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«December 2011 Victorian Planning System Ministerial Advisory Committee Initial Report. Geoff Underwood, Chair. Catherine Heggen, Member. David ...»

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“While the Shire does seek and accept community involvement and input into the public stages of its planning processes, the measurable influence of that involvement and input is minimal. Is there a timing issue comment is typically called in late in a project after lots of money Initial Report - December 2011 119 Victorian Planning System Ministerial Advisory Committee and time spent, hence little gets changed? Planning appears to be done by Government and developers with public comment, not input.

The lack of a genuine response or real and timely debate about important planning matters has led to Shire community polarisation on sensitive issues, to a general unwillingness for people to become involved and real doubts about the value of local deliberations and the Shire's freedom or willingness to act. Unsurprisingly, much time and resources have been wasted due primarily to these factors.”

The Beaumaris Conservation Society Inc. (Submission No. 485) states:

“It is difficult for residents, especially residents in full time employment or elderly residents, to view plans for development proposals as these plans are not published on the Council’s website and it is difficult to attend the Council offices during business hours to view plans.

Furthermore, it is often difficult to locate the relevant planner by phone to arrange for plans to be posted.”

The Friends of Fullarton Community Group (Submission No. 516) states:

“The community’s right to object to developments and participate in the planning process – both at local Council level and at VCAT – must be maintained. This right should be enshrined in state legislation.

Planning documentation needs to be freely available to allow the public genuine access to relevant information and all processes must allow for public participation. Our experience was that the 150 page subdivision proposal was only available for viewing at the Council offices (one hard copy only) during business hours (effectively, on 10 days only) and also at the local library (another hard copy), which was open only half time. This limited access to documentation was entirely inappropriate for the number of people interested in the proposal. The Council did not make the proposal available as a pdf file on their website. Such electronic access should be mandated.” The thrust of the quoted submissions and many more is that community consultation is treasured, but that the standard of documents put out to the community are difficult to interpret and often inadequate.

This is also true for the various mechanisms used to consult with the community and the timeframes involved, especially with planning scheme amendment proposals extending over a lengthy period. Some submittors argue that the community consultation process is not inclusive and made difficult by having to attend to matters during business hours only.

Similar to the Bacchus Marsh Community Land Group, other submittors bemoan the lack of community education in relation to planning and its aims

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and objectives. Some submittors urge that DPCD should provide assistance to interested parties to help in the understanding of issues.

In contrast, developers indicate that the community consultation process in many instances is too onerous. A number of submissions were put to the Committee that indicate one of the major holdups in the system is the level of community consultation that must be undertaken as well as vexatious submissions made by persons who have little connection to the planning matter at hand. This is said to occur with permit applications and planning scheme amendments.

The HIA highlights the ability of individuals to impact on the delivery of product

to the market place, through the various mechanisms within the system:

“HIA members projects are often delayed significantly and politicised when community groups form and prepare pro forma for people to use as objections, even when a person is not directly affected by the proposal. The word ‘objection’ is adversarial and should be replaced by ‘submission’.” The Ballarat Residents and Ratepayers Association Incorporated comment on the inability to learn of planning proposals. The same theme is adopted by resident submittors of the Melbourne central activities area. In their presentation to the Committee, members of inner city resident groups argue that they should have a say in development proposals rather than being counted out of the process by the zone or overlay provisions.

Community engagement is vital to confidence in the planning system. As a principle, if the community is removed from the formal permit application process, it should only be where the provisions are certain and specific.

In relation to planning scheme amendments and given the nature of the process, the Committee does not see the same scope for limiting third party involvement provided the submission is relevant and not vexatious.

The Friends of Fullarton Community Group seeks:

“More equitable access to development proposal documentation should be mandated, especially via the internet.” The Committee agrees that equitable access to information is essential but stops short of mandating how it is to be provided. The Committee is mindful that with the advent of the National Broadband Network, new capabilities will become available.

The Committee endorses the use of the internet and the electronic transfer of information as one aspect of a comprehensive community engagement

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strategy. Furthermore, all applications for planning permits where notice is required, as well as planning scheme amendments, should be available to view on the internet as well as being available to view over the counter. Similarly, all incorporated documents and section 173 agreements which have been entered into should be accessible on the internet.

The Committee is aware of the comprehensive nature of the material on the DPCD website. Submissions made reference to the extent of available information including the most recent creation of an electronic application that allows remote access to property information. In one submission, after complimenting DPCD, the submittor is then critical of the degree of difficulty required to search through the material.

Stakeholder engagement is more than merely placing information on the internet. All players in the planning system need to engage in a comprehensive programme of stakeholder engagement. This may include community forums and other methods of direct involvement.

The Committee is aware of the availability of the Spear model for lodging some planning permit applications and encourages further expansion of that system.

It is also aware of on line tracking systems used by some municipalities with planning permit applications; broader use of on line systems is encouraged.

The Committee understands there is much information about systems that exist and about operations that use connectivity and interactive communications.

