13 Aug 2010

Riding the wave of climate change - Coastal strategy in Western Australia

by Brad Wylynko, Rebecca Shanahan

Although the report "Status of Coastal Planning in Western Australia" is an important first step, much work remains to ensure proper coastal planning for the potential effects of climate change.

In January 2010 the Coastal Planning Program, a program of the Coastal Planning and Coordination Council, and the Western Australian Department of Planning, released a report entitled "Status of Coastal Planning in Western Australia". The Report examines coastal planning programmes currently in operation in Western Australia, and details areas of outstanding need.

The report identifies 76 outstanding planning tasks, in particular, the need for a State Coastal Strategy, and a State Marine Planning Strategy. This is in response to a patchwork of local and regional planning instruments that have sprung up in the absence of an effective State policy framework.

Key barriers to effecting consistent coastal policies

With the vast majority of Western Australians living within 30 kilometres of the coast, the impact of climate change on coastal areas is of increasing significance for planning and development in the State. To date, the risks associated with coastal development in Western Australia have not been addressed in any comprehensive or consistent manner.

One of the main problems in formulating a consistent approach to coastal planning in Western Australia is the sheer scale of the coastline, and its diversity and climate types.

The absence of large population centres along much of the coastline reduces the impetus for coastal monitoring. The time, cost and effort required to develop and validate coastal models are high, and studies at a global, or even a regional scale, have limited relevance at the local level.

This lack of appropriate localised modelling has been identified by the State Government as a fundamental gap in moving forward with addressing climate change impacts in Western Australia. The current practice of using models imported from other parts of the world, including eastern Australia, is inadequate for dealing with the State's unique coastal systems. Without this key information, creating a consistent State-wide policy for coastal planning continues to be a difficult task.

Current State policy

The current Western Australian policy dealing with the coast is the State Coastal Planning Policy, released by the State Government in 2003 and amended in December 2006.

While the key objective of the policy is to ensure that the location of coastal developments and facilities takes into account coastal processes such as erosion, accretion, storm surges, tides, wave conditions, sea level change and biophysical criteria, the policy has been criticised as inadequate and out of date, particularly in light of recent climate science. The Western Australian Local Government Association has commented that:

"With no strategic overview of policies and programs, and significant overlap and occasional policy conflict between State departments (for example the coastal setbacks embedded in the State Coastal Planning Strategy may be inadequate in light of recent climate science) it would seem that coastal management in general is poorly coordinated, and strategic linkages in State and Federal policy to climate change impacts broadly unaddressed.”

Lack of co-ordinated policy approach

The lack of an effective State-wide policy has led to local governments implementing a patchwork of localised planning strategies, thereby creating a great deal of uncertainty and complexity. There are a large variety of coastal planning instruments in place around the State, including regional strategies, structure plans and coastal plans.

For example, the Report identifies 14 coastal planning documents currently in operation for the Perth metropolitan region alone. This is in addition to numerous strategies developed by each of the 11 coastal local governments located in the region.

Considering the Perth metropolitan region is only one of six regions within Western Australia, the unparalleled complexity of the State's current coastal planning framework becomes clear.


The sheer volume of different local plans and strategies currently in operation around Western Australia highlights the need for an effective, over-arching State-wide policy. The release of the Report indicates an awareness on the part of the State Government to address the issues faced by local governments, and marks the creation of a State Coastal Strategy and the State Marine Planning Strategy as key planning tasks. Now the focus must be on preparing these strategies.

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Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this communication. Persons listed may not be admitted in all States and Territories.