State Government fails to tackle key planning problems

Save Our Suburbs MEDIA RELEASE,  15th May 2012

The Report of the Underwood planning advisory committee released last week fails to include specific recommendations to address the key deficits of the planning regime in Victoria

Instead the committee mostly just recommends reviews, which the government's response mostly agrees with, merely stating that the issue is noted or the process "is underway".

Despite general agreement by all parties on what ails Victoria's planning regime – lack of certainty, excessive delays – the Report and the Government's response fail to tackle the following key planning problems:

– No prescriptive reforms to the permit assessment process that would increase certainty for all parties and reduce costs and delays while producing better planning outcomes in the community interest

– No reform of the flawed VCAT process (a dysfunctional "expert witness" system, the bias and inconsistency of VCAT Member decisions, and the ability to introduce amended plans which just encourages ambit claims). The only specific action cited is an extra $1 million to cut VCAT waiting lists

– No desperately-needed review of the 25yr-old Planning Act, in particular to define and mandate sustainability principles in the face of climate change and peak oil

– No measures to address urban sprawl and prevent land banking by development corporations

– No tightening up of enforcement to get rid of the inefficient dual process of Magistrates Court for punitive orders and VCAT for compliance.

Residents will still have to adopt an oversight role in challenging applications due to the excessive and inappropriate discretion currently exercised by councils (as borne out by criticisms of council permit assessments by the Auditor-General in May 2008). 

This is an unsustainable, unfair and inefficient situation. The only sensible solution is to limit the exercise of discretion and make policies more prescriptive to ensure that the appropriate quality, type and level of development is directed to where it is needed. 

Code Assess may be more prescriptive but it will also simplify controls and remove residents appeal rights – but not those of developers. That's an admission that council decisions will still require oversight, so all parties still need the opportunity to be part of that process.

Finally, there is a desperate need for a comprehensive community consultation process that could underpin a bi-partisan approach to a new state & metro planning strategy, as the Grattan Institute reported last year has been done successfully in many comparable overseas cities. 

Modern deliberative community consultation methods can be used to educate community, industry and government representatives to be able to produce an informed and democratic strategic plan for Melbourne that would also have the support of the community.

But the online community consultation favoured by the Minister can't achieve that goal because it involves no education and deliberation of participants and makes no commitment to taking on board their views.  

Instead, the further cuts to red tape suggested will just deregulate planning even further, rather than clarifying and tightening controls to produce more appropriate planning outcomes.