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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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“The Act should make it clear what happens if no response is received from a referral authority. Should it be presumed therefore that they do not object or have no conditions. Applicants should be able to obtain referral authority responses prior to lodgement of an application. The Act should allow for pre agreement conditions between Responsible Authorities and referral authorities, this will reduce time frames for permit applications Councils should have the ability to have regard to the comments of a referral authority and not be bound by them; this will allow council to form a balanced view on the advice received from referral authorities. For example Council may support an application on the basis of its benefits to the community through employment and sustainable land use, but Vic Roads may object to access to the site.

Councils should be able to weigh up the competing views of each of the referral authorities to determine if an application should be supported, rather than having to refuse the application because of the views of one referral authority.

In addition, Council should be able to disregarding suggested permit conditions that it considers to be inappropriate to impose on the subject application. The Act should have regard to issues where referral authorities provide conflicting advice. A co ordinating point or RA involvement could be useful. E.g. CFA requiring vegetation removal for fire prevention and DSE requiring retention of native vegetation.

Require a referral authority when it refuses to grant consent to the

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issue of a planning permit to participate in a conciliation or VCAT process when requested by the responsible authority.” Contrastingly, the views of referral authorities with respect to the planning permit process are typified in the submission of South East Water (Submission

No. 195), as follows:

“If a responsible authority has not received a response from a referral authority under Section 56 of the Act within the prescribed time, currently the responsible authority can assume that we have no comment to make. Referrals can go missing and may not be received by the referral authority. There could also be a communication problem with sending or receiving the response. To improve the process, if the responsible authority does not receive the response it should be a requirement under the Act or in a Department practice note for the officer to first make direct contact with the referral authority to obtain a response. Our records show that we respond to 100% of planning referrals within the prescribed time and don’t believe our conditions should be discarded if there is a communication issue...

Under Section 62 (1) (a) of the Act, the responsible authority is required to include the conditions of the relevant referral authority. This section should also include that the responsible authority should not change the wording of the condition (without the referral authority’s consent), as it could potentially change the meaning of the condition.

Unfortunately, South East Water has noticed that our conditions have been changed by some Councils.” The City of Maribyrnong (Submission No. 72) also notes that an amendment to a permit may impact on a requirement of a referral authority and put its own


“Consideration needs to be given to the process of amending applications, and how this may interact with prior approvals from referral authorities and statutory timeframes.” Some submissions commented on the number of referrals that are required for planning matters in rural and regional areas. It may be that through a more standardised approach to these referrals, delays could be reduced. Goulburn

Murray Water (Submission No. 367) suggests efficiencies could be achieved by:

“Requiring referral authorities and Local Government to minimise referrals through scheduling out referrals and nominating an appropriate referral authority.” The Committee believes there is considerable room for improvement in the way that the current system of planning referrals is undertaken with respect to planning permit applications and the certification of plans of subdivision.

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The Modernising Report made the following recommendations that address many of the issues identified by submittors to this review. The

recommendations propose:

A standard referral form to be used by the responsible authority to refer an application to a referral authority. This form will specify why a permit is required and what provision of the planning scheme is relevant to the consideration of the referral authority. This will support electronic delivery of the referral process.

Referral agreements between referral authorities and the responsible authority to be included in planning schemes in the same way as incorporated documents. This will provide transparency and encourage adoption of these arrangements.

Any requests for information and the decision of the referral authority to be sent concurrently to the applicant and responsible authority to help improve response times.

Referral authorities to maintain a register of referrals that records performance against statutory timeframes, report annually to the Minister on the operation and performance of their referral function and advise the Minister of any change that should be made to the referral requirements to improve performance.

The Committee supports the recommendations of the Modernising Report.

KEY FINDINGS Referral Processes The Committee considers that there is significant room for improvement in the current system of planning referrals, both at the time of a planning permit application and in respect of the subdivision process, including reviewing

current practices and/or legislative requirements regarding:

Timelines for responses to councils;

Whether permit conditions or objections to a permit application by a Section 55 referral authority be considered as advisory or mandatory;

The use of standard agreements for referrals; and Referral authority participation in the VCAT review process.

10.1.4 Request for Further Information A number of council submissions and presentations to the Committee commented on the frequency with which permit applications are lodged with inadequate information to provide for an assessment of a proposal against the planning scheme. This leads to a Request for Further Information pursuant to Initial Report - December 2011 143 Victorian Planning System Ministerial Advisory Committee Section 54 of the Act which stops the ‘60 day clock’ for processing a permit application.

Submissions from councils indicate that the quality of planning applications often requires planning officers to seek additional information and details via a Request for Further Information.

The Mornington Peninsula Shire Council (Submission No. 517) states:

“One of the common points for improved efficiency is to improve the standard of applications and to ensure that the necessary information is provided. In this context it is recommended that Council’s should be able to reject applications as being inadequate, even if this decision is open to appeal.

