Defining adequate public open space provision

Public open space strategy guide for local governments.

There are many other factors to be considered in addition to the total amount of land to be provided as public open space within a given area. These include (but are not limited to) size, function, location and access and the relationship between these factors and the population they are to serve. To address this, State and local governments may specify standards for certain aspects of open space provision through town planning regulation and/or policy.

Standards will vary according to the urban typography, nature of the public open space and intended users. They will also vary according to the physical and social environment. Standards generally relate to:

  • quantity standards – area of public  open space per head of population
  • quality standards – a description of the required design and management standard including those relating to accessibility, crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) principles etc.
  • accessibility standards – distance thresholds that take into consideration and physical barriers to movement and the location of entrances to public open space.

Based on the recommendations of the Plan for the Metropolitan Region Perth and Fremantle, 1955 Report (the Stephenson-Hepburn Plan), the Western Australian Planning Commission’s operational policy known as Development Control Policy 2.3 – Public Open Space in Residential Areas generally requires 10 percent of the gross subdivisible area  of a conditional subdivision to be given up free of cost by the subdivider for public open space and vested in the Crown as a Reserve for Recreation (in accordance with section 152 of the Planning and Development Act). (This standard is also iterated within Liveable Neighbourhoods 1 and 2).

The following documents can assist in the development of clear definition of the public open space  required and expected by the local government in terms of quality, function, facilities etc.

Public Parkland Planning and Design Guide

In March 2014, the Department of Sport and Recreation and the Department of Water released the Public Parkland Planning and Design Guide which was based on the classification framework for public open space. This publication also received input and funding assistance from the Western Australian Planning Commission.

These guidelines consider challenges and opportunities unique to WA and offer good practice planning and design principles and case studies to assist in the creation and care of parkland assets.

The guide provides information on water sensitive urban designed communities that match water use to levels of activity, including the environmental benefits that parklands provide.

Classification framework for public open space

In November 2012, the Department of Sport and Recreation published a Classification Framework for Public Open Space which was developed through extensive consultation within the Department of Planning, Local Government and professional industry groups.

The purpose of the framework is to define terminology that can be universally used to describe public open space and contains two central categories:

  1. Function (primary use and expected activities) identifies three primary types of open spaces – recreation, sport and nature spaces; and
  2. Catchment hierarchy (typical size and how far a user might travel to visit the site) includes four categories – local open space (0.4 to 1 hectares within 400 metres or 5 minute walk), neighbourhood open space (1 to 5 hectares within 800 metres or 10 minute walk), district open space (5 to 15+ hectares within 2 kilometres metres or 5 minute drive), and regional open space (size variable dependant on function serves more than one geographical or social regions users likely to use private or public transport to access).

In terms of function, the classification framework outlines the purpose and description of the three primary types of open spaces. It also outlines the purpose and function of each of the four open space catchment hierarchies, together with the activities that may be included within each.

The draft Liveable Neighbourhoods operational policy (currently being advertised for public comment) adopts the Department of Sport and Recreation's classification framework completely and the work around the strategic Assessment for Perth and Perth also uses the framework’s terminology.

Healthy Active by Design

The Heart Foundation (in collaboration with the Departments of Education, Health, Planning, Sport and Recreation and Transport and sponsored by Landcorp) established the Healthy Active by Design project to develop a guide and website that links planning and health to support physical activity.

This guide is intended to assist planners, urban designers and developers to create active and healthy spaces and places by informing on the design of communities to support and promote healthy and active living.

Healthy Active by Design is based on nine key design features including: public open space, shared facilities, buildings, town centre/main street, schools, movement network, mixed use, housing diversity and sense of place.

Evidence, relevant case studies, checklist, examples and related policies are provided for the public open element (together with the other elements).

Active Open Space (playing fields) in a growing Perth-Peel and Emerging Constraints for Public Open Space in Perth Metropolitan Suburbs

As previously discussed, one of the most critical considerations in planning for public open space is to ensure the adequate provision of active open space together with additional land for supporting infrastructure.

