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Part 4: Summary of the recommendations and stakeholder feedback

Part 4 of this report contains a discussion of each recommendation, including the existing issues it addresses, a summary of stakeholder feedback and the way it has been refined.

  • This report recommends simplifying planning schemes by:

    • building on recent reforms, focusing on plain language drafting principles, improving digital delivery and accessibility and completing the translation of planning schemes into the integrated Planning Provisions Framework
    • consolidating planning scheme requirements that serve similar purposes and updating longstanding policies to reduce overlap and duplication
    • DELWP prioritising the development of State-wide planning policies, particularly on emerging issues (as has been recently done in the case of developments overshadowing solar panels)
    • developing tighter criteria for where local variations of planning policy are justified to provide a better framework for local policy development
    • councils working together within their regions and across Victoria, to harmonise local planning policies where possible.

    These measures should be led by DELWP, working in consultation with councils.

    Existing process(es)

    Planning schemes are often difficult to navigate and reading them requires an assumed level of knowledge. The structure and layout of planning schemes often makes them unnecessarily long with sections that could be better organised or consolidated.

    Smart Planning and the Planning Policy Framework (PPF) program have started addressing these issues, to remove duplication and consolidate and update planning schemes.

    In cases where emerging policy issues or VCAT or Planning Panels Victoria decisions have created the need for State-wide policy clarification, State responses have been slow or inconsistent. This has increased complexity and reduced certainty for councils, proponents and the community about how to update, interpret and apply planning schemes.

    Feedback from stakeholders based on the discussion paper

    The Discussion Paper proposed:

    • extending the Smart Planning program to continue improving planning schemes
    • consolidating planning scheme requirements, principles or rules that serve similar purposes
    • faster policy resolution for emerging planning issues to ensure consistent state-wide approach with clear and appropriate frameworks for local council variation
    • harmonise council planning policies where possible through collaboration.

    There was strong support for extending moves to redraft and simplify planning schemes using plain language drafting principles and for continuing the translation of planning schemes into the integrated PPF. Some councils noted the importance of ensuring that this proposal did not exacerbate the already heavy workload associated with current efforts to translate planning schemes or create backlogs in DELWP’s authorisation of proposed amendments to implement changes in planning schemes.

    Reordering schemes from most used to least used was not supported and was not considered necessary given DELWP’s work on planning schemes that can now be searched online. It was considered more important to have an accessible digital platform which shows the triggers relevant to a proposal as well as the associated information requirements.

    There was support for consolidating planning scheme requirements and removing duplication without diminishing protection for overlays and for DELWP to give priority to development of state-wide planning schemes for emerging issues.

    In terms of harmonising planning policies, many submissions supported the proposal to reduce any unnecessary local variation and to create clear frameworks for local policy development. In the same context, councils advised that they spend time preparing planning scheme amendments that are then left in abeyance for long periods until a state position is formed. It was generally felt that the Victorian Government should be more proactive particularly in relation to emerging policy issues rather than waiting for councils to lead the way and that guidance on implementing state policies needed to be developed concurrently with those policies.

    The proposal for councils to work at a regional and State-wide level to harmonise and simplify local planning policies was supported. Councils advised that this requires additional resources and support from DELWP.

  • This report recommends streamlining the planning scheme amendment process by:

    • DELWP providing councils with a final response within 30 days of DELWP initiating a “further review” of an authorisation request
    • DELWP exploring opportunities to stream different types of planning scheme amendments and package multiple amendments in omnibus amendments
    • as part of Better Reporting, DELWP to measure and review the performance of the planning scheme amendment process from start to finish and to identify the steps in the chain that are causing some amendments to take unreasonable time
    • modernising how proposed planning scheme amendments are publicly explained, updating notice templates to support plain-language, multi-language notices and using images for significant planning scheme amendments – DELWP should provide an updated Planning Practice Note to support the use of these new provisions
    • councils referring exhibited amendments to Planning Panels Victoria (PPV) at the earliest opportunity in cases where there are clearly unresolvable objections — DELWP should provide guidance on how this can be managed through delegations
    • reducing the maximum period for publication of Panel reports by councils from 28 days to 14 days;
    • requiring councils to provide reasons as well as notice for a decision to abandon or to not consider or progress an amendment
    • clarifying the process for applicants to formally seek a planning scheme amendment related to their land and how such requests can be referred to the Minister should the council unreasonably reject the proposal – this may require an amendment to the Planning and Environment Act 1987.

    Existing process(es)

    DELWP’s further review of proposed amendments

    Planning scheme amendments proposed by councils in their role as planning authorities must be authorised by DELWP before they can be exhibited. DELWP must either approve or reject the proposed amendment within 10 days or decide that it needs to review the amendment further. There are no timeframes for this further review, and stakeholders have pointed to examples where proposed amendments have been held in limbo for long periods of time.

    Giving notice for a proposed amendment

    When a council exhibits a proposed amendment (subsequent to DELWP’s authorisation) they must give formal notice. DELWP’s notification provisions for proposed amendments use a lot of technical terms and the notification requirements are not always proportionate to the scale or significance of the proposed amendment. Examples of notice provision used provided by the VPA suggest there are more effective ways to communicate the intent and expected outcome of the proposed amendments in ways that can result in better understanding of a proposal and reduce the risk of concerns being raised at the last minute.

    Referring proposed amendments to PPV

    If, after exhibiting an amendment, a council has received submissions from the community requesting changes to the proposal and intends to proceed with the amendment without making those changes, then the council needs to refer the matter to PPV for review. Ministerial Direction 15 currently requires planning authorities to do so within 40 days. In some cases councils have taken much longer than 40 days.

    Embargo on release of a Panel report

    When PPV reviews a proposed amendment and associated submissions, the Panel provides a report to the relevant council. The council can embargo the release of that report for up to 28 days, during which time any proponents of the amendment and any other affected parties remain unaware of PPV’s position on the amendment.

    A council’s decision to abandon an amendment

    Councils can abandon a proposed amendment at any time during the planning scheme amendment process. While they are required to notify the Minister if they abandon an amendment, there is no requirement for councils to inform the community of their reasons for abandoning an amendment.

    More generally, the legal standing of proponents of planning scheme amendments under the Planning and Environment Act 1987 is unclear, as are any avenues for appeal if their proposed amendments are abandoned. The regulatory framework does not recognise the role of proponents apart from regulation 6 of the Planning and Environment Fees Regulations 2016 which prescribes fees to be paid by anyone requesting an amendment to a planning scheme. There are no prescribed timeframes within which a planning authority must make a decision).

