WAPC Extends ‘Suffolk Hotel’ Approval To August 2024

Supporters and detractors of the ‘Sussex Hotel’ development proposal will be interested to learn that the developer has just won approval from the WAPC – the Western Australian Planning Commission – to extend the date by which the project must be ‘substantially commenced’ to 4 August 2024.

Readers of the Shipping News will recall our articles in March 2021 on the application for development approval for what we termed the ‘Suffolk Hotel’ at the corner of South Terrace and Suffolk Street, Fremantle, and the Covid Planning legislation in Part 17 of the Planning and Development Act 2005 (WA) that applied to it.

Here are the artists impressions of what the developer then had and still has in mind.

Here’s the location again, coloured yellow, to remind you just where it is.

The site is next to the Arundel Apartments and not far from the Fremantle Hospital.

As we say, the application was made under the Covid Planning legislation that was designed to encourage big development proposals during the Covid pandemic period for a short period of time ending in early 2022. It was meant to be a means of encouraging economic development when fears were high that Covid would seriously dampen economic activity in the State. The changes to the planning system suddenly became very flexible and discretionary. Applications made under it could be approved on social and economic grounds, as well as planning grounds. On top of that a range of regulations concerning heritage and contaminated sites could be effectively sidelined in the approval process. Planning applications were no longer required to be considered just on good town planning principles, subject to other regulatory requirements, a potentially backward policy step.

Well, it was in that context that the Suffolk Hotel was approved on 22 July 2021. Under the conditional approval then granted the developer was required to ‘substantially commence’ the project 18 months later, by 4 February 2023.

When the Covid Planning legislation was first passed, it wasn’t possible to apply to extend the period by which ‘substantial development’ must be commenced under an approval given under it.

However, in 2022, the legislation in Part 17, was further amended including by –
• Extending the timeframe by which new development applications can be submitted within the Part 17 system, to 5pm on 29 December 2023, and;
• Enabling the Commission to extend the timeframe by which existing development approvals must be substantially commenced.

The 2022 amendment was made to recognise the supply and other logistical hurdles unforeseen earlier that the construction industry then encountered during the pandemic years.

So, s279 of the Covid Planning legislation now permits an owner or applicant to apply to the Commission to:
Extend the period specified in the approval;
 amend or remove any of the conditions imposed on the approval;
 amend any part or aspect of the approved development;
 amend the approval in any other way; or
 cancel the approval.

There is a catch, though, in that s279 also specifies that only one application can be made and determined by the Commission relating to a request to extend the period specified in the approval.

In any event, the developer ran into all sorts of issues affecting the initial substantial commencement compliance period and applied for an extension of the time to substantially commence the project.

Last Thursday, 9 February 2023, the developer’s amendment application was approved by the WAPC and the developer must now substantially commence the project by 4 August 2024.

The extension of time to substantially commence the project was supported by the Planning Commission officers and the City of Fremantle, while resisted by a number of Freo locals who plainly hadn’t warmed to the project since the initial approval was granted.

Here’s the Planning Commission officers’ report.

Here are the objections noted by the Planning Commission.

And finally, here’s the developer’s response to those points it considered relevant, bearing in mind it wasn’t open to the Planning Commission to reconsider the whole proposal, essentially just the substantial commencement condition.

So, it’s now up to the developer to bring the bacon home. As noted, it can only apply for a time extension once, and now it has played that card it must ensure substantial commencement occurs on time.

If you’re wondering what ‘substantial commencement’ means, well by s269 of the Covid Planning legislation, it means that some ‘substantial part of work in respect of a development approved … has been performed’.

By the way, if you are wondering who sits on the WAPC and contributes to the making of such momentous decisions, here are their mugshots –

You may be interested to learn that not all of them were at the meeting on 9 February. As the agenda papers for the meeting indicate, five of them – nearly a third of the Commission – tendered their apologies for the meeting –

* By Michael Barker, Editor, Fremantle Shipping News


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