«December 2011 Victorian Planning System Ministerial Advisory Committee Initial Report. Geoff Underwood, Chair. Catherine Heggen, Member. David ...»
In considering submissions, the Committee endeavoured to respond to each of the substantive issues. But it has not been possible to respond to every query or comment made. In some instances, such as submissions seeking rewording of the State Planning Policy Framework, the Committee has not provided an individual response because a review of the actual content of policy (as distinct from the form in which it is presented) is not part of its Terms of Reference.
Similarly, the report does not deal with submissions advocating for changes to the VPP definitions or, in most instances, specific zone provisions. As a consequence, submissions that sought detailed variations to the VPP are not
dealt with in this report. They include:
Consideration of the definition of Medical centres The site qualification criteria for Places of worship Existing use rights
The extent of existing controls, or the desirability of new controls for:
These matters will be referred to the Department of Planning and Community Development (DPCD) for consideration.
Submissions were also received on subjects that are under review by other advisory committees. Those submissions will be redirected to those advisory committees or DPCD. The topics include submissions about contaminated land controls and development contributions (the Committee does refer to aspects of the development contributions system in Part 9.2 of this report).
While the Committee does not deal with the subject of Environmentally Sustainable Development (ESD), the Committee notes that there were many submissions which argued ESD considerations should be applied as part of the planning system. The Committee commends the submission from the Eastern
Metropolitan Group of Councils:
“Emerging issues – are they planning, building or something else?
58. From time to time, issues emerge in the community which the planning system (either by the state or through local government authorities) seeks to acknowledge and address – two recent examples of such issues are disabled access and environmentally sustainable development. Local Government looks to State Government to take the lead in such cases, but from time to time where there is a perceived policy gap, local government will seek to fill that gap through development of local policies. These policies have not been well received at VCAT.
59. The Group looks to the State to lead and drive important new emerging issues and not to leave a policy gap. The reason councils have, for instance, been driving an ESD agenda is because of a failure of state policy development. The State should continue to engage with local government authorities in relation to new and emerging issues and to communicate its work timetable so that councils (and in turn
their constituents) can be satisfied that these kinds of issues will be adequately addressed in a timely manner.” The list of issues shows that the most frequently raised topic relates to third party participation and review rights.
Though the Committee anticipated hearing about particular personal circumstances, it endeavoured to pre empt those issues being raised by explaining that the task of the Committee was related to the planning system rather than particular outcomes of individuals involved in the planning system.
That said, it is apparent to the Committee that in some cases, the lives of people had been taken over by ongoing planning experiences.
Some submittors believed that the Committee was a vehicle for them to make an opportunistic application of one type or another for their land. For example, some submittors believed the Committee offered an opportunity to rezone or subdivide land, to seek approval for development, to be able to conduct sports activities on their land or undertake numerous other activities.
That is not the role of the Committee.
A number of submittors took the opportunity to state strong opinions on planning policy, current or past. For example, some advocated the removal of the State Government from planning, while others advocated the removal of Local Government. Others sought a return to a metropolitan planning authority’s responsibility for the total administration of planning, in lieu of the involvement of Local or State Government.
Many submissions showed a great attention to detail. Some submittors expressed pessimism that submissions to previous reviews had seldom been acknowledged or resulted in any material improvements to the system. The Committee heard from a number of submittors who were cynical of the process and indicated they were suffering from ‘review fatigue’.
Many submittors displayed support for the reform of the planning system.
There are scores of submissions that fit this category. These in particular will help the Committee to make some of its recommendations. The Committee acknowledges the many well intentioned suggestions for reform, many of which were soundly based in experience, logic and reason and these have assisted the Committee. Nevertheless, while many submissions were interesting and some novel, not all should shape the future of the planning system in Victoria.
The consensus from the submissions is that a planning system needs to have the capacity to respond to change, as well as endeavouring to meet the often conflicting aspirations of the stakeholders within the system. Submissions highlighted key global and local influences that impact upon the decision Initial Report - December 2011 17 Victorian Planning System Ministerial Advisory Committee making processes. While there are common themes from the submissions that relate to how the current planning system could be improved (such as by using greater prescription rather than performance based measures), there are also submissions on the successful components of the planning system that operated before the introduction of the Act, and what lessons could be learnt from past experience.
5. Issues Raised in Submissions
5.1 Prioritising Issues The Terms of Reference require the Committee to categorise the issues raised in submissions and to prioritise the issues.
The approach taken by the Committee was to classify the submissions into four
1. Leadership of planning in Victoria.
2. Architecture and structure of the planning system.
3. Administration of the planning system.
4. Processes within the planning system.
Within the context of the four key themes, the main issues that arise from
submissions are as follows:
The architecture and structure of the planning system The Planning and Environment Act 1987.
The Victoria Planning Provisions.
The Municipal Strategic Statement.
Local Planning Policy.
The administration of the planning system Planning fees and costs.
Application fees for permits and amendments.
