DAP: Be Careful What You Wish For

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A decision within 60 or 90 days, sounds appealing right?

Since the introduction of the Development Assessment Panel (DAP) system, there have been mixed views on the system, ranging from developers and applicants favouring the system based on time certainty, through to Councils resisting the reform, citing outcomes such as being removed from planning control from Councils.

Whilst there are a range of considerations that surround the DAP system, there are a few key observations with respect to navigating the process.

It’s Not a Free For All

Yes, the DAP system ultimately places the majority vote in the hands of industry professionals. However, it’s important to consider that you still lodge a formal, comprehensive planning application to a Local Government. You still need to provide a requisite level of detail, and provide a proposal, that is as resolved as possible.

Also, just like any other application, it undergoes assessment, community consultation, could be the subject of amended plans, and further information being provided.

The view that DAP Applications breeze through, and DAP Members are amenable to variations etc should not be mistaken for them accepting any old development. If anything, the level of detail required, and sought for DAP Applications is significantly higher, and if the proposal is deficient, it could place the entire application in jeopardy.

It’s important to remember that DAP Applications are considered to be more major or significant applications, and should be approached accordingly.

High Touchpoint Approach Works Best

Clients generally get very excited around the prospect of a decision within 60 or most times 90 days. From experience, 90 days goes by in an instant once the clock starts.

It’s essential, and most times mandatory to have dialogue with a Council well in advance of lodgement. All things being equal, and the Council being receptive, they will want to engage with the Applicant early on, because, for them, it is an uneasy space to be in having a DAP Application that requires further information inputs post lodgement that place all parties under time pressure.

Having higher touch points throughout the process, particularly prior to, and during the initial phases of the DAP Application being lodged takes most of the time pressure out of the process.

Perhaps a frustration of Councils, and justifiably so, is the lodgement of deficient Applications, as this creates time pressures later on in the assessment process. Conversely, Applicants that are willing to respond to all concerns can only do so if the Council in question is willing to engage early on.

In general, an engaging, high touch point approach helps ease time pressures.

Consideration of Diversified Target Audience

Local Government Planning Officers, Local Government Councillors and DAP Panel Members all have different perspectives on Development Applications, and they rightly should. The challenge for DAP Applications, particularly those that are more contentious or challenging, is which is the most important target audience? The answer is all three, but in differing degrees, and in differing stages.

For example, if you know there are parking variations in a development, and a way to reduce the variations to add a further level of parking into a building, which reduces one variation, but increases the height variation, does address one issue, only to cause another? Just because the planning staff now are happy with car parking, does that mean height won’t be an issue for Local Government Councillors and DAP Members?

The answer is not easy in these sorts of instances, however, the overall quality of the development and benefits it will generate, and the mitigation of the impacts are broader level concepts that DAP Panel Members are more likely to consider.

For example, if a proposal has overshadowing, density and parking variations, but is consistent with surrounding heights, and is a quality redevelopment, would a DAP Member be persuaded to approve the application?

Finally, and importantly, Local Government Councillors in the DAP process should not be discounted. Some consider that Councillors on DAP matters may be inclined not to support contentious developments, however this is simply not the case. Proceeding on this basis is to forget and not be conscious that there are five people in the room, on the day of the DAP Meeting making the decision.

Why is this important?

DAP Members come from all professional backgrounds from within the development industry. The aforementioned increased focus on macro level decision making by DAP Members means that based on the professional context of a Member, they could take issue with an aspect of a proposal, so much so they are not prepared to support it, in spite of a recommendation for approval.

Enter the Local Government Councillor. Whilst there to represent the community, and will be more responsive to community concerns, if prevalent in the application, they still have two seats at the table of five, and could mean the difference between approval and refusal in a split vote of 3-2. Therefore, during Application documentation preparation, DAP Presentation Summaries, and discussions at DAP Meetings, it’s important to consider their context, and anticipate any concerns they may have.

Final Thoughts

Whilst the DAP system is far from perfect, when it is executed correctly, and all parties are approaching an application submitted through the DAP system, it is a swift, efficient, increasingly more certain path towards an approval.

When executed correctly is the key here. DAP Applications need to be approached with caution, respect, and with a high degree of collaboration between the parties. If you elect to proceed down the path of a DAP, be prepared to furnish a Local Government with a high degree of information, and to engage regularly, and be receptive, and responsive to feedback.

The pursuit of best practice by both the Private and Government sectors will see the system mature, and continue to be refined, and into the future, could be reflected upon as one of the most significant reforms in the Western Australian planning system.