    The potential to package amendments as omnibus amendments

    Data from the recently introduced Amendment Tracking System suggest that there are cases in which councils propose multiple planning scheme amendments at different points in time which could instead be packaged together as omnibus amendments to move through the entire planning scheme amendment process in bulk.

    Feedback from stakeholders based on the discussion paper

    The Discussion Paper proposed addressing each of the above issues in turn by:

    • DELWP providing councils with a final response within 30 days of DELWP initiating a further review of an authorisation request
    • DELWP updating its notice templates in simpler language and enabling the use of images to show the changes the community can expect to see
    • councils referring exhibited amendments to PPV at the earliest opportunity in cases where there are unresolvable objections
    • reducing the embargo on Panel reports from 28 days to 7 days
    • requiring councils to give reasons why an amendment has been abandoned
    • DELWP exploring with councils the merit of further opportunities to package multiple amendments in omnibus proposals.

    DELWP’s further review of proposed amendments

    The proposal for DELWP to provide councils with a final response within 30 days received widespread support. Council feedback supported this report’s recommendation that 30 days be used as a benchmark (rather than a hard time limit), given the wide variation in complexity of planning scheme amendments. To address this and other feedback, this report recommends that the 30 days be counted excluding time taken to go back and request further information from the planning authority.

    Giving notice for a proposed amendment

    The proposal to improve notice templates had broad support, with suggestions that fact sheets should include information in different languages relevant to the affected community and that the provisions be accompanied by clear guidance material from DELWP to support councils in preventing the use of images that may mislead the community.

    Referring proposed amendments to Planning Panels Victoria

    Feedback from councils reinforced the Discussion Paper’s statements that Ministerial Order 15 required councils to refer matters to PPV within 40 days and highlighted examples of councils already trying to find ways to expedite the process. Some noted that meeting this timeframe was sometimes difficult depending on the scheduling of council meetings and the interpretation of the requirement for councils to formally decide to refer matters to PPV.

    The report recommends supporting councils in their efforts to streamline the referral of matters to PPV through DELWP providing guidance on how referrals to PPV could be managed through delegations.

    Embargo on release of a Planning Panels Victoria report

    Many councils noted that they use the embargo period to brief councillors on key issues relating to the Panel report. Some submissions suggest that the Discussion Paper’s proposal was interpreted as requiring councils to make a formal decision within 7 days of receiving a Panel report. This report emphasises that the recommendation is that the embargo period be reduced, rather than setting a timeframe for decision by council. Considering the common practice of briefing councillors prior to release of a Panel report, this Report recommends reducing the embargo period from 28 days to 14 days (rather than 7).

    Setting out reasons for a council’s decision to abandon an amendment

    This proposal was widely supported, with several councils noting that a formal decision is already made in council meetings and recorded in council minutes. Some councils noted that while it is not a legislative requirement, they provide reasons for their decision when notifying the Minister that they are abandoning an amendment. Given that preparing reasons for a decision to abandon an amendment is common practice, this report recommends that these reasons by published when an amendment is abandoned so that proponents and the community can easily access them.

    Council feedback also highlighted a range of approaches to their roles and responsibilities in relation to proponents of planning scheme amendments, given a lack of clarity in the Planning and Environment Act 1987about how councils should engage with proponents.

    For example, there are no provisions in the Act for circumstances in which a council decides not to prepare or exhibit an amendment sought by a proponent, or for timeframes for council decisions on proposed amendments (which, if not formally abandoned, go into abeyance).

    This is compounded by the absence in the Act of any procedural provisions surrounding how a proponent can request an amendment. This is commonly done by way of a letter, but there is no recourse if the council fails to act or disagrees (with or without reasons). The Minister has overall powers to approve that an amendment be exhibited but there is no formal provision for an applicant rebuffed by a council to submit the matter to the Minister.

    Given the uncertainty surrounding these matters, this report recommends that DELWP clarifying the process for applicants to formally seek a planning scheme amendment related to their land and how such requests can be referred to the Minister should the council unreasonably reject the proposal – this may require an amendment to the Planning and Environment Act 1987.

    The potential to package amendments as ‘omnibus amendments’

    Submissions were strongly supportive of this proposal. Councils expressed an enthusiasm to work with DELWP to identify other amendment types that placed a high administrative burden on DELWP and which could be streamlined through omnibus amendments. Councils were also eager to consider get further guidance from DELWP regarding the range of amendments that could be considered for these purposes (under sections 20(4) and 20A). This report notes that the recommendation would not preclude councils from continuing to pursue one-off, urgent amendments.

  • This report recommends streamlining the Precinct Structure Planning (PSP) process by:

    • finalising the VPA’s PSP 2.0 process and applying this to the current round of greenfield precincts, in order to reduce the average completion time to two years
    • adapting the VPA’s PSP 2.0 process as the standard method for structure planning for all major precincts, strategic sites and regional developments
    • requiring early engagement of key government agencies in the VPA planning process to ensure that future requirements for infrastructure, including transport, education, health and other community facilities are properly embedded in agency forward plans, with timing of delivery linked to future development needs
    • using the PSP plans to empower the sequencing of how a new community develops over time and community facilities are delivered, enabling infrastructure providers to use trigger points (for example, population) and capital works programming to ensure that schools, parks and public transport are delivered at the appropriate point in the cycle and not built at the end
    • DPC and DTF considering how the longer-term planning for infrastructure development is integrated with the State budget cycle and timely utilisation of developer contributions, including consideration of development-related need for State infrastructure
    • reducing delays between precinct planning and permits for the first stage of development by encouraging concurrent assessment processes for subdivision and permits and the PSP process, bearing in mind the provisions in section 96A of the Planning and Environment Act 1987 are rarely used.

    Existing process(es)

    Many stakeholders have highlighted long delays in preparing and approving PSPs for greenfield areas.

    In some cases stakeholders have noted that out-of-sequence provision of infrastructure has contributed to delays in developing these areas.

    The VPA is developing a revised process for preparing structure plans – PSP 2.0. This work is nearing completion and consultation with councils and industry is underway.

    PSP 2.0 has the potential to be used as the process for developing other structure plans outside greenfield areas. Currently, there are various names and types of plan being used for precincts outside the greenfield areas – these include vision statements, opportunity statements, framework plans, structure plans and precinct plans.

