Planning changes to support commercial property industry – change of use

Planning changes
Do you have a vacant property that’s been languishing, or are considering purchasing a property that hasn’t been used for a particular purpose before?

Typically, to reuse an existing building for an alternative retail, commercial or industrial purpose, a planning approval is normally required to be obtained from the local authority. For example, a restaurant may not be able to change their business to take away without a planning approval.

In April 2020, the Minister for Planning Rita Saffioti, under the Government’s State of Emergency powers, released a range of exemptions to local planning requirements, which seek to temporarily waive certain requirements and conditions set out in local planning schemes, and planning approvals. These exemptions have been put in place to support local business and ensure the provision of essential community services.

The exemptions include:

•medical or health-related facilities required in response to the COVID-19 pandemic;
•truck and logistic companies needing to deliver goods but currently with restricted loading and unloading times;
•businesses seeking to adapt by changing their current approved use;
•restaurants and cafes required to sell takeaway in contravention of current planning conditions;
•people operating their businesses from residential zones;
•the parking of commercial vehicles on residential properties;
•a blanket two-year extension for all current development approvals;
•businesses needing to change signage; and
•provision of temporary workers' accommodation.

Requirements to provide car bays for non-residential development and the installation of temporary structures are also dealt with in the Notice of Exemption. Additionally, planning proposals now only need to be advertised on local government websites.

The Notice was amended at the end of April 2020 to provide more guidance on practical implementation of the Notice. There are also conditions on the exemptions that will need to be complied with by the party wishing to reply on it.

The exemptions under the Notice of Exemption are temporary and do not include brick-and-mortar applications. The usual approvals will still need to be sought in most instances within 90 days of the lifting of the State of Emergency in accordance with the normal planning framework.

David Read, Director at Element who assist clients with change of use applications noted that the exemptions have been welcomed throughout the property industry as a sensible and pragmatic response to the COVID crisis. They also represent a great opportunity for commercial landlords and businesses to quickly respond to the current environment, accommodate new tenants, and potentially leverage new revenue streams and ways of doing business.

Michael Richardson, Retail Specialist at Realmark Commercial noted that “in the current COVID market we need to do whatever we can to keep tenants trading, which will facilitate income to flow in turn for the Landlords. Both tenants and Landlords are suffering, and any efforts that can be made to ease this pain should be put forward.”

“Hopefully this temporary measure is a move in the right direction in regard to expediting approvals, and relaxed conditions could be considered into the COVID-19 recovery period for Western Australia. Delays in approvals will slow progress, and any increased costs to gain approvals will be hard to afford in the immediate post COVID-19 period for many.”

For landlords this Planning Exemption Notice means their tenants may quickly adapt and continue trading in the current climate, thereby avoiding the timeframe and costs normally associated to obtain approval for a change of use.. It also provides landlords with existing properties for lease or those looking to sell to consider other uses, thereby making their properties available to a broader range of potential tenants.

Further information and useful guidance on the planning exemptions can be found at the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage website here.

Should you require assistance in relation to the above matters, please contact element’s planning team on 9289 8300 or visit

The above is general information only; please obtain professional advice.
Planning changes

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