Development is the process of how cities adapt and grow with the human population. In Perth it is important to consider this expansion involves our unique biodiversity and how we can protect it. We cover the history of development in Perth, zoning, rules and regulations. An explanation of the SAPPR is provided, along with information about the importance of urban biodiversity and how to include it in development.


How has Perth changed since European Settlement?

Perth has had forms of planning since the 1830s, but the first major plan was in the 1950s. It was one of the more advanced for its time and saw the rapid expansion of the city and the rise of car dependence. It wasn’t until the late 1980’s that saw the beginning of the train system and increasing public transport, as a slight movement away from cars.

In the early 2000s, the push for sustainability arose, but the 1950s planning model was still in place, meaning expansion was continuing. Only the last few years has seen a real push to remove the 1950s planning and ideology, and replace it with higher densities, linked activity centres and mass rapid public transport.

View of Perth from Kings Park (Morgan, 2019)

How does development happen in Perth?

The Metropolitan Regional Scheme (MRS)

The MRS is the primary planning document for the Perth Metropolitan region and is the basis for all other plans and legal frameworks. The MRS defines future land use on a regional scale, in terms of broad zones and reservations.

For more detail on the zoning, one must refer to each local council’s Planning Strategy. This is explained further in the Rules and Regulations section.


Development in Perth operates through four main categories of development zoning; urban and industrial development, rural residential development, infrastructure development and basic raw minerals extraction. Zoning determines what activities are allowed to be carried out in a particular area, and often the conditions that are required for those activities to occur.

Urban and Industrial Development

This category includes residential areas, commercial/light industry, heavy industry and greenfield areas. Greenfield areas are sites that are zoned urban but have not been developed or urbanised. As of December 2017, there are 94 380 hectares in Perth zoned for urban development. Of this, 74 040 hectares (77.3%) is urbanised.

An example of urban and industrial zoning (McLeod, 2019).

Rural Residential Development

Rural residential development includes land that occurs in rural areas but is for residential living. It commonly includes hobby farms. It is characterised by larger lots and a low r-code or density allowance.

Infrastructure Development

Infrastructure development consists of all the area for transport. It includes roads, train lines, bus and train stations, car parks and potential future use areas (such as road reserves).

An example of infrastructure zoning in Perth (McLeod, 2019).

Basic Raw Minerals Extraction

This includes mining of sand, clay, hard rock, limestone, gravel and other construction and road building materials. There are three types of zoning identified within basic raw minerals extractions; priority resource locations, key extraction areas and extraction areas.


Are there other areas in Perth?

Pine Plantations

These include the Gnangara, Pinjar and Yanchep pine plantations – within the Perth metropolitan region. All of the pine plantations occur within state forest and are vested with the Conservation Commission of WA.

An example of pine plantations in Perth (McLeod, 2019).

Bush Forever

This is a comprehensive plan for the protection of urban bushland areas in Perth. It includes all 26 vegetation types found across the Swan Coastal Plain and includes 495 sites. Bush Forever was due for completion in 2010 but the implementation of this plan is still incomplete, meaning much of the listed bushland does not have statutory protection.

An example of Bush Forever zoning (McLeod, 2019).

What are the rules for development in Perth?

The rules for zoning and development are based on state and local government regulations. Typically, the state provides broader regulations and the local regulations are more specific and individualised for each area.


The MRS 

Within the state rules and regulations is the Metropolitan Regional Scheme (MRS). The MRS determines the future land use in terms of broad zones and reservations (for more of the basics see zoning). To change the MRS zoning, an amendment needs to be made, with significant changes taking around 24 months. The WA Planning Commission (WAPC) will consider all submissions and make a recommendation to the Minister for Planning.

State Planning Framework

There are also the State Planning Policies, which is a centralised framework of all the state guidelines, policies and plans. The framework informs everyone involved in the planning process on all the state rules and regulations that need to be considered, to have an even and integrated decision-making process.

