Western Australia is a state on the move. Its sunny capital, Perth, is famed for a relaxed beach lifestyle and ranked the 12th most liveable city in the world. With a population of 2.7 million forecast to grow to 3.5 million by 2050, Perth is on track to become the third largest capital city in Australia after Sydney and Melbourne.
Characterised by a pristine coastline, diverse climate, fragile ecosystems and unique flora and fauna, WA is a place of stunning contrasts. About 75 per cent of the population lives in the capital and surrounds, with the remaining 25 per cent scattered across a state the size of Western Europe.
With the state set to continue its rapid trajectory of growth, how do we ensure best-practice development in the capital and the regions? How do we optimise the growth of our population, communities, amenities and public spaces? These are questions which Curtin University (then WAIT) addressed in the early 1970s with the establishment of a tertiary course for town planners.
In 1980, lawyer Denis McLeod, who was building a legal practice in planning law at the time, and went on to establish McLeods Lawyers, began teaching in the Curtin town planning program. The program’s focus on establishing a balance between the interests and ambitions of developers, the interests of orderly and proper planning, and the preservation of the amenity and convenience of the relevant locality, appealed to Denis and attracted a cohort of students keen to grapple with these challenging ideas.
As the principal lecturer in planning law, Denis was well placed to help the students develop their skills in that increasingly complex area of planning practice. He was rewarded by motivated and knowledgeable pupils and frequent opportunities for stimulating exchanges of ideas.
Denis continued to teach at Curtin for more than 34 years, but his commitment to his students extended far beyond his classes. Passionate about planning law, and keen to encourage scholarship and critical thinking in the subject, he established the McLeods Prize in Planning Law In the mid-1990s.
“I felt that perhaps what ought to be done was to try to increase the emphasis and the interest in key topics in planning law, and one way to assist in that objective was to establish a fund that would encourage scholarship and research in that area,” Denis said.
Embodying Curtin’s values of Excellence and Impact, Denis arranged for his teaching fees from 1996 to 2014 to be redirected into an endowment fund. Presently the endowment funds a prize awarded annually to high-achieving students in the area of planning law, and it has supported many young people in their studies.
But the wider intention is to assist in funding advanced research and scholarship in planning law issues in WA, such as the absence in the state of third-party planning appeals; the increasingly direct role of the government in the planning decision-making processes; and the direct funding of political parties by developer interests.
Denis is grateful to Curtin University for giving him the opportunity, for more than three decades, to engage with student planners, and to participate in their education.
He sees the establishment of the scholarship fund as an opportunity to show his gratitude in a tangible way to Curtin, for the opportunity of student contact that it provided, and to recognise the great benefit he has derived over the years from his relationship with planning professionals.
“To the extent that gratitude is recognition of a perceived benefit, my gratitude to Curtin and the planning profession for the opportunities of contact they have provided over the years, is great,” he said.
Denis McLeod established McLeods Lawyers, a leading firm with more than 40 years’ experience in local government law, planning, property, environmental and native title law. He has been honoured in the planning context by the conferring of Life Membership of the Local Government Planners Association, and Honorary Fellowship of the Planning Institute of Australia. Besides his LLB and BA degrees, Denis has an M. Phil degree in Urban Studies.