    Mostly, subdivision permits are sought well after a PSP has been planned and gazetted. While the existing legislation has a mechanism under section 96A that could reduce delays by supporting the issue of permits in the first stage of development, the use of this section is associated by councils and other stakeholders with previous out-of-sequence developments and delays.

    Feedback from stakeholders based on the discussion paper

    The Discussion Paper proposed:

    • applying PSP 2.0 as soon as possible to existing PSPs
    • adapting PSP 2.0 to support structure planning in other areas
    • evaluating the effectiveness of PSP 2.0 as soon as practicable
    • balancing the need to plan over large areas with PSPs that are of a manageable scale to deliver
    • developing guidelines on sequencing development within a PSP, including using section 96A of the Planning and Environment Act 1987 to issue early permits for development.

    The Discussion Paper also invited stakeholder feedback on the idea of supporting councils’ resource requirements through memoranda of understanding such as those agreed between developers and Wyndham Council.

    Stakeholder feedback suggested that it is important to have more certainty about long term planning for infrastructure development. There is also a lack of transparency about the use of developer contributions (such as GAIC).

    Applying, adapting and evaluating PSP 2.0

    There was strong support for a more streamlined and predictable timeframe for preparing PSP’s and for PSP 2.0’s consolidation of structure planning into the readily understandable steps of:

    • initial consultation and engagement with agencies to identify opportunities
    • preparation of a PSP and ICP
    • exhibition and referral to a Panel for consideration of comments
    • adoption of a planning scheme amendment;

    The main concern was that other government agencies were not sufficiently engaged in the PSP planning process and that the final plans were not “binding” – that other agencies came up with their own strategies which differed from the overall plan. This reinforces the importance of early engagement from all government agencies in order to achieve the goal of completing any PSPs in no more than two years.

    Concern was expressed that the PSP 2.0 process may need to be varied for other locations – particularly rural settings. Submissions also noted that while the VPA can recover costs for preparing PSPs through fees, regional councils cannot do so and so have to fund this work themselves. In several cases this cost has been partly offset by grants from Streaming for Growth. DJPR noted the potential for adapting the PSP process to metropolitan strategic sites.

    Some concern was expressed that there had not been sufficient industry consultation in the development of the PSP 2.0 approach. This is being rectified as part of the current consultation on the proposal, prior to its adoption.

    Several comments supported careful assessment of the initial round of plans produced using the new approach.

    The size and sequencing of PSPs

    There was general agreement that the current size is appropriate for residential PSP planning. The more significant issue of concern in submissions was how development within PSPs is sequenced and commitments to infrastructure are delivered. Councils highlighted that out of sequence development was a huge drain on resources (for example, roads having to be built earlier than intended and before they are fully utilised). This issues also impacts on the funding and planning of State-provided infrastructure.

    There was not support for the current section 96A provisions from either councils or the Urban Development Institute of Australia, on the basis that using these provisions has proved problematic and resulted in delays. An informal practice that has emerged in recent years called “ghost planning” was supported: subdivision permit applications are accepted after the Panel report stage and processed in parallel with the PSP planning scheme amendment and the ICP. This enables prompt approval once the PSP has been gazetted.

    Using memoranda of understanding with developers to support council resources

    Feedback on the Discussion Paper suggested that this can be an effective method for supporting council resources, but that it was important that this remain a tailored approach to be used at the discretion of councils and as a stop-gap in cases where other resourcing options were not available, rather than adopted as standard practice. Several councils noted that any council preparing such an agreement would need to be careful that any such agreement guarded against any potential conflict of interest.

  • This report recommends expediting planning for precincts and strategic sites by:

    • DELWP and DJPR classifying the numerous precincts already identified in Plan Melbourne and the Regional Growth Plans into three tiers of responsibility:
      • State priority precincts (the responsibility of DJPR)
      • precincts of strategic importance (generally referred to VPA)
      • key local growth precincts (generally planned by the responsible council)
    • DELWP and DJPR issuing clear criteria to designate new precincts and strategic sites
    • including in the criteria for precincts and strategic sites factors such as economic and job potential, community support, opportunities for innovation and synergies with State infrastructure projects – other considerations include opportunities for value uplift and the need for coordination
    • providing ongoing funding through the Streamlining for Growth program for the VPA to support councils planning key local growth precincts, in each case using the most appropriate of the VPA’s four engagement levels
    • facilitating better coordinated planning by the Minister, where appropriate, using the existing powers to appoint him or herself as the responsible authority for State priority precincts and some sites of strategic importance, appointing the VPA or DJPR as planning authority and setting clear timeframes for outcomes
    • creating a Standing Advisory Committee under the Planning and Environment Act 1987 to advise the Minister for Planning on strategic sites at the Minister’s request (and to form the Panel for hearings on planning scheme amendments if requested)
    • looking at adopting similar mechanisms to the Major Transport Projects Facilitation Act 2009 to aid the delivery of major sites
    • considering new approaches to expediting the issuing of planning permits and subdivisions in State priority precincts and precincts of strategic importance (such as adopting a coordinated approach to referrals and secondary approvals, utilising some of the lessons from the Queensland SARA model).

    Existing process(es)

    There are several differing processes currently used to designate strategic sites.

    DJPR has designated certain Priority Precincts and developed a framework for identifying priorities. Particular attention is being paid to Fishermans Bend, Arden, Parkville, the Richmond to Docklands corridor, Footscray and Sunshine as the first priority precincts. In addition, DJPR is managing the Geelong City Deal and a range of projects being delivered by Development Victoria and is also considering the approach to be taken for stations on the Suburban Rail Loop.

    The VPA has a detailed work program as part of its 2019-20 Statement of Expectations which includes work on strategic sites across metropolitan and regional areas. This has included the ongoing provision of spatial growth planning and post-PSP Approval services through the VPA’s Regional Planning team.

    Various councils have strategic planning work underway for other activity centres that are not on the VPA program. Many of these are looking for assistance from the Victorian Government for future planning.

    Feedback from stakeholders based on the discussion paper

    The Discussion Paper proposed:

    • the VPA and DJPR advising the Minister for Planning and the Minister for Priority Precincts of the pipeline of sites of strategic importance
    • the VPA (in consultation with DJPR, the Suburban Rail Loop Authority and councils) advising the Ministers about which of the sites could be prioritised and the best role for the VPA in engaging councils to jointly plan these sites.

