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Development approvals is a general reference to the broad suite of regulatory approvals that must be obtained prior to commencing a development. With few exceptions, all development activities are subject to regulation throughout the world's sovereign jurisdictions. Examples of the kind of development that is subject to regulatory approval includes: land clearing, agriculture, forestry, mining, fishing, building, urban development, transport and infrastructure corridors and water use.
A full approval to develop generally comprises a range of regulatory elements. The range usually includes tenure acquisition (for example right to access land, right to minerals or petroleum - rights which may include the requirement to consult or negotiate on native title rights), heritage protection, protection of biological diversity, environmental management, pollution control and local area approvals.
The specific requirements of each development approval varies with each jurisdiction. However, there are a range of themes and principles that occur consistently across jurisdictions. The purpose of this article is to develop a summary of those factors and to provide links to specific references and examples of current perspectives in development approvals systems around the world.
To mangle Lord Rutherford's famous remark that "all science is either physics or stamp collecting", arguably the discipline of development approvals is only now progressing towards a state of transition from "stamp collecting" to "science". The driver for this has been the recognition by project proponents (project managers and investors) that delayed project approvals generate significant uncertainty in project feasibility and usually contribute to a significant increase in overall project costs. This has led to the creation of specialised regulatory approvals teams within project development teams as a means to better manage the increasing complexity of the regulatory system as it applies to development approvals. This was described by Aidan Kelly in his 2007 paper "Timely regulatory approvals for resource development" [reference to be inserted], as the emergence of regulatory approvals as a distinctive corporate role interaction.
Themes and principles
Inherent in any analysis or discussion about development approvals is the need to grasp a deeper understanding of the purpose and rationale of regulating development. This includes the need to balance contemporary sustainability objectives, specifically economic, environmental and social outcomes and to optimise the efficacy and value of related administrative and public consultative processes. Arguably, a key factor in determining specific development approvals is the political imperative. The politics-of-the-day hold a great influence over the grant of a development approval.
Western Australia is a sovereign state of Australia. The range of regulatory approvals required for development within the jurisdiction of the WA Government is a topic of considerable contemporary discussion and debate. In August 2009, a report titled "Review of Approval Processes in Western Australia" was published by an Industry Working Group convened by the Minister for Mines and Petroleum. This report is the latest in a significant line of reports that have aimed to contextualise the prevailing regulatory approvals system and to make recommendations for changes or reform of the system.
A major review of the WA regulatory approvals system was completed in 2002. Better known as the Keating Review, the report was entitled "Review of the Project Development Approvals System".