A guide to development approvals for small landholdings in Western Australia

Page last updated: Thursday, 24 August 2017 - 2:53pm

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

Whether you are a small landholder developing a small patch of paradise or starting a new enterprise, there are several government approvals required.

From clearing land to building a shed, various legislative controls exist to aid in the development of land use activities.

It is important to seek specific advice from your local government authority, so that all necessary requirements and approvals can be determined.

Planning your development

There are a range of controls that apply to the planning of land. Local planning strategies and local planning schemes are overseen by shire councils or local government authorities (LGA) and are the principal planning controls that govern land use and development within a local government area.

A landholder should ensure that all activities undertaken are in accordance with the requirements of the appropriate LGA’s local planning scheme.

Local planning strategies set out an LGA’s broad vision, overall strategy and rationale for development controls, whereas local planning schemes are statutory documents supported by the Planning and Development Act (2005). Local planning schemes help LGA's achieve their municipal land use planning objectives.

District and town planning schemes are the most common local planning scheme for rural municipalities. These schemes use the concept of zoning to identify and allocate land for various purposes.

Most activities undertaken on your property will fall within the definition of development and need approval from your LGA.

In most areas, intensive agriculture uses such as horticulture will require planning approval. In some zones (e.g. rural-residential zones), horticulture may not be permitted due to the proximity to residential dwellings.

Applying for approval enables consideration to be given to the changes that will result from a development and for appropriate conditions to be put in place to ensure the development does not affect the surrounding land uses or environment.

Landholders must complete an ‘application for planning approval’ and submit this to their LGA for consideration before starting development.

As part of the approvals process the LGA may request information about the type of crops, the method of irrigation and the source of water to be used. The LGA may also require a plan for managing water and nutrients.

Be mindful that building legislation compliance is also necessary. A building permit is required prior to commencing construction of most structures including sheds, dwellings and commercial buildings. No addition, alteration or new building work is permitted to commence until a building permit has been issued by your LGA.

For further information regarding building refer to your LGA office or website.

Clearing your land

If you intend to clear native vegetation, you will need to apply for a permit from the Department of Environment Regulation (DER). It is an offence to clear native vegetation without a permit or an exemption.

There are some purposes for which exemptions exist under the Environmental Protection (Clearing of Native Vegetation) Regulations 2004 (Clearing Regulations).

There are two types of permits:

  • Area permits – are used when the applicant is the owner of the land or when the applicant is applying on behalf of the owner of the land and has the written authority to do so. Area permits are for a defined area.
  • Purpose permits – can be used when the applicant is not the owner of the land they wish to clear but have authority under a written law or permission to access the land to undertake clearing. Purpose permits are usually for clearing of different areas from time-to-time for a specified purpose.

Applications, once assessed may require a site visit from DER or other government agencies. You may be required to provide additional or more detailed information to help complete the assessment. Your application will be assessed for impacts on a wide range of environmental issues including biodiversity, land degradation and water quality.

The Chief Executive Officer of DER (or a delegate) will then decide to either grant the permit (which may be subject to conditions) or refuse the permit.

Landholders are advised to seek comment and guidance early in the process from their local DER office.

Accessing water

In order to access water for agricultural purposes a licence must be sought from the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (DWER). DWER administers two acts that allow licences to be granted for use of surface and groundwater.

Licensing is active in all 45 groundwater and 22 surface water management areas and for all artesian groundwater wells throughout Western Australia. It is illegal to take water in these areas without a licence.

New licences are only issued where the allocation limit has not been reached, ensuring the protection of the interests of existing users and the environment.

There are three types of licences and permits issued by DWER under the Rights in Water and Irrigation Act:

  • a licence to construct or alter a well – S26D (bore)
  • a permit to interfere with bed and banks – S11/17/21A
  • a licence to take water – 5C.

Applications are generally assessed in the order in which they are received (first-in, first-served).

Each application is assessed in accordance with both acts, licensing policies and water allocation plans. Consideration is given to both the short and long-term economic, environmental and social impacts of granting and/or refusing licences.