    The responses from government agencies provided detailed accounts of their current priorities.

    Several councils’ submissions set out their own priorities and emphasised the value of identifying and prioritising strategic sites of regional – not just State or metropolitan – importance.

    Some councils noted in their submissions the need for additional funding and assistance associated with strategic planning while emphasising that councils should retain a central role in planning strategic sites. Previously, funding has mostly been provided through the Streamlining for Growth program with the focus being housing developments for greenfield areas and regional sites rather than sites of strategic importance in established areas. This report notes that the recommended Regional Planning Hubs (see Recommendation B4) are intended to provide a mix of strategic and statutory planning support to councils depending on each region’s needs.

    In general, feedback highlighted that:

    • there are a range of views about what should constitute sites of strategic importance or State significance
    • there are multiple bodies currently working to prioritise sites without a clear and shared framework structuring those choices
    • there is clear support for transparent criteria for identifying and prioritising sites of strategic significance
    • sites of strategic importance need to include those in Regional Growth Plans as well as Plan Melbourne
    • it is important to be clear about whether we are proposing criteria for designating and expediting new sites of strategic importance or for expediting those already identified in Plan Melbourne and the Regional Growth Plans.

    This report therefore recommends that DELWP and DJPR should create clear criteria for designating new strategic sites and that DELWP and DJPR should also assign responsibility for sites already identified in Plan Melbourne and the Regional Growth Plans by classifying these into three tiers of responsibility:

    • State priority precincts (the responsibility of DJPR)
    • sites of strategic importance (generally referred to VPA)
    • key local growth precincts (generally planned by the responsible council).

    This report also recommends creating a Standing Advisory Committee under the Planning and Environment Act 1987 to advise the Minister for Planning on precincts and strategic sites at the Minister’s request. This Committee could also form the Panel for hearings on planning scheme amendments.

    For new sites designated as strategic sites the Committee would advise the Minister for Planning on which of those sites to expedite and the appropriate options for doing so. Options may vary from one site to the next, including examples such as the Minister using their existing powers under the Planning and Environment Act 1987, adopting similar mechanisms to those under the Major Transport Projects Facilitation Act 2009 or considering new approaches to expediting sites of strategic importance (such as adopting a coordinated approach to referrals and secondary approvals, utilising some of the lessons from the Queensland SARA model).

  • This report recommends supporting councils to improve their pre-application processes and provide more help to applicants by:

    • supporting councils to adopt early engagement opportunities through the Better Planning Approvals program
    • focusing early engagement approaches to assist applicants to provide all the information required under the planning scheme (see also Recommendation B2 regarding decision-ready applications) and supporting early engagement with external referral authorities and council departments for internal referrals
    • using the upcoming review of planning fees to consider prescribing fees or fee structures for pre-application services (including fees that may vary within prescribed limits and giving councils discretion over whether to charge fees).

    The report notes that to deliver significant improvements in application processing including reducing delays and ensuring sound decision-making, it is imperative that the improvements regarding early engagement, clarity of information requirements, improvements having decision-ready applications and managing assessment times are integrated and that the relevant recommendations considered together. This means that these recommended actions overlap with those in Recommendations B2 and B7, relating to only assessing applications that are decision-ready and pausing (rather than resetting) the clock for requests for information.

    Further work is being done to integrate these three recommendations and address concerns raised by stakeholders.

    Existing process(es)

    Clear details about what information needs to be provided with an application can be hard to find and understand for both applicants and authorities (see also Recommendation B2).

    Many councils offer pre-application services aimed at helping applicants better understand these requirements and, in some councils, promoting early engagement with referral authorities.

    While applicants and authorities both report early engagement with councils, council internal referral teams and external referral authorities as valuable, there is significant variation in the practice and quality of early engagement (including pre-application services) and in the subsequent impact on application quality. Submissions note that in cases where early engagement is not offered, applicants face multiple requests for further information from councils seeking to obtain all required information (see Recommendation B7).

    Feedback from stakeholders based on the discussion paper

    The Discussion Paper proposed that:

    • DELWP prepare a Planning Practice Note for councils on best-practice application processes, including benchmarks for costs of these services to inform potential fees
    • pre-application should involve experienced council staff and, where appropriate, include staff responsible for internal referrals and staff from external authorities where relevant
    • councils be required to offer pre-application services and should be able to charge fees for pre-application services
    • pre-applications should form the first step in a concierge service offered by councils and supported by a Better Approvals approach.

    Feedback confirmed that early engagement, including pre-application services, are widely practiced, and councils and other stakeholders welcomed an opportunity to develop more consistent practices. Submissions noted that effective pre-application services, would improve application quality and reduce council and referral authority administrative costs and delays (for example, by reducing the need for further information requests or design changes – see Recommendation B7).

    Consultation suggested differing views on the timing and purpose of these services, including whether they:

    • refer to support provided by council to prospective applicants up until an application form is lodged, or until all information required by the planning scheme has been received
    • should focus on helping applicants prepare decision-ready applications and on early engagement with internal and external referral authorities, or provide a form of preliminary assessment or indication of likely approval.

    Many council and non-council submissions emphasised that pre-application comments should not be mistaken for application assessment or a form of in-principle approval. This is consistent with our understanding that best-practice pre-application services focus on matters such as:

    • communicating to the applicant which policies and triggers apply to their application
    • clarifying the information required to accompany the application based on the planning scheme
    • identifying which other agencies or other parts of council will be involved
    • supporting early engagement with internal and external referrals, where appropriate.

    This report considers that early engagement, including pre-application services, are best aimed at helping applicants prepare and submit accurate and relevant information about a proposal and its impacts and making sure that the applicant is aware of what else they may need to provide during assessment: they are not a means for seeking in-principle approval or early assessment. This is reflected in the report’s recommendations about changes to the regulatory framework for the planning system, outlined in Part 1.

    This report notes that feedback also highlighted that some councils may require further resources to offer such services, particularly if written advice was to be provided. A pre-application fee was generally supported, provided it was set in response to application complexity or scale and the level of service each council can provide. Others noted that while early engagement is to be encouraged, offering pre-application services for simple applications may not be worthwhile. These issues should be considered both in DELWP’s Planning Practice Note for councils on best-practice for these services and in the upcoming fee review.

