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”.
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