Victoria’s planning system is dealing with significant demands as it works to accommodate the jobs, transport, services and houses that accompany growth. Urbis congratulates the Victorian State Government on taking further steps toward the reform of our planning system.

Drawing on our extensive day-to-day experience in facilitating development across Victoria, we prepared a detailed response to the discussion paper released in October. We broadly support the issues raised in the planning reform paper, but note some areas where we have further recommendations.

Here we outline a summary of our thoughts.

Two important issues are the need for certainty about the planning process and the need for accountability to meet responsibilities provided under the Act and its regulations

Key concerns to address

From talking to our clients, we hear the two most important factors are:

  1. The need for certainty for the community and industry about the planning process
  2. The need for accountability to meet responsibilities provided under the Act and its regulations

Reform should address both of these issues to provide certainty and clear time frames for decision making. We consider positive measures to address these matters will provide a climate for investment in Victoria without compromise to the quality of planning decisions. 

Principles of a Modernised VPP

We support the new principles of a modernised VPP, noting our recommendations as:

  • To include a new principle of efficiency, which we say should underpin the planning system.
  • Clarify the principle of proportional to minimise the need for planning consents and to streamline process.

Proposal 2: An Integrated Planning Policy Framework

The integration of State and Local Policy, with greater emphasis on local policy is of concern as:

  • It may not be policy ‘neutral’, and the revised drafting should be available for further consultation and comment.
  • Is likely to lead to an even greater disparity between planning policy framework between Municipalities.
  • May undermine a Metropolitan approach, and dilute the importance of Plan Melbourne in providing for a rapidly growing population.

Urbis recommends is a ‘top-down’ approach, where State policy establishes the Metropolitan approach, and local policy provides the nuance of local context and approach.

We support a streamlined approach to drafting of the Planning Scheme to improve the clarify and effectiveness, as well as making them more ‘user friendly’.

Proposal 3: Assessment Pathways for Simpler Proposals

We support for stream-lined pathways for smaller applications, which are more straight-forward. We support:

  • the broadening of this process to include small cafes / restaurants (including liquor licences and signage etc); pop-up retail, which is on the rise; live/work; secondary dwellings (granny flats); and small lot standards.
  • A Performance based approach.

We further recommend:

  • permit exemptions for straight-forward activities in appropriate zones.
  • Sufficiently resourced Councils to quickly deal with VicSmart proposals, while continuing to improve efficiencies around assessing large and complex applications.
  • Removal of the cost-based threshold, where quality of outcome (materials etc) may be penalised. Alternative measures could include floor areas, heights, or distance from sensitive interfaces.
  • Review of the barriers to small applications being excluded from the VicSmart process.
  • Testing of VicSmart and Codified assessment controls such as the small lot standards. Urbis would be pleased to assist in testing with DELWP.

Proposal 4. Smarter Planning Scheme Drafting

We support a streamlined approach to drafting of the Planning Scheme to improve the clarify and effectiveness, as well as making them more ‘user friendly’. We support:

  • A new VPP user manual
  • A dedicated business unit focusing on content and drafting of planning scheme amendments, which would improve consistency. Early intervention would also avoid costly and lengthy panel processes involving poorly considered and drafted amendments.
  • The creation of an online library or repository of all relevant planning scheme documents, including incorporated and reference documents and approved development plans.

Proposal 5: Improve Specific Provisions

Urbis welcomes the efforts to streamline the planning system. We respectfully request Government consults further on proposed changes:

  • Enabling industry input into the drafting of the modified VPPs through the exhibition of proposed zones, overlays and provisions.
  • Commitments to periodic review (i.e. 12-18 months after VPPs are gazetted) to address drafting or procedural issues arising from the modifications.

Planning schemes have become increasingly complex and, in our opinion, too unwieldy for the non-planner to fully understand and navigate.

It is our strong view that any major reform of the Victorian Planning Provisions should be undertaken as part of a broader and more holistic review. This would ensure the best and most integrated outcome for all users of the system. 

We recommend the VPP review is undertaken in concert with a review of the Planning and Environment Act 1987 (as amended), the PE Act, and the Planning and Environment Regulations 2015, as well as an opportunity to integrate other legislation that interacts with the land use consenting system.

To speak to the authors, or to access a copy of Urbis’ full response to the VPP Reform, contact Sarah Macklin or Michael Barlow:

Sarah Macklin (nee Walbank) View Profile
Michael Barlow View Profile