  • This report recommends ensuring applications are decision-ready before they are assessed by:

    • developing guidelines, forms and checklists to ensure that applicants are clear about what information is required under a planning scheme (this work to be led by DELWP, in collaboration with councils) and the standards that applications must meet
    • reviewing and clarifying the the Victorian Planning Provisions (VPP) information requirements, and identifying opportunities to remove any duplicative or unnecessary information requirements (this work to be led by DELWP, in collaboration with councils)
    • amending the regulatory framework to allow councils to only assess applications once they are decision-ready and for the statutory clock on council decision to start once applications are decision-ready.

    See also the related comments under B1 regarding the need for integrating improvements regarding early engagement, clarity of information requirements, improvements having decision-ready applications and managing assessment times.

    Existing process(es)

    Applications are often submitted to councils without all the information required by the planning scheme or with some accompanying information being of too low quality to be ready for assessment by council planners.

    While the Planning and Environment Act 1987 requires that all information required in a planning scheme must accompany an application, past VCAT decisions have found that councils must accept an application provided that a valid application form has been received, even if the application lacks the information required for council to be able to assess and decide on an application.

    There is a range of views about the minimum required form and content of plans or other information that must accompany the application to enable council to assess and make a decision on the application.

    Feedback from stakeholders based on the discussion paper

    The Discussion Paper proposed ensuring that applications are complete by going back to the applicant about information before starting the assessment process, and that to support this:

    • councils should only accept complete applications
    • the information requirements in the VPP should be improved
    • duplication and unnecessary local information requirements should be removed.

    While there was widespread support for the proposal to only accept applications that are decision-ready on the grounds that many applications were incomplete or of poor quality, several submissions highlighted the need for support to help applicants prepare an application that contained all required information and provided a description of the proposal that is of sufficient quality to be assessed.

    Councils and other stakeholders acknowledged that applicants can’t always identify all the relevant permit triggers and requirements from the planning scheme – these matters are often only identified when the council planner undertakes a considered preliminary assessment after lodgement.

    Several councils noted that pre-application services are used to address issues like this and Recommendation B1 of this report recommends focusing on helping applicants prepare decision-ready applications during the pre-application stage.

    Several stakeholders highlighted that their interpretation of the existing regulatory framework made it difficult for councils to only assess decision-ready applications, on the grounds that they were currently required both to accept incomplete applications and to start the clock, which created pressure for councils to start assessing incomplete applications or to rely on RFIs to ‘reset the clock’ (see Recommendation B7 for more on this).

    Feedback reinforced the Discussion Paper’s suggestion that improving this stage of the process should be focused on assessing applications once they were decision-ready – not on turning people away or refusing to accept submitted documents until all required information can be submitted at once.

    The proposal to improve the clarity of application requirements in planning schemes and the VPPs was widely supported – including removing, adding and clarifying requirements as needed. The value in this was the potential to agree a common understanding on application standards.

    Submissions supported DELWP consulting closely with councils in undertaking work to clarify and consolidate information requirements, to ensure that the requirements reflect the information councils need to be able to make fully-informed decisions.

  • This report recommends that, as part of the Better Planning Approvals program (see Part 1), DELWP should support all councils completing the move to online permit tracking and processing by:

    • conducting a stocktake of the current situation and the capabilities of digital platforms in each council;
    • identifying which improvements in these systems would be required to facilitate the best practices identified in this Review, and to determine which would be most beneficial to each council’s planning processes as part of the Better Planning Approvals program; and
    • exploring mechanisms like the Rural Council Transformation Fund to target support for online tracking and processing of planning applications for groups of rural and regional councils and prioritising those that will accelerate collaboration towards a standardised and integrated system across councils.

    Existing process(es)

    There is wide variation between councils (particularly between rural, regional and urban councils) in terms of their investment in and use of digital platforms, as well as the perceived demand for those platforms and the resources available to fund them.

    Many councils have e-planning capabilities including electronic lodgement and payment of applications, ability for the public to view advertised plans and lodge objections online and dashboards for staff to track and record progress of applications. Some have also adopted digital plan reading and assessment tools. A limited number provide publicly viewable stage-by-stage process tracking.

    Many rural and regional councils do not yet provide for electronic lodgement and tracking. However basic facilities enabling the emailing of applications and uploading of files are common. Many referral authorities do not have online lodgement services, which makes it harder for an applicant to contact the referral authority directly (instead of having council handle that task after the application has been lodged).

    The Rural Councils Transformation Project (RCTP) has approved funding for 4 groupings of regional and rural councils (19 councils) for shared digital platforms. One of these groupings, Central Highlands, has committed to delivering planning services within its shared services model.

    Feedback from stakeholders based on the discussion paper

    The Discussion Paper proposed that:

    • timeframes should be set for councils to adopt online permit processing systems
    • these systems should be designed to allow compatibility with other council systems
    • funding initiatives to deliver such systems should target collaborative proposals.

    The majority of stakeholders support the Discussion Paper’s proposal for councils to improve their online planning processes and to move towards greater standardisation and compatibility between systems. Many, including Referral Authorities, noted the usefulness of the SPEAR system for subdivision and suggested extending this system for other application types, or developing a similar system. One submission suggested that online systems could help improve referral times by providing a standard format for referrals.

    While many respondents noted that a single state-wide planning portal would offer the greatest benefits in terms of efficiencies, transparency and monitoring, many councils stressed that its introduction would require significant investment, research and testing.

    Several councils have recently invested heavily in the development of their own digital planning platforms which integrate with their other corporate systems but may not easily integrate with other council platforms.

    This report notes that while a single, State-wide platform may be preferable in the longer term, the immediate priority is to assist those councils with limited or no digital functionality, to build and transition to fully digitised portals and tracking systems that are compatible with other systems for future integration.

    Feedback suggested that for several rural and regional councils, building online systems would require substantial resources and that in some cases these councils had relatively low quantities of applications. This reinforces the importance of State-led initiatives focusing on supporting groups of councils.

    Feedback in response to several parts of the Discussion Paper emphasised the importance of having good tracking and processing systems in place to support improved reporting.

  • This report recommends improving planning resources for councils by expanding the five DELWP Regional Planning Service offices to create Regional Planning Hubs which would provide councils with:

    • access to staff to help manage short-term workloads as well as provide access to specialist strategic and statutory planning skills suited to the needs of each region
    • training packages (including online modules) focused on the practical skills required in each region to deliver improved processes, including the implementation of the reforms coming out of this report
    • support to underpin collaboration between regional groups of councils and to facilitate regular forums to promote best practice as well as an annual state-wide conference.

