Category Archives: Save Our Suburbs

STOP PRESS! VicSmart draft planning Bill before Parliament

The following is a media release from Save Our Suburbs

Planning Minister Guy has introduced into Parliament the Planning and Environment Amendment (VicSmart Planning Assessment) Bill 2012.

Denial of third party notification and appeal rights is patently undemocratic.  The majority of appeals now clogging up the system are not from resident objectors but from developers seeking to overturn or correct Council draft permits.  Furthermore,  resident appeals have a provable benefit – VCAT statistics show that the majority result in extra conditions (ie, better planning outcomes) and some proposals are refused altogether as being unsuitable (which is what planning is supposed to be all about).

Consequently, resident oversight is vital to maintaining a curb on non-compliant proposals and helping ensure that council decisions are more consistent and more accurate (which is often not the case, as borne out by the VAGO report of Mar 08).

However, while we are strongly in favour of third party rights, it is also obviously unjust and inefficient that such an important area of law and business is reliant on random volunteer resident oversight to help improve the probity, consistency and appropriate outcomes of development applications.  No other government sector works like this.

Clearly, more mandatory controls based on existing democratically-derived   planning regulations is the simplest, quickest and best way to minimise delays and costs for all applications, as well as eliminate ambit claims and guarantee better and more appropriate outcomes.

Mandatory controls would automatically mean far fewer appeals (so less delay and cost), but the appeal avenue should remain open to both applicants and residents to deal with the few cases where due process was not properly   followed by Council or where the decision was based on incorrect or incomplete information in the application.

Existing loopholes are already exploited by unscrupulous developers (it’s always the minority who seek to subvert the law that laws have to be made for). So it’s patently obvious that to rely on a naïve assumption that developers will provide accurate and complete information, to prevent councils from requiring further information, and to then have applications assessed by non-planners, will create a giant loophole begging to be abused – to the detriment of neighbouring residents.

Finally, VicSmart is supposed to apply only to minor proposals. This will   have very little effect on the efficiency of overall council assessments because simple cases are already assessed quite quickly once planners deal with prior complex applications in the queue.

But the push to introduce these changes now would legitimise a process that   with minimal further modification could deal later with more complex cases as well.

Hence it is imperative that the Parliament resists these proposed changes.

Contact your local MP to warn them that this legislation is a dangerous and unnecessary erosion of democratic rights which will reduce transparency and produce worse planning outcomes.  It will also set a precedent for future legislation dealing with more complex planning applications such as apartment blocks.

For further comment on this insidious piece of legislation, see our media release of June 12

Ian Wood, President, Save Our   Suburbs

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VicSmart will create more planning problems than it solves

Following on from our earlier posting of a Media Release from Save Our Suburbs (SoS) re proposed State Government planning changes, GERA draws residents attention to the latest SoS  media release.

Save Our Suburbs MEDIA RELEASE 12 June 2012

Most of the rationale for the new VicSmart planning process doesn’t stack up, according to Save Our Suburbs president, Ian Wood.
He strongly criticised the lack of community input into the new assessment criteria, council CEOs being responsible for permit decisions, the increased lack of accountability for developers, and the lack of appeal rights for residents.

Mr Wood pointed out that the Minister promised when elected that councils and communities would have more say in planning decisions. But the new criteria are to be determined without community consultation.
“These new criteria for simple minor applications will be mandatory, so theoretically there should be no need for appeal rights. But as SOS and the Auditor-General have both said for years – most council permit assessments are flawed”.*

“VicSmart confirms this reality by allowing developer appeals to correct council decisions”, he said.

