The State government is proposing the biggest shake up of the Planning and Environment Act since its introduction in 1987. What’s it all about? How might it impact on you? Is it a case of more red tape?

Planning and Environment Amendment (General) Bill 2009
The Minister for Planning recently released a draft version of the Planning and Environment (General) Bill 2009 for public discussion. This issue has gained little media attention and there has been scant public debate. Perhaps this was a function of the timing of the consultation (December – January is often not a great time to generate much interest) or perhaps it was a case of general indifference.

The draft Bill represents the culmination of an extensive review of the current Planning and Environment Act. This process started in August 2008 and has involved various stakeholder workshops, discussion papers, working groups and so on.

Amongst other things, the draft Bill includes proposals to:

  • modify the objectives of planning in Victoria;
  • introduce changes to the processes associated with the preparation of planning scheme amendments;
  • modify a number of aspects of the planning permit process;
  • make it easier to amend or end Section 173 Agreements;
  • introduce a new procedure for the assessment and approval of ‘State significant developments’.

If approved in the form expressed in the draft bill, these changes to the Planning and Environment Act will have a significant impact on the day to day administration of planning in Victoria. A brief comment on a few of the key points is presented below.

Planning Scheme Amendments
The biggest change here is the potential for the Minister for Planning to authorize a person other than a planning authority to prepare an amendment and to carry out various specified steps in the amendment process – including exhibition. This will please many of those who have long complained that the current process can often cause significant delays (or even prevent an amendment from starting) if a Council does not embrace the proponent’s amendment. But be careful of what you wish for. The draft Bill could just as easily apply to a radical opposing group as it could a responsible proponent. Depending upon the approach of the Minister, there could be a range of unusual planning scheme amendments being ‘tested’ in the future.

The authorization of planning scheme amendments has been retained and augmented with another step in the process – this time the ‘certification’ of the proposed planning scheme amendment by the Secretary of the Department to ensure that the amendment is in an ‘appropriate form’ before exhibition. Predictably, there are no time frame requirements for the authorization or certification processes – but likely this will lead to longer time lines / further delays / more preparation costs.

Planning Permits
There are a range of matters proposed to change here but the one with the most significance is probably the removal of secondary consent. It will not be possible to amend by secondary consent plans, drawings or documents approved under a permit. Division 1A amendment of permits process will need to be used. Moreover, this change will be retrospective – so it will include permits that are issued before this change is enacted. It is difficult to see why this change is proposed. The system seems to work well now – so why tamper with it? Even the Municipal Association of Victoria has queried the need for this change. This proposal has the potential to create significant delays, increase the workload of an already overstretched local government sector and increase costs.

State Significant Development
The draft Bill provides an opportunity for the Minister to declare a class of developments to which a ‘streamlined process’ would then apply. The types of development are not included in the draft Bill – just the framework to allow this to occur. In principle it sounds like a good idea but the process seems convoluted. One suspects it will be about as popular as the combined planning scheme amendment and planning permit application process.

Section 173 Agreements
There appears to be some useful housekeeping changes to Section 173 Agreements. These will help facilitate a simpler and clearer path for the variation of Section 173 Agreements, including the role of VCAT.

It is difficult to see how many of the proposals help facilitate a speedier process. It seems in some cases extra steps have been added without any obvious value.

How quickly these changes make their way into law may depend upon the submissions that have been made to the draft Bill and the extent of bipartisan political support. With a State election to be held later this year, it will be interesting to see how many of the proposals end up on the backburner.

If you want to know more about the proposed changes to the Planning and Environment Act then contact John Roney on jdr@colliepl.com.au