    Existing process(es)

    Councils regularly experience shortages of planners. Shortages are most acute in regional Victoria and outer metropolitan Melbourne.

    A 2018 MAV report noted that immediate shortages are often filled with contractors, which is costly and does not build in-house expertise, and that councils’ capacity to access and deliver training to their staff is limited by resources and the availability of expert trainers. The problem is particularly acute for rural and regional councils.

    A lack of resources for strategic planning in councils makes it difficult for councils to keep their planning schemes up to date. This means that important work to update schemes for matters like flooding and heritage studies can fall behind. Outdated planning schemes are more likely to result in unnecessary variations between schemes in different municipalities, are less likely to deliver good planning outcomes, and can place additional administrative burden on council planners assessing permits.

    Councils have welcomed existing efforts to support their resource needs, including the VPA’s ongoing provision of spatial growth planning and post-PSP approval services through the VPA’s Regional Planning team and ongoing Streamlining for Growth funding for regional areas.

    Councils have also expressed a need and an eagerness to share ideas about planning policies and practices more frequently than they currently do.

    Feedback from stakeholders based on the discussion paper

    The Discussion Paper proposed:

    • establishing Regional Planning Hubs to supplement and share authority resources
    • develop more online training packages to improve non-metropolitan access
    • hosting regular regional level forums to encourage communication, collaboration and harmonisation between authorities.

    Most stakeholders strongly support the Discussion Paper’s proposals for a State-led initiative to provide additional resources for DELWP’s Regional Planning Services network to enable it to become a network of Regional Planning Hubs, providing resources and facilitating training to support councils’ planning functions.

    Feedback supported the proposal in the Discussion Paper that this support be offered in addition to existing DELWP services. Stakeholders also reinforced the value of staffing these hubs with planners with specialist knowledge and skills relevant to each region (for example, skills in assessing biodiversity including native vegetation requirements or experience in considering bushfire impacts).

    There is widespread support for in-house training via DELWP’s regional networks and via e-learning and roadshows. A common theme of feedback was training for council planners should use modern training methods and provide trainers with practical experience, focusing on the real-world challenges facing councils and industry in administering and using the system.

    Providing or coordinating this training through the regional hubs was supported by stakeholders who noted that the training needs of different regions will vary (much as the resourcing needs may differ between councils).

    Councils also saw this as a good opportunity for DELWP to provide guidance and training on how to interpret and apply the VPP, especially in the case of changes to the VPP. Several organisations including the Planning Institute of Australia, VPA, the Housing Industry Association and UDIA offered to help develop and deliver training.

    Councils were enthusiastic about the suggestion of structured and routine regional collaboration in meetings and workshops. The Wimmera councils noted that they already meet quarterly and include referral authorities and regional DELWP staff in these meetings. In facilitating communities of practice to support council collaboration, DELWP can draw on Wimmera’s experience and that of the Planning in the Economic Growth Zone councils. The regional hubs provide a logical structure for DELWP to use to support regional communities of practice.

  • This report recommends modernising public advertising of proposals by:

    • requiring planning notices for proposals to include a picture of the intended development subject to specific triggers (for example, size or significance of development) with clear guidelines on the form and content of images
    • supporting councils to deploy user-friendly notice designs with quick and clear pathways (including QR codes) to access further information about an application
    • supporting councils to provide supplementary notice via council websites, email alerts and/or social media (to be done as part of the Better Planning Approvals program)
    • updating guidance on best-practice processes for notifications of different types of permit applications, including reviewing greater use of online notification and the requirement for formal newspaper advertisements.

    This work should be done as part of the Better Planning Approvals program in collaboration with councils.

    Existing process(es)

    A prescribed written planning permit application notice is used by most councils for direct owner and occupier notices, and for public notices such as on-site signs and newspaper notices.

    The form and language of these notices is often technical and not very user friendly, making it harder for those receiving or seeing the notice to understand the nature of the proposed development.

    Consultation with stakeholders suggested that this sometimes means concerns or objections are raised late in the process, rather than at an earlier stage where they may be able to be addressed more easily and in a less adversarial manner.

    Councils with online permit registers often provide direct online access to plans and information for currently advertised applications, but the pathways for members of the community to learn about and easily access this information vary widely between councils.

    Feedback from stakeholders based on the discussion paper

    The Discussion Paper proposed:

    • including pictures of development proposals on planning permit application notices
    • encouraging notice to be given via online platforms
    • updating guidance on best practice notification processing.

    There was strong support for improving the presentation of notices including by using images of development proposals. Some noted that it would save time by reducing the need for interested parties to visit council offices. Some councils use notices that provide details of where users can get more information online. One council suggested that it would be helpful for DELWP’s guidance and the prescribed public notice form to be updated to clarify which aspects of an application are valid grounds for objections from the public, as councils currently adapt the prescribe form to provide the public with more practical parameters for their feedback.

    Submissions reinforced the value of have user-friendly notices that made it simple and easy for members of the community to access further information (as shown in the Discussion Paper’s example of Glen Eira’s use of QR codes). Councils such as Moreland are using augmented reality software to allow users to see what a site would look like once developed as proposed.

    Others noted that images may only be suitable for certain types of applications. Many submitters noted that consistent guidance on the quality and type of images is required to ensure that images are presented as objectively as possible, with one noting VCAT’s guidelines for presenting images to tribunal hearings.

    Many submissions supported the Discussion Paper’s suggestion that written notification for affected landowners remain a requirement, with notice via other media (websites, email, social media) to be used where feasible and practicable. Submissions noted some obstacles to systematic use of electronic communication for notices, such as councils not having valid email addresses for ratepayers.

    Other submissions emphasised the importance of ensuring that if using other media to provide notice to the community there would need to be a clear distinction between these and formal notices provided in writing and formal written objectives, to avoid situations in which a member of the public believes they have formally ‘objected’ by expressing concerns via social media.

  • This report recommends streaming applications according to risk by:

    • reducing restrictions on specific land use types where those uses are compatible with the purpose of the zone (such as non-retail service provision uses being allowed in retail centres without a permit)
    • facilitating the provision of important community services such as child care, aged care or social housing facilities in residential areas
    • further consulting on and refining the proposed VicSmart Plus to provide a third pathway for low-risk applications
    • reducing the current occupancy restrictions and including secondary dwellings on a single title in the proposed VicSmart Plus permit approval stream – there should be further consultation with councils and industry to confirm standard characteristics
    • developing a small lot code for established areas as part of VicSmart Plus and in consultation with councils and industry.