An example of some of the state rules is R-codes. These codes determine the density of buildings that are allowed to be on a particular site. In this case, it is the number of buildings per hectare of land.

Planning and Development Regulations 2015

These regulations standardise local planning schemes and provide a model scheme text. It determines what must be included in all local planning schemes in the state. For example, the scheme must set out the long-term planning direction for the local council and apply any relevant state or regional policies.

  • Planning and Development Regulations 2015: Plan Structure(including an example of a local planning scheme)


Local Planning Schemes

Each town, shire or city council has its own planning scheme. The local planning scheme is a more detailed version of the Metropolitan Regional Scheme (MRS), for each local area. The scheme specifies exactly what is and is not allowed in each of the zones, often breaking down the broad zones in the MRS, to smaller and more specific zones. It states all the rules and regulations for that council, for example, the rules relating to the removal of trees on private property.


What is the SAPPR?

It stands for the Strategic Assessment of the Perth and Peel Region. It’s aim is to assess the zoning, land uses and conservations areas for Perth, now and into the future. It will identify the urban development footprint and conservation areas for the next 30 years. All this information will then be used in the Green Growth Plan.

Why do we need it?

There are two main goals of the plan. The first is to cut the ‘red-tape’ around environmental approvals. The second is for unprecedented protection of natural areas, such as bushland, rivers, wetlands and wildlife.

It is vital as it is the first holistic or systematic approach to development in Perth. Up until now, the planning and development process has been very disconnected, with each group responsible for their own area and limited communication across the groups.

What does it mean for Perth?

The approvals in the five development categories will be streamlined, improving the overall system. This would allow for better and simple approvals for development to support the growing population.

Greater environmental protection would also occur, as crucial areas have been identified for the future.


Currently, the SAPPR is on hold, due to issues with legal risk, flexibility and funding. It is due to be reviewed by the government in July 2019, to decide its future.


Further references

Why do we need urban biodiversity?

Ecosystem services

Ecosystem services are the benefits that we obtain from the function and processes in an ecosystem. These services are provided to us for free and are critical for our survival. Some of the services include the production of food, water filtration and purification, clean air, medicines and recreation.

It is estimated the global value of these services is US$125 trillion a year! Yet they are taken for granted and not considered in the majority of development.

Examples of some of the ecosystem services that we receive. (McLeod, 2019).

Example: Cooling our cities
Urban environments, especially in cities, can be hotter than surrounding areas, as there is little vegetation in a city, it is mainly concrete. Heat is reflected off concrete and pavers, increasing the air temperature.
The presence of trees and vegetation can cool the city, as they provide shade and they can cool the air through a process called transpiration. Increasing the amount of vegetation by 10% can reduce the day time temperatures by about 1°C.

The urban heat island effect. (McLeod, 2019)

Urban shading. (McLeod, 2019)

How do we achieve urban biodiversity?

Nature Sensitive Urban Design

Urban biodiversity in Kings Square, Perth (Morgan, 2019)

In recent years, it has been recognised that ecological knowledge must be applied to future urban design in order to conserve and promote biodiversity where it already exists. This process is called nature sensitive urban design (NSUD).

Perth has seen a decline in urban biodiversity, both by species richness and total vegetation loss in recent years.  We have lost 2.32% canopy cover just within the last seven years!

 Urban development in Perth can be divided into three major categories.

  • Urban Infill Development
  • Greenfield Development
  • Street Design and Road Development

We must use the principles of NSUD to inform the future development of our wonderfully biodiverse city.

The process of NSUD (Morgan, 2019)

Example: Cockburn Community Wildlife Corridor

The Cockburn Community Wildlife Corridor (CCWC) is a project with the aim to conserve and enhance the native bushland between Bibra Lake and the coast- otherwise known as the Beeliar Wetlands. This site was originally being developed for Roe 8 (Street Design and Road Development) but has been halted due to concerns for biodiversity loss.

The planned development will include features such as walking trails, outdoor classrooms, solar streetlights and much, much more.

Artist’s impression of CCWC result (Rees, J).