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8 April 2021

Planning and Environment Amendment Act 2021 – The Pros and Cons

The Planning and Environment Amendment Act 2021 (Amendment Act) was passed into law on the 23rd of March 2021. The key changes include:

  • Increased heritage protections.
  • Changes regarding compensation.
  • Introduction of public information requirements.

The increased heritage protections within the Amendment Act have been discussed in the media and are widely welcomed by the industry.  They strengthen protections against illegal heritage demolition, following the Corkman Hotel demolition. On the other hand, the changes to Public Availability Requirements have raised numerous concerns within the industry.

While we believe that attempts to standardise information requirements is a good thing, on a deeper review they may be counter-productive to creating an efficient and transparent planning system in Victoria.

Greater Heritage Protections

ratio: believes that strengthening legislation to prevent future illegal heritage demolition is a positive step.

The new legislation facilitates greater heritage protections (including retrospective protection) under planning schemes.  We presume this will be pursued in a future state-wide planning scheme amendment and provides a ‘big stick’ option that allows the Minister for Planning to prohibit development on applicable land.

The amendments should see the end of practices where heritage fabric is deliberately allowed to fall into disrepair and gives the minister the ability to apply an order prohibiting use and development for up to 10 years on any site.

Standardised Planning Registers

The Amendment Act 2021 introduces the new definitions of personal information and public availability requirements in a bid to standardise information requirements across planning functions and government authorities. The main changes include:

  • Prohibition of publishing online private information, including private information of an objector or an applicant, and
  • Legislating that authorities have the choice between an electronic or in person (paper based) registers.

Significantly, the private information requirements appear to only be required of electronic registers and not in person registers.

The reason behind these changes is unclear and there is little mention of them online or in the media.  We assume they are designed to protect private information in the electronic age. Whilst this is a reasonable goal, the requirements may risk some of the progress made towards a more transparent and efficient planning system. 

Unintended Consequences

ratio: regularly engage with all municipalities and authorities across Victoria. In our experience, every local government and statutory authority has a nuanced interpretation of information and procedural requirements, and expectations. This approach varies between each municipality.

We would like to acknowledge Councils that we regularly work with that have outstanding, efficient and transparent electronic systems. The creation of these systems requires significant resourcing from a Planning Department, costing work hours and significant financial investments. These Councils have developed the systems independently, demonstrating their commitment to transparency within the planning system.

ratio: welcomes the attempt to standardise planning information requirements. However, we believe the changes resulting from the amendment may have unintended consequences and may discourage electronic registers.  For example, the changes to ‘private information’ appear to relate only to electronic registers and mean that Councils now need extra resources to remove prohibited private information from online records.

Authorities that are industry leaders for electronic processing and registers may therefore be disadvantaged, compared to those with paper-based systems. This disincentivises online transparency while creating additional work for our government partners who have invested in strong electronic processing capabilities.

In response to this change, some authorities have removed electronic registers while they work out how to respond. This illustrates an unintended consequence for our local government partners, especially for those that have invested in better planning practices.  The change creates no incentive for a transparent planning system in Victoria and may discourage electronic communication moving forward. In an age where we seek to move to paperless offices and work from home arrangements this is potentially counter productive to that goal.

ratio: welcomes discussions with Local and State Government partners, and legal representatives on how to improve the transparency and efficiency of our planning system.

Please contact Andrew Guthrie or Scott Matheson to discuss on 9429 3111.

 

Author: Andrew Guthrie, Senior Planner

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