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3 April 2020

Getting on With Planning in the Covid-19 Landscape

As the Covid-19 crisis impacts all corners of the globe, society is changing on a daily – and sometimes hourly – basis. Development approvals and Council processes have not been immune from change, with many of our local government partners adjusting their established practices during this unprecedented time, ensuring that the business of planning approvals keeps moving.

In order to assist our clients, peers and partners, we have sought to summarise what a number of key municipalities are doing to keep the planning approval assessment process moving forward. We will add to this list as we gather more information from our local government colleagues.

A number of Victorian Councils already have established on-line lodgement, processing and communications systems in place. Many of us have been using those process for some time and these Councils are well placed to maintain their existing services. Planning departments in Stonnington, Casey and Maribyrnong have led the way in digitally accepting and processing planning applications.

Many Council customer service centres have closed with planning departments often working from home or splitting time in the office.  Despite this, key stakeholders are generally contactable via phone or email. Quite simply, a call or quick message will get you connected to the relevant personnel in due course.  

Advertising periods for planning permit applications are being extended in some municipalities – including Boroondara, Yarra and Stonnington - for up to 28 days. This may result in minor delays but does not impact the statutory timeframe of 60 days. Provided the project team keeps the application moving we don’t see this as a big obstacle, and realistically, 14 days is not significant in the context of many planning applications, particularly when Councils must allow an objection to be lodged right up until the time a decision is made.

Council meetings have been impacted in different ways. Some Councils like Bayside and Port Phillip are maintaining their regular schedules with little disruption. Others, including Yarra and Banyule, are taking a more conservative approach with meetings cancelled for the time being. One consistent theme has been that public attendance is not permitted during the current crisis and that written submissions are being accepted across the board – again a sensible change.

Below is a summary of how some Council's are proceeding in some of Victoria’s key municipalities. This information was current as of 3April 2020.

Name / Advertising / Council Meetings (no in-person attendance)

  • City of Port Phillip / Standard 14 days (no signs) / Proceeding as scheduled
  • City of Yarra / Increased to 28 days / April meetings cancelled, TBD for May onwards
  • City of Stonnington / Increased to 28 days / Proceeding as scheduled
  • City of Boroondara / Increased to 28 days / Proceeding as scheduled
  • City of Moreland / Standard 14 days / March cancelled, April proceeding as scheduled
  • City of Glen Eira / Increased to 21 days / Proceeding as scheduled
  • City of Bayside / Standard 14 days / Proceeding as scheduled
  • City of Monash / Standard 14 days / Proceeding as scheduled
  • City of Whitehorse / Standard 14 days / Proceeding as schedule, although under review
  • City of Moonee Valley / Standard 14 days / March cancelled, April proceeding as scheduled
  • City of Banyule / Under review (currently standard 14 days) / Have proceeded as scheduled but may be transitioning to on-line in April
  • City of Kingston / Standard 17 days / Council meetings proceeding as scheduled
  • City of Darebin / Standard timeframes (applicants must print sign though) / Council meetings proceeding as scheduled

Outcomes and Observations

Our observations over the last few weeks have been that access to planning officers is very good and all Councils should be congratulated on keeping the lines of communication open. Council officers are easy to reach and are flexible with meeting times. Many planning departments have streamlined their pre-application processes, making early engagement simpler and more effective. Interestingly, one impression we have is that conversations have been more candid on both sides of the fence as people realise that the things that unite as are stronger than the things that sometimes divide us.

Although we think the extended advertising period for some Councils is unnecessary, we don’t believe that this will have a large negative impact on the application process. Perhaps there is a future role for technology to play here, including advertising by email, SMS or WhatsApp? Covid 19 has made us all think differently about the way we do things after all.

With face-to-face Council meetings off-limits for now, ratio: considers this a particularly important time for planning consultants to keep in close contact with Council officers. Our consultants have already held numerous meetings with Council officers using Skype, Zoom, Teams and similar programs.

Our office can provide strategies to appropriately manage risk based on the current set of conditions and can work with our clients to prepare for persuasive and meaningful discussion to continue in all manner of forms.

As always, we are pleased to assist any of our network through this difficult time and have strong relationships across many of our local government partners.

 

Author: Scott Matheson, Senior Planner

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