    Existing process(es)

    Stakeholders have identified several examples where streamlined assessment pathways or simplified requirements could expedite planning approvals.

    In terms of restrictions on specific types of land use, concerns raised by stakeholders usually focused on current provisions that were capturing quite modest changes in use and tying up a lot of effort and resources for applicants in getting the right permit for their intended use of land. In cases where planning schemes have fallen behind changing patterns in land use and community preferences, restrictions on land use may no longer be up to date.

    The development of VicSmart Plus is still in the consultation phase and a proposal will be put to the Minister for consideration after further consultation in early 2020. The proposal would create a third assessment pathway with 30-day assessment and targeted notice provisions.

    Under Rescode there is an “as of right” power to build a dwelling that complies with the building code on a lot larger than a specified size (usually 500 square metres). A VPA-produced code for building single dwellings on small growth corridor lots has been operating since 2012 to streamline home-building as the preference for smaller home lots has grown.

    Feedback from stakeholders based on the discussion paper

    The Discussion Paper proposed:

    • reviewing issues with current prohibited and restricted uses to allow non-retail land uses that add vitality and patronage to shopping strips and centres and to allow planning concessions for child care centres, aged care centres and social housing in residential areas;
    • enabling 30-day streamlined issuing of permits through VicSmart Plus for secondary dwellings and for dwelling applications for small lots in an established area; and
    • considering amending Rescode and dealing with siting and other issues through building permits, following the review of the small lot code for growth areas.

    Many submissions suggested in-principle support for more streamlined assessment pathways and requirements, provided that there were corresponding efforts to reduce administrative burden and to prevent any of these changes from compromising the quality of outcomes. Several councils also emphasised that while they were open to further streaming of application types, they did not support exempting the example land uses from permit requirements altogether.

    Submissions from councils highlighted their detailed knowledge of the tradeoffs involved in streamlining applications and a variety of views on the merits of the proposed improvements, and an enthusiasm to be involved in the ongoing development of any streamlined pathways or changes in land use requirements.

    In terms of concessions for some types of land use, councils’ views were heavily dependent on the form of concession that might be offered. Some councils pointed out that in cases where decisions needed to be made on a case-by-case basis the requirement for a permit might be preferable to offering additional concessions. The Country Fire Authority (CFA) noted that there may be limited scope for additional land uses concessions in areas at risk from bushfire.

    Based on this feedback, this report considers that there is value in DELWP collaborating with councils in 2020 on opportunities to reduce prohibitions and restrictions on specific land use types (such as non-retail land use in commercial centres and child card, aged care or social housing facilities in residential areas).

    Regarding the proposed VicSmart Plus assessment pathway, some councils suggested that while a third pathway for assessment might provide faster assessment for eligible applications it could also add administrative burden for council officers triaging applications (in cases where such operations are manual and not supported by an online system as recommended in B4). Council feedback suggests that this burden would be reduced if other recommendations in this report were introduced to improve the quality of applications (see Recommendations B1 and B2 regarding pre-application services and only assessing applications that are decision-ready) and could also be addressed in the upcoming fee review by considering cost-reflective fees for this service.

    Council feedback also highlighted different levels of awareness of the nature of the proposed VicSmart Plus. For example, while consultation to date has included consideration of the definition of secondary dwellings on a lot for inclusion in VicSmart Plus, feedback from some councils suggests that broader and deeper engagement to confirm an appropriate definition is warranted.

    Based on this feedback, this report recommends that DELWP continue consulting on the proposed VicSmart Plus and refining its development of VicSmart Plus with these issues in mind, and to ensure that the use of VicSmart Plus in established areas does not undermine the intention of an underlying zone (for example, the CFA noted in its submission that otherwise simple proposals for small lots may still require detailed assessment if the lot is in a Bushfire Management Overlay).

    Feedback on the proposal to consider a small lot code in established areas suggests a key role for councils in working with DELWP to develop such a code, given the range of issues raised by different councils. For example, most council submissions mostly on the question of whether a State-wide small lot code would be suitable for their municipalities compared to growth zones. Similarly, several councils noted in their submissions that a single State-wide code would not appropriately capture the neighbourhood and amenity concerns of some municipalities. Among these councils the commonly held view was that a small lot code would need to be carefully designed in order to be used outside of the growth areas. Another example of the level of detail that needs to be considered in developing such a code for established areas is the question of how minimum garden requirements would apply.

    This report recommends DELWP consult with councils on these matters to consider the merits of a small lot code for established areas following the refinement and development of VicSmart Plus and the adoption of a small lot code for growth areas.

  • This report recommends reducing requests for further information (RFIs) by focusing them on those matters which go beyond that which is required for a complete application by:

    • starting the ‘decision clock’ only once an application is decision-ready
    • pausing – rather than resetting – the clock when council issues an RFI
    • adopting guidelines to focus the use of RFIs on requests for information that is needed to inform a decision
    • discouraging the use of RFIs by councils for purposes other than to obtain information to inform a decision (for example, using RFIs to request changes to a design)
    • supporting councils to share insights about and improve their practices for accurately assessing the need for RFIs by issuing a PPN and facilitating training opportunities
    • making more use of VCAT’s Short Cases List in the event of disputes about the content of RFIs.

    See also the related comments under B1 regarding the need for integrating improvements regarding early engagement, clarity of information requirements, improvements having decision-ready applications and managing assessment times.

    Given the improvements embedding early engagement and the discipline around “decision-ready” applications, there will be less need for requests for further information later in the process.

    Existing process(es)

    On average, councils make at least one request further information for every second application they receive. This has increased from every third application in 2008.

    An application with complete and adequate information about the proposal and its impacts is critical to enable councils to make good decisions and for the planning system to achieve good outcomes.

    However, applicants suggest that further information requests are often used to address other matters such as council amendment requests, workload management and matters capable of being addressed through assessment.

    Any request for further information issued by a council within 28 days of an application being lodged resets the 60-day statutory ‘decision clock’. Councils report that they often end up issuing repeated requests for information before applicant provides the information required by the planning scheme.

