The Planning and Environment Amendment (General) Act 2013 will amend the Planning and Environment Act 1987 (the Act) in two stages.  The first stage of amendments will be effective as of 22 July 2013 with the second stage of amendments to be effective as announced or before October 2013.

This article focuses on the relevant amendments to the Act on the 22 July 2013 that we anticipate will be of interest to developers.

Where a planning permit was issued at the direction of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), previously an application to amend the permit would have to be submitted to VCAT and a hearing date would need to be requested.  Under the changes a permit holder will now be able to apply to Council to amend a permit (including permits issued before 22 July 2013) unless in the decision VCAT specified that the permit may only be amended by VCAT.  It should be noted that a permit holder can still apply to VCAT to amend a permit where necessary however, for amendments that are likely to be supported by Council, significant time and cost that is involved with a VCAT hearing would be saved.         PEact

Another significant change to the Act is the ability for a permit holder to extend a planning permit up until 6 months after the permit has expired for use and development that has yet to commence.  In instances where the development was lawfully commenced before the permit expired, a planning permit can be extended up until 12 months after the expiry.  Previously, in all cases the allowance for permit extensions was 3 months after the expiry.  This change will provide more flexibility and assist in decreasing the likelihood of a permit lapsing and a new application needing to be re-submitted.

Furthermore, the Act will be amended to require referral authorities to act within the prescribed time limits.  Under the Act, unless an extension is granted by the Minister, referral authorities have 28 days to comment on an application.  Following the 28 days, Councils can make a decision on the application, but often don’t until all referral comments are received.  While this change seeks to make referral authorities more accountable, they may be more likely to comply with time limits if Councils started to make decisions after the prescribed time has elapsed irrespective of whether referral authorities had responded.

In addition, other changes to the Act include requiring referral authorities to have regard to the Act and the planning scheme, allowing VCAT to make decisions that relate to Section 173 Agreements and if agreed by all parties, allowing VCAT to confine an application for review to the particular matters in dispute.