Emerging Constraints for Public Open Space in Perth Metropolitan Suburbs (2011) and Active Open Space (playing fields) in a growing Perth-Peel (2013), summary reports produced for the Department of Sport and Recreation WA, by the Curtin Centre of Sport and Recreation Research based on research by Middle, G., Tye, M., and Middle, I. A. suggest general measurements to assist with assessing and planning for adequate active space provision.

The studies found that delivering some planning policies (Bush Forever, Water Sensitive Urban Design and Liveable Neighbourhoods) has resulted in an unintended consequence, a reduction of the amount of open space to accommodate organised sport, and that it is highly certain that new suburbs in each of the fringe growth sub-regions of Perth already have a shortage of playing fields.

It is thought that there may be a shortfall of open space for active sport of approximately 495 hectares by 2031 and without a change in relevant planning policies and State Government provision of additional regional open space, this shortage will exacerbate.

Referred to as the “Curtin Guidelines”, the following is offered:

  • For new suburbs where the density of development is typical for Perth’s suburbs 1.4% of the subdividable area should be set aside as active open space.
  • For infill developments and greenfield developments that are much denser than typical, 6.5m2 of active open space per resident should be set aside as active open space. 

This is a guide to planners, and not a fixed criterion setting aside around 7m2 per resident as active open space would be adequate. By extension, anything significantly less than this figure would seem inadequate and serious consideration needs to be given to providing additional active open space.

For those inner suburbs undergoing infill, many of which are likely to have regional open space already supplementing the active public open space, then the data on area of active open space per resident is likely to be a more relevant consideration because of the likely density difference.

As a guide to planners, and not a fixed criterion, setting aside around 1.4% of the residential part of new suburbs as active open space is likely to be adequate. By extension, anything significantly less than this 1.4% would seem inadequate and serious consideration needs to be given to providing additional active open space through either regional open space or through a reduction in other forms of open space, for example, passive open space.

The studies go to great lengths to stress that these two metrics should not be seen as design criteria, but as guides in planning for the future. The figure of 1.4% of the suburb for active open space, or the figure of 7m2 per resident, are not recommended to be used as the standards for the provision of active open space.         

Examples for consideration

Whilst it is helpful to look to other jurisdictions for guidance in regard to developing such standards, it is important to acknowledge that any standards adopted are suitable and applicable to the unique situation of each individual local government, and that a ‘one size fits all’ approach is not appropriate. For example, the needs of an inner city local government are very different to those of a large outer city local government, which in turn is different to a regional local government.

In addition to differences in standards between local governments, there may be a need to define what may be considered to be open space particularly in a situation where land is already well developed and retrofitting is required. This is an increasingly important consideration especially for those local governments within the inner and central sub regions of the Perth metropolitan region.

Liveable Neighbourhoods 2015 proposes to provide greater guidance and direction for public open space provision, particularly in a strategic sense; however it must be acknowledged that whilst this will be most helpful in greenfield development situations, it is less helpful for brownfield development situations.

A number of selected public open space standards from Local Government and State jurisdictions within Eastern Australia were compared with standards in Liveable Neighbourhoods 1 and Draft Liveable Neighbourhoods 2015.

 A number of common features generally emerged for all examples, including:

  • existence of an open space hierarchy
  • a specified resident catchment, accessibility or demand by population size
  • size requirements
  • description /function of open space categories.

Examples of POS requirements used by Western Australian Local Governments:


(City of Stirling Public Open Space Strategy)

 Small localLocalNeighbourhoodDistrictRegionalOther
Accessibility    Serves residents within 400m, 5-10 min walk(called “Community”) Serves residents within 800mServes residents within 1.5-2.5 kmPrinciple catchment 2.5km, serves all City and wider metropolitan regionClassification table includes notes re location
Size    0.2 – 2 ha 0.5-5ha 5-20ha 30-80+ ha  
Description    Local play, equipment, informal play areas, relaxation areas.Major playground, picnic, barbecue facilities, small toilet block, power.Formal sport and recreation activities, Multipurpose clubroom, informal active recreation areas, formal shelter structures, servicing infrastructure.Regional play equipment, Formal sport and recreation facilities, multipurpose clubrooms, formal shelter structures, servicing infrastructure.Classification also refers to Natural Conservation, Special Purpose and Residual land.   Classification table includes notes for core and optional facilities.


