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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