It is also recommended that the period for the request of further information (under Section 54) be extended to 40 days, without extension of the total period for determination. Registration and initial assessment, discussion and internal referrals often need to occur before an appropriate request for further information can be compiled.” Similar views were expressed in the submission of the City of Darebin (Submission no.

471), as follows:

“There should be a stronger process to return application that are lodged on an incomplete basis. Further requirements need to be specified and referred to in the scheme and legislation to ensure that a higher percentage of applications are lodged without the need for a further information request. As an example Darebin regularly receives applications for unit development that excludes the lodgement of details such as elevation plans. Under the regulations the applications lodged without elevation plans have to be accepted and this wastes time and resources.” The City of Boroondara (Submission No. 356), the Shire of Glenelg (Submission No. 100) and the Shire of Wellington (Submission No. 239) suggest that the Act and Regulations should be amended to allow Councils to reject an application that is not considered to provide for at least the minimum application requirements. These submissions consider this would substantially reduce both processing times and resources required to check and re check the resubmitted application documents.

In turn, a number of submissions from the users of the system commented on the timing of a Request for Further Information and the often extensive list of further information required much of which appeared to go way beyond the information necessary to allow an assessment of the proposal against the relevant planning scheme requirements.

Initial Report - December 2011 144 Victorian Planning System Ministerial Advisory Committee

Miller Merrigan (Submission No. 325) makes the following comment:

“Frivolous further information requests It is very common for Council planners to issue further information requests regardless of the quality of applications. Presumably this is done to ‘manage’ workloads and not fall outside of statutory time limits but in effect the practice results in undue delays, cost and frustration for permit applicants.” One individual (Submission No. 63) outlines a recent experience as a planning consultant engaged to undertake audits of Council permit application files on

behalf of the Victorian Auditor General. The submission notes:

“Local government will complain that applications are far more complex than they were 24 years ago when the Act was re written (although the 60 days was in the T&C Planning Act) and that this time should be extended. This is not the case.

Further the requirements of the VPPs would require most modest

applications for say a three dwelling development to contain:

Architectural plans, streetscape, rendered perspectives Feature survey of the existing conditions with contours to AHD Arborist report Traffic report Landscape plans Drainage plans Planning submissions

- opportunities and constraints;

- clause 55 assessment;

- neighbourhood character assessment (usually under local policy)

- overlay(s) Aerial photos from Google/Near Map of site and surrounds All up cost of $20,000.

The above list of documents reveals however that planning applications have never been more comprehensive, yet officers will still require information, unrelated to their assessment.

There are numerous VCAT cases on this issue, but the culture of local government is certainly not one of facilitation. In fact given this level of information provided decisions should be made faster not slower.

Most modest applications (ie. 3 dwellings) for medium density development take 6 months.” Initial Report - December 2011 145 Victorian Planning System Ministerial Advisory Committee

The submission from Murray Projects Pty Ltd (No. 59) notes that:

“the vast majority of applications are deemed incomplete and a further information request generated. The trivial items requested range from clarification on fence heights to a distance on scaled plans. A further information letter can often add several months to an application.” The Modernising Report canvassed three options to clarify and improve the quality of information provided as part of a planning permit application,


Provide the ability for a responsible authority to reject an application if it is incomplete;

Introduce a new comprehensive application form that includes more detailed description and analysis of the permission being sought; and Establish a system of accreditation of private planners to provide pre lodgement certification of applications.

The City of Glen Eira (Submission No. 118) outlines the systems in place in that municipality to streamline the process for lodging planning permit applications which included a pre certification process. A subsequent presentation to the Committee from representatives of the City of Glen Eira advised the Committee that this pre certification program works well.

This view contrasts with that of the City of Melbourne:

“A more comprehensive application form would not address the issue of inadequate information with applications. The opportunity to request further information in writing with a lapse date is working well. It is transparent, gives the RA an opportunity to build a relationship with any applicant finding the system difficult and ensures abandoned applications do not remain in the system. Simple applications can be accepted and missing fees or information requested, without planning a burden on the applicant to provide unnecessary or irrelevant information. Pre lodgement certification is not supported because it adds more complexity. It could remove the ability of the RA to request information needed in local circumstances and reduce the transparency of the process.” The City of Melbourne submission is typical of the concerns raised by other submittors on the issues of a revised application form, pre lodgement certification and the potential to ‘not accept’ applications.

There are clearly opposing views on each of the three options presented in the Modernising Report.

This Committee is reluctant to conclude at this stage that the way to solve the problem of inadequately detailed planning permit applications and the consequential requests for further information is simply to provide for a Initial Report - December 2011 146 Victorian Planning System Ministerial Advisory Committee council to ‘not accept’ an application or to endorse a formalised pre lodgement certification process.

The solution is more likely to be found in a combination of practices and actions that might also include improved and formalised pre application processes such as the formal recording of council officer advice and its provision to potential applicants with specific reference to what is expected in any subsequent permit application.

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