“However, it’s most often resident objectors who pick up application ‘errors’ because they know the site context best and also have a vested interest in minimising any potential adverse effects. But VicSmart will eliminate this ‘oversight’ function” that objectors provide where they have notification and appeal rights”. **
Even worse for good planning outcomes is that VicSmart applicants will be trusted to provide the correct information upfront. Combine that with applications being exempt from further information requests by councils and you’ve got a recipe for disaster, according to Mr Wood.
“Developers will be able to provide misleading information with impunity because councils will be powerless to demand further details”.
“Already, unscrupulous developers often submit incorrect site context information which is often only detected by neighbouring objectors. Unauthorised changes are also commonly included on plans submitted for endorsement which council planners often don’t scrutinise closely. If undetected, these become part of the permit and are then legally difficult to correct by enforcement action”.  “With VicSmart, this situation will be exacerbated so developers will be free to embellish their applications with impunity”, explained Mr Wood.

“The decision-maker should never be deprived of the right to request more information. In the unlikely event of any unjustified or exaggerated requests, these could be challenged at VCAT, as happens now”.   “On top of this, putting CEOs instead of planners in charge of application assessments will just maximise errors and poor decisions because permit decisions will be made by people who are likely to know nothing about planning”, he said.
“VicSmart is a very dangerous thin end of the wedge for planning reform that removes yet further transparency and democracy from the system”, Mr Wood concluded.
“SOS is in favour of planning reform but let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. The simplest solution to improving certainty and reducing delays in planning permit assessments is to make most current planning controls mandatory. Appeal rights would be retained for both developers and residents but limited to disputes about the correctness and completeness of applications and whether council planners followed appropriate process”.

Ian Wood,
President, Save Our Suburbs

* “78% of permit assessments did not adequately consider matters specified in the Act, planning scheme or both” Source: Auditor-General, Land Use Planning, May 08: part 6.2.14

** “Third Party Appeal Rights…. improve the quality of governance; lead to better planning decisions; and discourage corrupt behaviour between developers and local government”
Source: “Third Party Participation in the Planning Permit Process”, Justice Stuart Morris QC, 4 March 2005

STATE GOVERNMENT PLANNING CHANGES

GERA is highlighting the recent media release issued by Save our Suburbs* (SoS)  related  to the State Government’s proposed changes to the planning regulations to include New Residential Zones and Code Assess.  Both of these changes will further remove community input from  planning decisions, especially in and near Activity Centres and have been featured  in the news media (Age, 15/5/12 – States moves to reduce building appeal rights, Age, 14/3/12, Planning Reform Blocks Appeals)

GERA is particularly concerned with these changes as the Glen Eira Planning Scheme has failed dismally to protect the social, environmental and economic amenity of  the municipality.  In stark contrast to the vast majority of councils, Glen Eira’s inadequate Planning Scheme**  is ultimately working in favour of developers rather than residents.  The combination of the State Government’s proposed changes and the inadequacies of the planning scheme will further skew the favour towards developers.

GERA supports SoS ‘s call for residents to express their concerns to State Parliamentarians

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Save Our Suburbs Media Release, 15th May, 2012
STATE GOVERNMENT FAILS TO TACKLE KEY PLANNING PROBLEMS
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.

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* Save Our Suburbs Inc. (Vic) is a community planning group that lobbies for more accountable and transparent planning regulations to maintain residential amenity, provide effective transport solutions and encourage sustainable urban development in Victoria, particularly metro Melbourne.

** Inadequacies of the Glen Eira Planning Scheme

  • Glen Eira does not have structure plans
  • Glen Eira does not have interim or permanent height controls
  • Glen Eira does not have any development contributions levies
  • Glen Eira does not have a transitions ZONE for dwellings bordering Housing Diversity Areas
  • Glen Eira does not have a Commercial Centres Policy
  • Glen Eira does not have a Parking Precinct Plan
  • Glen Eira does not have a Public Realm strategy
  • Glen Eira’s public open space policy dates back to 1996
  • Glen Eira’s Neighbourhood centre policy relies on data from 1992
  • Glen Eira’s policies are inequitable where it is claimed that 20% of the municipality should bear the burden of the majority of developments
  • Glen Eira’s delegatory powers largely exclude councillors and cede all control to unelected officials when it comes to planning decisions
  • Glen Eira rarely uses ‘experts’ to support residents at VCAT ( in contrast to other councils)