«December 2011 Victorian Planning System Ministerial Advisory Committee Initial Report. Geoff Underwood, Chair. Catherine Heggen, Member. David ...»
the exercise of the Minister's discretion in relation to planning scheme amendments or policy, etc. The current situation is riddled with paralysis.” The Blue Wedges Inc. group (Submission No. 380) also reflects the sentiment
repeated in submissions about the role of the Minister in decision making:
“We urge the committee to take a bold and innovative approach to devising a new planning paradigm, which reduces opportunities for political influence in decision making...”.
Concerns were also raised about the ad hoc nature of approval processes, especially the use of ministerial powers without consultation. This lack of transparency undermines the integrity of the planning system, when what should be an exceptional circumstance (i.e. a ministerial amendment) becomes the norm. It should be noted however, that a significant proportion of ministerial amendments are undertaken at the request of another planning authority or are initiated by the Department.
Moonee Valley City Council (Submission No. 387) comments:
“Council believes that there should be more clarity around what circumstances the Minister can intervene in Planning matters. There is a need for clarification of the basis upon which matters are deemed to be 'of State significance and reasons for Ministerial or other intervention. Currently a range of projects seem to be able to be described as ‘State significant’ with no consistency with how this is applied.
The process that the Minister undertakes when making decisions on planning matters is unclear. In particular the notice requirements are not articulated anywhere. It is believed that the Minister should be required to undertake notice of planning matters, particularly in the case where a matter is of State significance. The Act then needs to clarify how submissions are to be considered by the Minister.” KEY FINDINGS The Role of the Minister
The Committee believes that:
It is important for the role of the Minister to be clearly defined to minimise the need for him or her to be involved in the day to day administration of the planning system; and The Ministerial Powers of Intervention in Planning and Heritage Matters Practice Note (November 2004) be reviewed to relieve the Minister of the day to day decision making.
Initial Report - December 2011 45 Victorian Planning System Ministerial Advisory Committee
7.3 DPCD’s Planning Role The Committee received many submissions that relate to the Department and overall planning. The Department’s role is not only to be a custodian of the planning system, but also to provide leadership in relation to how the system is implemented and maintained.
“In 2007 the Government created the Department of Planning and Community Development to respond to the challenges of population growth and growth management by leading and supporting the development of liveable communities to help ensure Victorian communities are well planned and designed. A key focus of the Department has been greenfield and infill development, further integration of transport and land use planning, and improving the efficiency of Victoria’s planning system.”4 The Property Council of Australia (Submission No. 311) states there is a need
“Develop a holistic, sustainable and progressive planning vision for the state. The realisation of such a policy vision is a critical priority for the Victorian Government and must be achieved as part of the current planning reform process.
That the role of DPCD is reviewed and appropriate structural and management changes be initiated to instil leadership and advocacy of state strategies and policies.”
7.3.1 The Role and Structure of DPCD
The State’s planning body is predominantly contained in one of six functional areas of DPCD that report to the Secretary of the Department the Planning and Local Government Division. That division has four main streams that report
to a Deputy Secretary:
Local Government Victoria;
Planning Policy and Reform;
Planning Services and Urban Development; and Heritage Victoria.
Planning Panels Victoria reports directly to the Deputy Secretary. Planning functions within the Department are also contained in two other DPCD divisions. The group responsible for the preparation of the Metropolitan Strategy is located within the Strategic Policy, Research and Forecasting 4 Source: Victorian Planning System Overview (Council of Australian Governments, August 2010)
Division, while planning functions in regional offices are located within the Community Development and Regional Delivery Division. This management arrangement is shown in Figure 2 above, with the planning functions highlighted in green.
FIGURE 2 DPCD Organisational Structure Figure 3 shows in more detail the areas of responsibility within the Planning and Local Government Division of DPCD. Under the Planning Policy and Reform Branch, the Statutory Planning Systems Reform Unit is custodian of the planning system and is responsible for maintaining and improving the VPP and the Act.
State Planning Services is responsible for metropolitan and regional planning scheme amendments and statutory approvals. It is the unit that prepares reports on amendments submitted for approval by a planning authority (usually a council) for consideration of the Minister or his or her delegate.
State Planning Services is also responsible for preparing the majority of ministerial amendments. For the period June 2010 to July 2011, approximately 201 ministerial amendments under section 20(4) of the Act were approved. A further 259 amendments were subject to the normal public exhibition process.5 Planning and Local Government also covers 13 statutory authorities, such as the Growth Areas Authority, Building Commission, Plumbing Industry Advisory Council and the Architects Registration Board of Victoria.
The Department has regional offices across the State and a number of rural municipalities advised the Committee that they support DPCD’s regional presence, as it provides planning advice and is a conduit into the DPCD head office in Melbourne.
As part of its consultations, the Committee met with various officers at all levels within the Department. It was keen to allow conversation to flow in an informal manner and to promote a frank exchange of views. These consultations were extremely useful.
At present, the DPCD has a number of different divisions. These divisions appear to be operating largely in silos. The Committee questions whether the current structure of the Department is the most appropriate to lead the planning system in its current form or in a revised form.