Liveable Neighbourhoods 1

(WAPC Operational Policy – Liveable Neighbourhoods  2009)

Overall Open Space Provision

  • 10% of the gross subdivisible area
  • (Min 8% active and passive open space, 2% restricted use)
  • Regional variation 5%.
 Small localLocalNeighbourhoodDistrictRegionalOther
Accessibility    150-300m400m to serve about 600-800 population600-1000m serving 3 neighbourhoods  
Size Up to 0.3ha0.3-0.5ha +2.5-7ha


Description    Small intimate spaces for children’s play and as resting places and to allow pedestrian connectivity.For active (informal play areas) and passive use. Located near the edge of neighbourhood, rather than in the core.Accommodate both grassed areas for informal games and organised sport and includes hard surfaces for ball sport courts. May be located in conjunction with schools.Other than Foreshore Reserve. Community Purpose Sites.


Port Hedland

(Active Open Space Strategy September 2011)
(Also refers to Town of Port Hedland Park Improvement Plan Sept 2007 – superseded)

Overall Open Space Provision

  • 60% active, 40% passive
  • Foreshore reserves and regional open space generally in addition to 10% requirement
  • 50,000 pop requires 68ha (recreation and nature public open space).
 Small localLocalNeighbourhoodDistrictRegionalOther
Accessibility    200m (from Park Implementation Plan)600m (from Park Implementation Plan)Willing to travel to visit these sites (from Park Implementation Plan)  
Size -Min 0.5ha for active open spaceMin 0.5ha for active open space


Description    Informal recreation and socialisation. Basically developed and maintained.Well developed and maintained. Range of facilities for families (playgrounds, shade, barbecues and other amenities).High quality, highly developed and very well maintained – at least one in each town. Also includes Specialist parks – skateboard parks, BMX tracks, race tracks and other spaces used for specific recreational opportunities.

Irwin (Dongara/Port Denison)

(Shire of Irwin Public Open Space Strategy June 2011)

 Small localLocalNeighbourhoodDistrictRegionalOther
Accessibility    400m (Called “Sporting Club Areas”) 1km  
Size -- -


Description    Open to the public and located conveniently within residential areas for use primarily by nearby residents. Sporting club areas generally patronised by organised recreational/social clubs. Foreshore Reserve Areas - Coastal and river foreshore areas with recreational areas generally confined to nodes and connecting paths.

Greater Greater Geraldton

(Draft Greater Greater Geraldton Public Open Space Strategy July 2014)

 Small localLocalNeighbourhoodDistrictRegionalOther
Accessibility    400m, 5 min walk800m, 10 min walk2km, 5 min driveServes one or more geographical or social regions. Likely to use private or public transport 
Size    0.4ha –
1 – 5ha5 – 15+ haVariable depending on function. 20+ ha for playing fields and sport facilities. Notes that small local parks <0.4ha are undesirable in greenfield developments unless purposeful function can be demonstrated.
Description    Service recreational needs of immediate population. No formal or informal sport.Recreational and social focus of a community. May be used for junior sport or training.Organised formal sport, variety of uses and broad range of facilities.May include various concurrent uses. Attracts visitors from outside of the community.Also includes Conservation Areas – Primarily for the protection of natural features. Activities limited to low impact.


(City of Cockburn Public Open Space Strategy 2014-2024)

 Small LocalLocalNeighbourhoodDistrictRegionalOther
Accessibility    400m walk800m or 10min walk2km, 5min drive- 
Size    0.4ha –
1 – 5ha>5ha- 
Description    Casual and informal recreation by the community easily accessed by bicycle or foot.Places of leisure and social interaction for the community.Generally serves whole municipality, various functions.Large signature spaces, parks or reserves of high recreational, leisure, social, environmental and tourism value. 


(City of Canning Public Open Space Strategy Draft December 2014)

 Small LocalLocalNeighbourhoodDistrictRegionalOther

(called “Pocket Open Space”) 300m

400m800m2km 10km 
Size    <0.4ha>=0.4ha - <1ha>=1ha - <5ha>=5-ha < 20ha>=20ha 
Description   3 Functions Recreation, sport, nature spaces based on Department of Sport and Recreation.     


Page reviewed 09 March 2021