Infrastructure charges by permit conditions.
Section 173 Agreements.
The Victoria Planning Provisions with a particular emphasis on:
- the structure of zones
- the operation of overlays
- performance based provisions versus prescriptive controls.
Growth area planning and interface areas.
Planning in regional and rural Victoria.
The processes within the planning system The planning permit process.
The planning scheme amendment process.
Enforcement of planning schemes, permits and agreements.
5.2 Expectations of the System In effect, every submission can be said to have expressed an opinion on expectations of the Victorian Planning System. According to submissions, it is
desirable that a planning system have features that include:
Clarity of expression.
Being fair and equitable to all parties.
Being free from corruption.
Adherence to the processes and rules.
Consistency in decisions.
Prescribed timelines for actions and decision making.
Relevant documents being freely available including on line.
Allowing performance based outcomes.
Being prescriptive in quantifiable elements.
Having clear and identifiable lines of responsibility.
Leadership from decision makers.
Policy based decision making.
Opportunities to participate in planning.
Opportunities for independent review.
Continuous monitoring and review of the system and its processes.
Submittors also made strong statements about the need for a positive culture within the planning system to overturn what was seen as a reactive, restrictive and process driven system that intimidated parties, particularly those participating for the first time.
Some submittors said that they encountered a culture often based on pre established networks that follow well worn paths that create the impression of an ‘old boys club’.
Some submittors considered that there is a lack of clarity about leadership and roles within the system. Many of the quoted submissions in other parts of this report illustrate this point.
Submissions suggest that the planning system should be built on a culture that
Respect for opposing views and opinions;
Accountability where appropriate levels of responsibility are defined; and Outcomes rather than being process driven.
The Committee agrees that a culture of respect and accountability for people and processes within the system is essential.
Submissions called for a major change in the structures that direct planning at the state and local levels and the way the system operates. Submittors are looking for a system that embeds processes which are transparent, decision making which is accountable and outcomes which are more certain.
The Committee points to the desirability of creating a positive culture but cannot prescribe a culture. It is up to the leaders of the Victorian planning system at all levels to do so.
DLA Piper (Submission No. 310) states:
“There are a number of governance failings in the current structure, mostly related to the issues already raised regarding DPCD and the operation of council decision making.
One of the systemic governance problems is the lack of consistency and erratic decision making within DPCD. On one hand, there is a failure to
monitor and take accountability for many amendments and much policy. On the other hand there are examples where DPCD meddles for no apparent reason.” In relation to the operation of the planning system, submissions argued that the planning system has become too cumbersome and difficult to use even for practitioners.
The Environment Defenders Office (Victoria) Ltd (Submission No. 369) states:
“The system is complex and confusing and it is difficult to understand the basis on which decisions will be made (due largely to the high level of discretion of decision makers and the large number of incorporated documents)…”.
Similarly, Anthony Adams (Submission No. 523) states:
“The current Planning System lends itself to complexity, unnecessary disputation and increased numbers of VCAT appeals; methods to
increase certainty and reduce these negative outcomes may include:
Ensure that the Planning System contains definitive prescriptions, with less reliance on ‘performance based’ measures Ensure that the Planning System provides Local and State planning.” Not only has the Act been added to and expanded, but the planning scheme has also been asked to control an increased range of issues. The proliferation of matters now located within the Clause 52 – Particular Provisions of the VPP is evidence of the widened expectations of what the planning system is now being asked to address. The Clause 52 matters range from cattle feed lots and bushfire provisions to car wash premises and crematoria arguably these matters should belong elsewhere. Some matters in Clause 52 are already partly addressed under other legislation, such as licensed premises and gaming, causing duplication and confusion over the role of the participating jurisdictions.
The Committee compares the planning system to a once powerful computer that is now being asked to do too much. Though starting out as an advanced processor, the heavy workload being imposed on it takes its toll and the computer reaches a point that it is unable to cope; performing slowly and even occasionally crashing. In order to improve its operation and have it perform effectively and efficiently, the computer either needs to be unburdened of some of the tasks it is being asked to perform or it needs to be rebuilt.
This analogy is supported in the submission from the Urban Development
Institute of Australia (Victoria) (Submission No.407) where it states:
“Victoria is sometimes said to have the best planning system in Australia, and is the system that most states benchmark themselves against. That said, developers look for a system that is timely, consistent and contains certainty. In a number of areas, Victoria’s planning system fails all three of these criteria.” The MAV submission puts forward ideas for a next generation planning system
based on a set of principles whereby:
System responsibilities are clearly allocated;
There is a strong policy basis for decision making at State, regional and local levels;
Business processes are aligned to risk, complexity and outcomes; and The system is monitored and accountable.
The MAV proposes an operational framework with the following elements:
“A stronger ‘State’ articulation of State Policy through spatially resolved maps and instructions for Planning Authorities that sits outside planning schemes. As well as a Subsequent review of State Policy every four years.