The ‘Suffolk’ Hotel & The Covid Planning System

Yesterday, we published a story on the proposed Hotel, offices and shop proposed development in Fremantle at the south western corner of South Terrace and Suffolk Street, which we tagged the ‘Suffolk’ Hotel for obvious reasons.

When we initially posted the article, we understood the development application would be considered by a Joint Development Assessment Panel, or JDAP, under the existing, pre-Covid planning system.

However, after receiving a reader’s comment, we realised our error and corrected our post to indicate the DA is one of the few – we think the very first in Fremantle – to be assessed under what may be called the Covid Planning System.

In June last year, in the thick of Covid, the WA P&D Act – Planning and Development Act – was amended by the State Parliament to give the WAPC – the Western Australian Planning Commission – the sole, ‘temporary’ power to consider and approve DAs in the metropolitan area, including Freo, if they have a value exceeding $20 million. It is under that ‘temporary’ legislation that the Suffolk Hotel proposal is now advancing.

Here’s a pictorial diagram provided by the WAPC to explain things. Good luck!

As to what the Covid Planning System enables, here is the much more helpful, and slightly edited and highlighted, advice given by the Chairman of the WAPC to its members, which concisely and accurately sets out the decision making situation under the amended P&D Act-


This meeting of the Western Australian Planning Commission is to determine an application that proposes a significant development.

Significant developments could include large scale, mixed-use developments, new shopping centres or plans to expand current centres, or tourism, industrial and regional projects.

The Planning and Development Act 2005 – as amended by the Planning and Development Amendment Act 2020 earlier this year – introduced a new Part 17 with special provisions in response to COVID-19.

Part 17 granted the Commission temporary decision-making powers to determine proposals that can generate economic investment in the State where the project has an estimated value of $20million or more in Perth’s metropolitan area, or an estimated value of $5million or more in regional areas.

The legislation also provides for proposals considered to be of State or regional significance by the Premier – on recommendation of the Minister for Planning – to be referred to the Commission for determination.

Since the new assessment pathway became available to proponents, the Department has received strong interest on proposals that are at various stages of conception.

Proposals we consider should be development ready – projects that have investment certainty, are well designed and ready for construction to commence.

But, more importantly, they must result from orderly and proper planning.

The Commission is supported in our decision-making by a dedicated team within the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage, the State Development Assessment Unit, who receive and assess all proposals.

The State Development Assessment Unit coordinates design review, stakeholder and public consultation and referral to regulatory agencies and will prepare a report and recommendation for our consideration.

At each of these meetings, we will no doubt, receive deputations from interested parties, the local government, regulatory agencies and the proponent.

The Commission was chosen as it is a trusted decision-maker. Collectively, Commission members represent the community, the professions and key agencies. I look forward to members working collaboratively to resolve issues and support the decision-making process.

Under the Act, the Commission must have due regard for:
• the purpose and intent of the local planning scheme and local planning policies;
• the need to ensure orderly and proper planning, and the preservation of amenity of the locality;
• the need to facilitate development in response to the economic effects of COVID-19; and
• any relevant Region Planning Schemes, State planning policies, and any other relevant WAPC policies.

The Commission is not bound by legal instruments or timeframes in this process. However, while consideration can be given to non-planning related matters in the public interest, the Commission must also give due regard to submissions made by:
members of the public;
• the Minister for Planning;
• Chief Executive Officers accountable to the Contaminated Sites Act 2003, the Heritage Council of Western Australia and the Swan River Trust; and
the relevant local government authority.

It is our role to ensure each application is given a ‘proper, genuine and realistic
consideration’ and an ‘active and positive consideration’

As with any planning application, we have the option to:
• approve the application, subject to conditions;
• approve the application, subject to minor modifications and conditions;
• defer determination pending further information; or
• refuse the application.

Equally, the applicant has the right of appeal via the State Administrative Tribunal.

By their nature, significant developments are complex.


You may be wondering what the ‘temporary’ nature of the Covid Planning System is. When does it end?

Well, Part 17 of the P&D Act, which creates it, provides that it applies during the ‘recovery period’.

‘Recovery period’ is then defined to mean ‘the period of 18 months beginning on the day on which the Planning and Development Amendment Act 2020 section 4 comes into operation.’ That day appears to have been 7 July 2020, so there would appear to be another 9 months of the Covid recovery period yet to run.

While the normal decision making processes under pre-Covid planning and development law don’t apply, as you can see the City of Fremantle and we, the members of the public can make ‘submissions’ to the WAPC about the Suffolk Hotel proposal, which must be given ‘due regard’. That is to say, ‘realistic’ and ‘active’ consideration.

And if you’re wondering who the WAPC members are, who have replaced your elected City of Fremantle or JDAP members, well wonder no longer. They are –

* Mr David Caddy – Chair, Western Australian Planning Commission
* Vacant – Deputy Chairperson
* Ms Gail McGowan – Director General, Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage
* Cr Veronica Fleay – Non-metropolitan local government representative
* Ms Jane Bennett – Knowledge or practical experience in one or more of the fields of urban planning, property, business, engineering, surveying, transport, urban design
* Mr Fred Chaney – Knowledge or practical experience in one or more of the fields of environmental conservation, natural resource management or heritage interests
* Mr Barry McQuire – Knowledge or practical experience in one or more of the fields of community services, community affairs, indigenous interest
* Mr Richard Sellers – Acting Director General, Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation
* Ms Michelle Andrews – Director General, Department of Communities
* Mr Mike Rowe – Director General, Department of Water and Environmental Regulation
* Mr Peter Woronzow – Acting Director General, Department of Transport
* Ms Helen Brookes – Coastal planning and management representative
* Mayor Emma Cole – Metropolitan local government representative
* Mr Ralph Addis – Associate Member, Director General, Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development
* Cr Lynne Craigie – Regional representative
* Mr Justin McKirdy – Urban and regional planning professional.

As you can see, the Commission is comprised of a group with a wide range of differing experiences, not all of it planning-related and much of it to do with other State government non-planning functions.

Which all leads one not unreasonably to wonder, save for Mr Caddy and Ms McGowan, how deep members’ knowledge of Fremantle may be? Michelle Andrews, at least, we know works in the centre of Freo. The others?

This probably emphasises how important the City of Fremantle’s and the Freo public’s submissions to the WAPC will be to the final assessment process. It is those submissions that the WAPC are to give ‘proper, genuine and realistic consideration’ and an ‘active and positive consideration’.

By the way, public submissions on the Suffolk Hotel need to be lodged by 30 April 2021. You can submit them right here, right now!