable achievement of the new system was what it set out to do ‘on the tin.’ Namely, the unenviable task of consolidating 72 Development Plans into one master document: the Planning and Design Code (the Code).

Although the Code has experienced some criticism, it has seen through one year of full application and operation with relative ease and little upset.

Another defining achievement of the new planning system is the implementation of the ePlanning Portal, which standardises the application process state-wide by removing the specific preferences of agencies in favour of uniformity and simplicity.

Uniformity means we can better predict the type of information required when lodging applications alongside the level of detail needed. As a result, our efficiency when submitting applications has increased, which has undoubtedly benefited our clients.

The new ePlanning Portal has delivered improved accessibility, transparency, and interactivity because the system:

  • Allows consultants to access and reference ongoing and finalised applications
    quickly within a single data library.
  • Enables all parties to submit and transfer lengthy documentation with relative ease.
  • Allows applicants to view the assessing officer’s contact details early in the process, ensuring a foundation for collaboration and interactivity.
  • Enables applicants to monitor application progress via a ‘count-down clock’ that specifies days remaining until the assessing agency reaches the next statutory deadline.

Another feature of the new system is the introduction of Deemed-to-Satisfy Development. This assessment pathway aims to streamline the process for development which strongly aligns with the desired intent of its relevant Zone (namely, dwellings in residential zones). The statutory obligation for relevant authorities to approve these development applications, after a five-business-day assessment, improves efficiencies for uncontentious proposals, and has been beneficial for the industry.

The Code—and the new system more broadly—continues to be a ‘work in progress.’ However, what’s important is that this ‘work’ continues to be undertaken with diligence, and with the reforms’ original intent at the fore.

Time will tell as to whether the Code and the new system will fully realise their initial purpose. But one year on, and although it’s perhaps not the most commonly held view, we certainly feel that it’s on the right track.