The population in the Perth and Peel regions is expected to increase to 3.5 million people by 2050. Planning for the future development required to accommodate the additional population, within one of the world’s 34 biodiversity hotspots, is a significant challenge that has the potential to yield genuine and long-lasting benefits for the environment.
The Western Australian Government is engaged with the Commonwealth Government on a Strategic Assessment of the Perth and Peel regions. This assessment is considering the cumulative environmental impacts from future development on Commonwealth and State environmental matters, at a regional scale. The EPA believes this is a significant advancement over “project-by-project” assessment.
The EPA has been asked by the Minister for Environment to provide strategic advice under Section 16e of the Environmental Protection Act 1986 on the strategic environmental implications of the proposed future development for a city of 3.5 million people.
The EPA issued interim advice in July 2015 which outlined key State environmental values and threats to be considered when planning for a population increase in the Perth and Peels regions as well as providing advice on matters to be considered when the environmental impacts, avoidance, mitigation measures and offsets are being finalised for the Strategic Assessment.
The draft Strategic Assessment documents were released by the State Government for a 5 month public comment period in December 2015. The EPA understands that these documents are now being finalised to provide to the Commonwealth for assessment under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Responding to public submissions and finalising the development footprints is a significant undertaking and the EPA is expecting changes to predicted impacts on the environment – both on a site-by-site basis and cumulatively.
In order to understand and comment on the overall picture for the environment of the Perth and Peel for the next 30 years, the EPA believes that the most appropriate time to provide the Minister with its final strategic advice on the outcomes of the Strategic Assessment will be after the State has publically released the final Strategic Conservation Plan, associated Action Plans and the Impact Assessment Reports.
This will allow the EPA to evaluate the proposed impacts from the development footprints and the State’s proposed avoidance, mitigation, and offset strategies to minimise the environmental impact of the future development. The EPA will then be in a position to consider its ongoing role in environmental impact assessment in the Perth and Peel regions and advise the Minister accordingly. The EPA supports the general aspiration to streamline environmental assessment and approvals, with the important caveat that it should not be at the cost of lowering environmental protection. Until such time that the State has ‘hard wired’ the outcomes from the Strategic Assessment into the land use planning system, and there is a robust assurance plan for delivering and reporting on environmental commitments and outcomes, the EPA will continue its usual functions under Part IV of the Environmental Protection Act 1986.