The Committee considers that the leadership role of the DPCD is central to the performance of the planning system, but has serious doubts about the leadership provided. While it might ultimately make a range of recommendations in relation to the planning system, the Committee is concerned that without strong leadership, any recommendations will fail to achieve their intended purpose. Consequently, the way the planning system is led by the DPCD is a key issue for the Committee.
7.3.2 Accountability and Structural Problems Notwithstanding the elaborate organisational structure and resources of the Department, numerous submissions commented about the lack of leadership within the Department and a lack of transparency and accountability in relation to processes such as the planning scheme amendment process.
After meetings with both metropolitan and rural municipalities, the Committee formed the view that there was a general lack of understanding of the role and function of groups located in DPCD’s Spring Street head office.
5 Planning Scheme Amendment Assessment & Decision - Monthly Report for September 2011 (DPCD)
The Municipal Association of Victoria (Submission No. 299) states:
“Although the Minister for Planning is ultimately responsible for the performance of the planning system in Victoria, it is very unclear how this accountability is ensured. Councils have raised concerns about the advice, support and requirements of DPCD, coupled with out dated or inadequate practice notes and guidance materials, often drafted by other Departments.
There are some fundamental organisational issues contributing to, or as a consequence of, the lack of ownership and accountability for the system and processes. DPCD is characterised by contradictory views about planning outcomes, relative roles and responsibilities and the advice provided to councils is inconsistent. There appear to be too many ‘gatekeepers’ without a cohesive Departmental view and a lack of feedback loops. This uncertainty is inefficient and creates unnecessary rework for councils.
The leadership vacuum has seen Panels Victoria and VCAT assert authority and issues are dealt with case by case rather than systematically to build practice and improve consistency across the planning sector.”
The Property Council of Australia comments:
“Role of the Department of Planning and Community Development (DPCD) Members of the Property Council have expressed a number of concerns with the role of DPCD in the effective management and implementation of the Victorian planning system.
Some of the issues raised regarding DPCD’s role and capacity include:
Strong leadership is currently lacking within DPCD and staff morale is low. Industry and the community rely on DPCD to provide policy leadership and advocate in a positive manner for the planning system. One of the failings of the implementation of Melbourne 2030 was the fact that DPCD failed to articulate a vision, particularly in relation to medium density housing.
The role of DPCD, its internal culture and its own understanding of the role it should play within Victoria’s planning system is in need of vital reform.
Often DPCD staff do not express an opinion on an issue or conversely, hold an opinion that has little foundation or justification.
DPCD staff are frequently confused about their role when appearing at panels or VCAT. They avoid giving a view about the Initial Report - December 2011 50 Victorian Planning System Ministerial Advisory Committee application of state policy to a project on the basis that they are somehow fettering the discretion of the Minister whether to approve an amendment. This negates DPCD's role as the advocate of state policy, independent of the Minister’s statutory role.
DPCD and other departments and agencies have a tendency to ‘sit on the fence’ and rather than provide technical guidance and direction, as should be their role within the planning system.
Concerns have been expressed about the existence of internal, unpublished planning guidelines being used by some DPCD staff in the decision making and planning approvals process. There are examples of planning scheme amendments that have been through exhaustive processes and comply with VPP published guidelines, being extensively changed by DPCD staff for no apparent reason undoing years of work.
DPCD seem reluctant to take responsibility for planning scheme amendments as gazetted (there are frequent errors) and to respond to issues raised by Planning Panels Victoria and VCAT in hearings.
There is no active interface between DPCD and the profession, limiting the application of lessons learnt through practical application (or misapplication) of policy and processes.” Throughout the consultation process it was obvious that the Department has very few key performance indicators that are reported on and which are accessible. Some of these key performance indicators can be found in State Government budget papers, however basic performance indicators are not available to the public or other agencies.
In submissions, there is generally positive feedback about the role of the regional offices of the Department. However it is clear from Departmental representatives in the regional areas that they do not have the budget or the mandate to undertake significant planning initiatives and give support to help implement those initiatives.
Those consulted also commented on the Departmental structure being too susceptible to changes of government and from changes by government. In the most recent change, State Government planning functions were absorbed into a large organisation in which planning is one of several functions handled in a broader DPCD. This reorganisation led to significant disruption in the administration of the planning system by removing key elements of what should comprise part of a distinct planning unit. In particular, the Strategic Policy and Research Division.
Initial Report - December 2011 51 Victorian Planning System Ministerial Advisory Committee Some submissions noted that there is a silo mentality within the Department.
This approach extends to its relationships with other government departments (such as the Department of Transport) and outside organisations such as with Local Government and referral authorities. A number of submissions comment on how difficult it is to understand what part of the planning section of DPCD one should approach with particular issues.
The Committee believes that the structure of the Department needs to be reviewed to ensure that appropriate levels of connectivity exist between its internal and external customers. This is important as the planning function of the Department impacts on every aspect of government, such as transport, recreation, employment and environment.
7.3.3 Maintaining the Planning System Submissions emphasise the need for the Department to show greater leadership in the management of the planning system.
Rather than a program and culture of continual improvement, the Department tends to repair and patch parts of the system, often without fully solving the problem at hand. This approach has meant that as different issues have arisen over the past 15 years, no significant response has been made to mend or improve any fundamental aspect of the planning system.