Brumby foreshadows planning reforms

By Angela Dorizas

Victorian Premier John Brumby will introduce new planning reforms to fast-track infrastructure projects and stimulate the economy.

Under the proposed changes, the State Planning Minister will identify key projects gridlocked in the local government development application process or held up at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) and call them in for fast approval.

Premier John Brumby said the reforms would fast-track public works and boost employment across the state.

“Our Government owes it to all Victorians to do everything we can to create more jobs as quickly as possible and that is precisely what our reforms to planning will achieve,” Mr Brumby said.

“There are currently 1876 pending planning applications before VCAT, worth $1.3 billion. We want to work in partnership with VCAT to see how much of that potential investment and jobs can be unlocked by fast-tracking significant projects.”

The Premier has already identified six projects that could be fast-tracked under the reforms:

• $75 million apartment complex at Southbank

• $50 million shopping centre for Waurn Ponds

• $37 million redevelopment of Northcote Bowl apartments

• $100 million retail, office and residential development at Pakenham

• $300 million residential subdivision at Chirnside Park golf course

• $57 million Elizabeth Street Common Ground public housing project

Planning Minister Justin Madden said he will deal with each project individually and comply with the State Government’s planning framework.

“To ensure this happens, our Government will provide clear guidance and ensure that well designed projects will be approved in reasonable times,” Mr Madden said.

“I can also give an assurance that decisions will be transparent and community views will continue to be sought.”

The Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) said the planning reforms “potentially bypass democratic, judicial and legislative planning processes” for the sake of short term economic and employment outcomes.

MAV chief executive Rob Spence called upon the State Government to focus on the long term legacy of development decisions.

“Local government is keen and capable of working closely with other levels of government to stimulate the economy, but the sector opposes the Government increasing its call-in of development applications without considering local planning policies,” Mr Spence said.

He said planning development applications must follow due process as detailed in State legislation.

“The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal performs a judicial function to ensure natural justice and local government planning policies identify important community expectations,” Mr Spence said.

“These must not be bypassed without very clear and transparent justification. If the global economic crisis requires strong government intervention in planning then we expect to see the guidelines and processes in place to ensure community views and local policy requirements will not be compromised.”

Mr Spence said local government had not been consulted about the proposed changes.

State Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu also voiced concerns about the proposed planning reforms that  he claimed would lead to “backdoor planning”.

Key elements of the proposed planning reforms:

• Projects held up at VCAT will be called-in by the Planning Minister if they have the potential to generate jobs or deliver environmental and social benefits

• Roadblocks delaying significant development projects will be removed

• Complex planning permit applications that are gridlocked at councils will be called-in by the Planning Minister

• The Planning Minsiter will work with councils to deliver faster approval times

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