News / Planning

Controversial planning ‘scorecard’ trial gets nod to continue

Critics say the Design Excellence Scorecard is undemocratic

Cranes towering above two developments near Anstey station in Brunswick.

Mark Phillips
Thursday, March 11, 2021

MORELAND council has opted to continue with a trial of a controversial planning “scorecard” for another six months despite criticism that it is undemocratic and removes residents’ rights from planning decisions.

At their meeting on March 10, councillors voted 8–3 to continue with a trial of the Design Excellence Scorecard until September.

Introduced as a trial in March 2019, the Design Excellence Scorecard emerged out of a need to encourage better outcomes for medium and high density developments in building design and materials, environmentally sustainable design and building performance, building accessibility and community benefit.

All four components must be met to be compliant with the scorecoard.

To be eligible for the scorecard, a development must already meet relevant planning scheme objectives and policies. Developers can negotiate with council staff to trade-off some planning restrictions if they meet the scorecard requirements.

Although community consultation is required and objections can be heard, the scorecard has attracted criticism for delegating approval to council staff and bypassing the normal Planning and Related Matters (PARM) meeting attended by elected councillors. The incentive for developers to come forward with projects that meet the design excellence standards is that they can be fast-tracked for approval under delegation.

The trial of the scorecard has been extended twice and is due to continue until September. After it was extended a second time in August last year, additional requirements were added including ensuring extra public notification by planning applicants, and enhanced rights for objectors to be heard by councillors.

Since the trial was first begun in 2019, only six developments have met the requirements of the scorecard. They represent just 0.5% of about 1200 planning applications determined under delegation each year.

Outcomes achieved as a result of the scorecard have included 16 affordable housing dwellings, 203 dwellings meeting accessability standards, and 100 with an average 7.5 star energy rating. However, some developments approved under delegation through using the scorecard have been allowed to exceed usual height controls by up to 8.6 metres.

At the council meeting on March 10, Glenroy-based Cr Angelica Panopoulos moved pre-emptively to block a bid by Cr Sue Bolton to end the scorecard trial.

Cr Panopoulos said the trial needed to be given the time to run in full so more applications could be considered and its effectiveness could be properly assessed.

Cr Angelica Panopoulos spoke in favour of continuing the trial. Photo: Facebook

She said decisions made under the scorecard were legally enforceable, and public consultation had been improved during the trial.

“We all know that planning decisions often put us in a tricky situation,” she said.

“We sometimes end up approving decisions that personally we don’t agree with. We also know new measures to deliver better outcomes for our community take time. I’d like to think we’re all pretty level-headed and sensible and switched on and this is about getting enough evidence to make up our minds on the effectiveness of the trial.”

But Cr Bolton said two years was more than enough time for the trial and it should end immediately. She said for whatever benefits it delivered, the scorecard took away residents’ rights to be heard at planning meetings and the feedback she had got was that planning decisions under the scorecard were “a fait accompli”.

“I think two years is sufficient for a trial to be able to assess whether or not the loss of residential rights is something which is worthwhile continuing with compared to the potential advantages out of the scorecard,” she said.

“What we’re doing now by persisting with something which strips away residents’ rights to go to the PARM meeting flies in the face of all of our good notions about community engagement.”

She was backed by councillors Lambros Tapinos and Milad El-Halabi.

Cr Tapinos noted that one of the developments currently under consideration by the scorecard was for nine stories plus a roof garden in Albion Street in Brunswick, near the Upfield railway line.

“Now, I don’t get a say in that and the community can’t lobby me to have a say in that because it meets, or may meet a scorecard,” he said. “I think that’s unacceptable.

“For me, it’s very clear that if you support residents’ rights, support democratic decision making, this scorecard should not be implemented and these rights should not be watered down.”

But Cr Panopoulos said it was “hypocritical” for anyone to claim the scorecard took away democratic rights, when 98% of all planning decisions by the council were already made under delegation.

Mayor Annalivia Carli Hannan said Moreland needed to adopt visionary planning policies to encourage medium density and affordable housing within the city and close to public transport and services.

She also disputed the scorecard took away residents’ rights.

“They still have the Planning Information and Discussion [meeting], they still have access to councillors and officers to discuss issues related to the development,” she said.

“As someone deciding on planning matters, I do not make my decisions only by being lobbied by residents. I make them on the planning scheme and on the quality of the development.”

Ultimately, the council voted eight to three to continue with the trial until September.