The Committee recommends the investigation of innovative ideas in the field of digital information from those making and designing the instruments and the architecture, to those testing viability of use to determine how such systems can be applied to planning. The Committee sees the availability and use of broadband as assisting with online applications and information access across all agencies, such as speeding the exchange of information to referral authorities.

9.8 Planning in Rural and Regional Victoria A number of rural and regional municipalities raised issues that are specific to undertaking both strategic and statutory planning in regional Victoria.

It is clear to the Committee that there are differences in how planning is undertaken in rural and regional areas compared to metropolitan Melbourne.

Hepburn Shire submission (Submission No. 503) states:

“Melbourne centric concepts don’t work well in regional areas, ‘one size fits all’ doesn’t work in all areas.” Initial Report - December 2011 122 Victorian Planning System Ministerial Advisory Committee The view put forward by Hepburn Shire is supported by other municipalities,

such as Baw Baw Shire (Submission No. 536):

“There is a strong metropolitan centric focus of policy in the Victorian Planning Provisions, which flows through to planning schemes across the State, much of this does not take into account the needs and requirements of rural Victoria. This metropolitan focus particularly poorly deals with demands placed upon Councils in the peri urban fringe of metropolitan Melbourne. Rural Councils such as Baw Baw have limited capacity to plan for and fund the road, transport, engineering, utility and community infrastructure required to service the rapidly growing populations overspilling from the metropolitan growth boundary.” Many of the submissions made by those in rural and regional areas focus on making the regions a better place for people to move to and increase population to support infrastructure. The submission by Shire of Gannawarra (Submission No. 388) notes:

“State initiatives are needed to provide appropriate policy settings, including through planning schemes and regional strategies, to provide assistance to improve infrastructure where needed, and to sponsor publicity to promote opportunities and break down the ‘Melbourne only’ mindset.” The Committee was briefed on the progress of the eight Regional Growth Plans and considers that this approach to regional planning will differentiate key aspects of planning in rural and regional areas.

The Committee also notes the Government’s commitment to the establishment of the Peri Urban Unit and a ‘flying squad’ both of which may also improve aspects of regional planning.

Many of the councils located outside of Metropolitan Melbourne deal with both the regional office and the metropolitan office of DPCD. While there is good support for the functions and services that are undertaken by the regional offices, there appears to be some frustration with how matters are dealt with once matters are referred to the metropolitan office.

The Shire of Yarriambiack, (Submission No. 465) notes the following in relation to the role of the regional DPCD office, which is sometimes superseded by the

authority and influence of the metropolitan office:

“Many regional areas cannot or are unwilling to make decisions, give guidance or advice without first seeking approval from the Melbourne office. Many regional staff are unable assist or obtain a response from

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other areas of DPCD, due to the structure and the complexity of the structure.” Warrnambool City Council (Submission No. 375) notes that the skills and expertise required by a council to deal with complex planning applications or amendments is significant. When asked for a possible solution to this lack of resources and expertise, Warrnambool City Council made the following


“Provide more support to rural and regional Councils. Rural councils with multiple issues, small rate base and large asset gap cannot afford to do flood studies, biodiversity studies, land suitability studies, heritage studies etc. They often do not have the staff capacity for strategic planning or enforcement; however the planning system places the responsibility on local Councils.” A number of councils also submit that the planning scheme amendment processes in regional areas can take in excess of four or five years. This being the case, many planning practitioners have found that planning scheme amendments which were once considered relevant, quickly lose their relevance as a council goes through a change of personnel or as a result of Local Government elections and ongoing staff changes.

The difficulty in putting together developer contribution plans and key strategic documents provides a challenging environment for strategic planners in a rural and regional area.

Regional strategic planners indicated that the majority of the councils work hard with developers and the community to achieve growth outcomes.

As noted in Part 9.5.1 there have been contrasting views in relation to how the Farming Zone is operating.

It is apparent to the Committee, through the various submissions and presentations, that what is ‘productive agricultural’ land remains a contentious issue. It is also apparent that the blanket use of the Farming Zone is not meeting the expectations of the communities living and working in these areas.

Of particular importance is the concept of highly productive agriculture land and whether this concept is connected to the size of the property or the actual activity that takes place on the land.

Consistent comments were that the use of Whole Farm Management Plans was not adding value to the planning process or delivering better outcomes for rural land.

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There were a number of submissions that focussed on the restrictions that have eliminated the opportunity to run events on private land in rural areas.

This has included major 4WD competitions and other sporting events. This is touched on elsewhere in the report.

Some of the comments, oral and written, indicate a need for State Government departments to better share information on land productivity and capacity. This would help councils in making better decisions in relation to how land can be developed in the longer term and inform the community of the planning process.

Additional concerns have been raised about the role of referral authorities, especially in relation to Catchment Management Authorities and the role of water wholesalers.

KEY FINDINGS Planning in Rural and Regional Victoria

The Committee considers:

Adequate resources should be directed to the preparation of the eight Regional Growth Plans; and A code of practice should be developed to exempt temporary events in the rural zones or the temporary event provision in Clause 62.03 should be extended to address private land.

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