THE State Government is preparing a new policy statement on housing and planning, due to be released in September. The policy reform will discuss urban infill, housing affordability, increasing the supply of houses, helping renters and improving planning processes. According to Premier Dan Andrews, “everything is on the table”.
The Age reports that “a key plank of the government’s plan to tackle the state’s growing pains will be to strip local councils of decision-making powers for major developments, particularly those in key development zones close to public transport”.
The newspaper suggests Operation Sandon, the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission’s recent inquiry into Casey Council – reviewing allegations that developer John Woodman bribed local councillors – is being weaponised by the State Government to remove local councils from review of major planning applications. This makes little sense, as the State Government was also criticised by the inquiry. There are numerous questions about how locals can intervene in planning panels, if Council processes are sidelined.
“We recognise that Sandon may well be utilised by the state to centralise further planning powers in the minister and away from councils and community,” Municipal Association of Victoria president David Clark said. “We urge the state to work with the sector on reform, rather than seek to force change that likely will only support a discrete group of private interests (the property industry).”
Developers are looking at ways that remove resident rights over notification, review and appeal. However Merri-bek Council already supports greater housing density along transport corridors in the Brunswick Activity Centre, while developers are making ambit claims that make a mockery of height and sustainability guidelines in the Merri-bek Planning Scheme.
On the Urban Happiness Facebook group, planning academic Ian Woodcock has noted: “In Victoria, developers regularly submit development applications for projects that exceed the planning scheme requirements in the knowledge that they are most likely to get some kind of gain, even if they are required to cut back the proposal to somewhere between the planning scheme requirements and their original (‘ambit’) proposal. This is because the system is set up for them to operate this way, there are almost no mandatory requirements (except parking).”
Brunswick Residents Network is deeply concerned by any further attempts to remove resident rights over notification, review and appeal in the planning process. It is vital that equity of access to the planning system by all affected participants and fair outcomes for people are not compromised by the looming changes in Victoria’s planning system. The solution to planning delays is not to remove residents’ rights – it is to make the system more accessible, less costly, more non-adversarial and more efficient.
Any new planning policies must have formalised community engagement practices that give residents, tenants and local stakeholders the chance to have input into the ways their neighbourhoods are transformed by high-density developments and shifts in housing stock. The best sort of community development should draw on the expertise and lived experience of people residing, working and playing in the area.
Ordinary members of the public deserve to have a real say in their own planning system. This should include a legislated right to object to planning permit applications and to appeal planning permit decisions. The right to enforce breaches of planning requirements should be entrenched in statute.
Nic Maclellan is a member of the Brunswick Residents Network, on whose website this article first appeared.