If an applicant is unsuccessful in obtaining a water licence due to the resource being fully allocated, there may be the opportunity to trade water. Existing licence holders may transfer all or part of the water entitlements or may enter into agreements with third parties.

A water entitlement transaction must remain within a water resource management unit (i.e. same surface water subarea or groundwater subarea and aquifer). Approval for such a transaction must be sought from the DWER.

The value of a water entitlement depends on demand, the location and the conditions of the licence. DWER does not set prices or participate in any market in water entitlements that has been created.

DWER has created a water register to assist the general public to search, view and print licensing and water availability information to determine possible trades. Contact a DWER office for more information on water licences or water trading.

Landholders are advised to seek comment and guidance from their local DWER office at an early stage of their proposal.

Controlling pollution

All property owners must be aware of their obligations and responsibilities to neighbours and the general community.

Information on separation distances between industrial activities and sensitive landuses is available on the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) website. Activities must be properly managed to prevent pollution or loss of amenity.

Certain premises are known as ‘prescribed premises’ if they have the potential to cause emissions and discharges to air, land or water. Some prescribed premises include food processing premises, alcoholic beverage manufacturing, feedlots and piggeries. These premises require a works approval to be obtained before construction and a license or registration to operate.

A works approval, licence or registration is issued to the person or company who is in control or occupation of the premises.

An occupier must hold a works approval:

  • prior to commencing any work or construction that will cause the premises to become prescribed under Schedule 1 of the Environmental Protection Regulations
  • prior to commencing any work or construction which may cause, increase, or alter emissions and discharges from an existing prescribed premises.

Works approvals and licences are issued with conditions that apply to specific premises and are intended to prevent or minimise the emissions and discharges of waste to the environment.

Registrations do not contain conditions and are issued to premises that are then managed and regulated through industry-generic regulations and codes of practice or guidelines.

LGA's also employ environmental health officers. These officers may have responsibilities under the Local Rural Strategy, Town Planning Scheme, the Health Act 1911 and the Environmental Protection Regulations. Some aspects of your project may need to be licensed and/or monitored by this officer.

Offensive trades

Some activities are considered an offensive trade under the Health Act 1911 and will need to be registered with your LGA. The LGA's environmental health officer is responsible for administering this Act and will cover areas such as monitoring commercial food premises and inspecting site systems for disposal of water.

A person wishing to commence a business or develop land that may impact on environmental health should contact the LGA's environmental health officer for advice on relevant requirements.

When planning to develop your property make sure you seek specific advice from your LGA or the relevant state government department to ensure that all necessary requirements and approvals are obtained.

Fire control

Landholders are required to comply with the relevant firebreak notice adopted by the LGA.

The firebreak notice provides standards required for firebreak(s) and other control measures necessary to be undertaken by landholders and prescribes certain periods of the year when lighting fire is not permitted.

As a landholder, you are responsible when undertaking burning within 3km of a conservation reserve or national park vested under the control of Department of Biodiverity, Conservation and Attractions - Parks and Wildlife Service to advise them accordingly.

Always seek comment and guidance from the LGA or DBCA office, so all the necessary fire control requirements are identified.

Property access

Landholders proposing to construct or expand any access/egress point onto a road under the control of Main Roads Western Australia (MRWA) are required to obtain the approval of the respective regional manager.

If you are proposing to construct or expand any access/egress point onto a road under the control of an LGA you are required to obtain their approval.

Each region contains various roads that are classified for different purposes such as highway, state road, local government road, etc.

Applications will require information relating to land particulars, site details, proposed position of access/egress point and plans/map of the proposal.

The MRWA or LGA will then determine whether the proposal can proceed and impose relevant conditions or determine if it may not proceed and provide reasons for refusal.

Landholders would not normally require approval for the regular maintenance of existing access/egress points.

When planning to develop your property make sure you seek specific advice from your LGA or the relevant state department to ensure that all necessary requirements and approvals are obtained before you commence development.