The proposed programs are intended to promote an efficient and coordinated delivery of all the recommended actions, based on best practice. Most of the gains will take some time to achieve and will depend on both management commitment from both the Victorian Government and councils and the availability of training in new policies and processes.
In the short-term, there are some twenty opportunities for significant early improvement that should be given priority. These are listed below, grouped by the responsible agency.
Priorities for DELWP
A new program, Better Planning should be established working in conjunction with councils to deliver the core recommendations from this report over the next 2 years. This would build on and extend the work underway through Smart Planning.
There are several areas where new practice notes, guidelines and ministerial directives need to be drafted to streamline the current requirements and simplify the steps to consider applications. More substantial regulatory changes will require regulatory and legislative amendments.
The most prospective set of changes is to tackle the problem of incomplete applications and the high rate of requests for further information. By only starting the “statutory clock” once an application is decision-ready and pausing – instead of resetting – the clock for requests for further information there will be incentives for both applicants to submit more complete and higher quality applications and for councils to be more timely and effective in their use of RFIs.
DELWP should review the process and criteria for planning scheme amendment authorisation with a view to making all decisions within 10 days or, if further review is required, within an additional 30 days.
Introducing VicSmart Plus, subject to further consultation on and refinement of the proposal, will expand the number of low-risk applications (particularly for residential development) that can be determined quickly through the VicSmart assessment process.
Regional councils have very limited planning resources and face significant variations in demand. There are considerable benefits in having shared resources, harmonised policies and access to reserve staff to cover absences and peaks.
DELWP to examine how to improve data collection and performance reporting, including using and expanding the existing PPARS and Know Your Council data. The Better Reporting framework addresses the need to report additional data across many different points in the system (this is reflected in links to the Better Reporting framework note in Recommendations A2, B8, B9, C1 and C2).
DELWP should work with councils to develop frameworks based on several best practice examples of delegation arrangements, that councils can elect to adopt or amend, in accordance with local circumstances. This work should involve preparing example deeds of delegation to support councils in choosing and applying the delegation mechanisms that best suits their needs and supporting councillors to understand their roles and responsibilities when making decisions under the planning framework through training.
Priorities for VPA and DJPR
DELWP and the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Resources (DJPR) should lead work with the VPA and councils to develop clear criteria for prioritising precincts and strategic sites that warrant direct facilitation and management by the Victorian Government. A Standing Advisory Committee should be created to advise the Minister for Planning at the Minister’s request on which precincts or strategic sites to expedite, the appropriate role for different agencies in order to expedite planning for those precincts or strategic sites and the most appropriate mechanisms with which to do so. This Committee could also form the Panel for hearings on planning scheme amendments relating to precincts and strategic sites.
Continuing this program, which is managed by the VPA, would continue to fund councils that do not have the resources to implement the reforms needed to manage growth or undertake strategic planning for the release of land for housing growth.
The Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC) and the Department of Treasury and Finance (DTF) should seek a whole of government approach to forward planning for infrastructure across portfolios to ensure that land use development can progress with confidence in the way strategic sites and growth corridors will be supported by new investment in schools, transport and community facilities.
Priorities for councils
The review identified several best practices already implemented by some councils that could be adopted by other councils as common practice. Councils could review their current arrangements and implement operational and business process improvements that support the objectives of this Review immediately. Some of these opportunities are listed below, including supporting councils in these efforts through a State-led Better Planning Approvals program.
The Better Approvals program delivered significant improvements to the handling of small business approvals. Several councils have redesigned their business processes to provide every applicant with a single point of contact through the approvals process. This approach enables concurrent assessments to be used. DELWP, in collaboration with Local Government Victoria, could oversee the implementation of the Better Planning Approvals program focused on improving planning and building approvals processes through a similar concierge service.
Disconnected (and sometimes physically separated) strategic, statutory, building, heritage, engineering, traffic and environment units within councils create significant inefficiencies as a project passes through the four stages of approval. Some councils have delivered significant efficiencies by creating development branches that co-locate some or all of these functions. This co-location boosts opportunities to deliver concurrent and well-informed assessments.
It is not necessary to change the Planning and Environment Regulations 2015 to implement a more modern and user-friendly basis for public notice of an application. Some councils such as Glen Eira do this already. Creating a template for councils to adapt and use would deliver an immediate improvement.
There is scope to update and simplify the use of conditions. The United Kingdom Government recently updated its guidance to councils and it is worth considering the principles on which this was based. An updated Practice Note is needed to define the appropriate circumstances more appropriately and to manage the timeframes for post permit approvals.
This requires development of model local faws for the range of matters included in construction management plans and asset protection permits along with supporting guidance materials and template documents, as required. This should be centrally coordinated but needs to involve DELWP, councils and the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV).
Work to expand the types of minor building work that can be exempt from the requirement to obtain a building permit while maintaining public safety could be progressed ahead of the Building Act Review. This would include the construction of certain decks, mobility access ramps and sheds that meet the relevant building standards.
Priorities for other agencies
While the VBA is already working to promote careers in building surveying and inspection to secondary students, providing more flexibility for practitioners from related professions to move into these professions will also assist in expanding the future workforce. Work by DELWP and the VBA to create a new class of building surveyor for low-risk domestic building work would assist with building surveyor workloads and could also progress in advance of the Building Act Review. .
The Essential Services Commission (ESC) should formalise ongoing public reporting requirements for non-standard connections. A performance management framework could be introduced with enforceable timelines for defined residential non-standard electricity connection in greenfield developments with clear and effective compliance obligations. This could be introduced in parallel with ESC’s current review of Electricity Distribution Code (EDC).
Given the delays that are experienced by developers through the VCAT process, there is considerable opportunity for review and improvement. This may result in streamlining processes, better registry support and greater opportunity for mediation, ultimately realising the economic value of these developments sooner.
VCAT already has a reform process in train for its Planning and Environment Division, under the new Deputy President Teresa Bisucci. VCAT is aware of the need to better promote the availability of its existing Short Cases List and the ability to settle simple matters “on the day”. There is another infrequently used process to request a “practice day hearing” for matters that can be dealt with in 30 minutes.
In regard to the use of building consultants, the recommendation is that Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV) should continue its consumer awareness program. Other related actions – such as limiting the use of the term “building surveyor” or “inspector” to registered and qualified people – should be considered by the VBA.
These issues are being considered as part of the recently announced inquiry into “green tape” being led by Graeme Samuel. This issue can be directly raised by the Premier with the Prime Minister – possibly by listing it on the agenda for the Council of Australian Governments. In the first instance the issue can be raised with DELWP and a ‘whole of Department’ view put to the Ministers for Environment and Planning.