    The current system creates delays and frustration for those administering and those using the permit system.

    Feedback from stakeholders based on the discussion paper

    The Discussion Paper proposed reducing requests for information by:

    • pausing instead of resetting the time after which an appeal right for failure to decide arises
    • considering the merit of a 10-day deadline for further information requests
    • improving and promoting VCAT’s Short Cases List for review of further information requests
    • developing a practice note on assessing further information and preparing requests.

    There was overall support in principle for reducing further information requests, with many submissions reinforcing that the proposed improvements would only work if supported by the actions outlined in Recommendations B1 and B2. Those include, for example, having properly resourced pre-application services that focus on the quality of applications prior to assessment commencing, having a clearer standard for the minimum required information and putting in place a strong incentive for applicants to submit high-quality applications that are decision-ready.

    If pausing the clock were implemented in the absence of these other changes, councils anticipated that the result would be lower quality applications. This was on the basis that applicants would have less incentive to ensure the application was decision-ready if a request for further information did not pose potentially longer timeframes for the assessment of their application.

    Other councils acknowledged the usefulness of resetting the clock in managing their assessment workload in the face of incomplete or poor-quality applications, suggesting that to pause instead of resetting the clock without complementary measures to improve the quality of applications would place significant additional burden on council planning staff.

    The proposal that DELWP develop guidance on using requests for information was welcomed by councils. Feedback emphasised the relationship between this and the need for clearer guidance on what constitutes the minimum required information under the planning scheme (see B2). This was particularly important to councils in cases where new VPP provisions are created without councils being given much context, guidance or training regarding the information the provisions require. This makes it challenging for applicants and planning officers alike to know what information is needed.

    Given Recommendations B1, B2 and B7 and their refinement in response to stakeholder feedback – which will reduce the need for and number of requests for further information – there is no need to introduce a 10-day time limit for requests for information.

    Submissions were generally supportive of using the VCAT Short Cases List. The Better Reporting framework (see Part 1) will help evaluate whether this results in any significant change in the number of appeals and, if so, what factors might be driving that change.

  • This report recommends reducing response times for external referrals by:

    • the Government giving formal advice to referral authorities about the importance of their statutory role in the planning system and the need to provide timely responses
    • authorities providing the appropriate focus and resources to their role as referral authorities
    • improving the customer-focus of referral authorities by engaging early with applicants to provide up-front direction on triggers for referrals and the likely information required (as part of councils’ early engagement services – see B1)
    • DELWP collaborating with referral authorities and councils to standardise requirements for simple, low-risk referrals so that these can be assessed directly by councils and referral authorities can focus resources on complex referrals
    • considering giving referral authorities access to grants under Streamlining for Growth to improve their internal systems
    • requiring referral authorities to report their performance as part of the Better Reporting framework
    • establishing regional forums among referral authorities to share insights about best-practice (to be led by DELWP in collaboration with the VPA).

    Existing process(es)

    Councils are required to refer certain permit applications to referral authorities for a decision or comment, unless an applicant has already referred the relevant matter to a referral authority and received approval within the three months before lodging an application.

    There is a 28-day statutory clock for referral authority decisions on applications referred to them by councils. If a referral authority requests further information from council within 21 days, this 28-day statutory clock is reset.

    There is no public reporting of referral authority performance, with limited self-initiated reporting.

    Nearly all applications requiring referral authority involvement have the same processing rules, with no differentiation for complexity or scale.

    Feedback from stakeholders based on the discussion paper

    The Discussion Paper proposed:

    • emphasising referral authorities’ role in efficiently meeting their planning duties
    • pausing – not resetting – the clock for RFIs from referral authorities
    • improving referral authority performance reporting
    • supporting continuous improvement by referral authorities
    • engaging referral authorities early in the permit process
    • removing referral triggers for simple and low-risk matters.

    Almost all submissions on this issue expressed frustration at the lack of prioritisation of or resourcing for referral authorities’ roles in the planning system. Some submissions noted that in some cases applicants had to consult with multiple divisions within a referral authority.

    There was widespread in-principle support for better targeted referral triggers, reducing timeframes for responses to more straightforward applications and using standardised requirements for simple, low-risk referral matters that could then be code-assessed by councils.

    Further work will need to be done by DELWP in collaboration with referral authorities and councils to refine the recommendation that simple, low-risk referrals be standardised and code-assessed by councils. This should consider any associated resource requirements that councils may need to do this work. The examples of driveways and fire hydrants noted in the Discussion Paper are worthwhile starting points for this work, in collaboration with Department of Transport (Roads) and the Country Fire Authority.

    There were mixed views on the merits of pausing – rather than stopping – the clock for RFIs from referral authorities. Some authorities suggested that it would have little impact on their work, either because they did not issue many RFIs or because the more burdensome work for them came in the post-permit stage with the check to ensure permit conditions had been met. Some authorities expressed concern that pausing the clock would result in unrealistically short timeframes for them to assess referrals, particularly in the case of more complex referrals. These can include, for example, referrals relating to otherwise simple applications that involve lots in Bushfire Management Overlays, where a proper CFA assessment can be vital.

    Based on this feedback, this report does not recommend changing the current arrangements for the statutory clock for referral authority decisions, meaning that the statutory clock for referral authority responses would still be reset in cases where a referral authority requests further information from a council within 21 days of receiving a referral. This report notes that the recommended Better Reporting framework would, however, keep track of each time that a referral is issued and the total gross – rather than statutory – days a referral is handled by a referral authority. The option to pause the clock for referral authorities could be reviewed after implementing the other recommendations of this report along with the Better Reporting framework.

  • This report recommends improving transparency and accountability for decision timeframes by:

    • keeping applicants up to date about their application’s progress through the assessment process (achieving this through the proposed Better Planning Approvals program and the adoption of online management of applications)
    • councils reporting on time taken at different stages of the assessment and decision process through PPARS in the Better Reporting framework
    • in cases where applicants indicate at the beginning of an application process that they are willing to agree to longer approval timeframes, in return for confidence that it will be met, having councils agree up front.

    Existing process(es)

    Applicants can appeal to VCAT against a council for failing to grant a permit within 60 days of an application being received.

    Based on PPARS data, almost a third of applications are not assessed within this statutory timeframe.

    Several users of the planning scheme who were consulted in this Review noted that they were often unaware of whether their application was likely to be assessed within this timeframe and of how long assessment would take.

    Feedback from stakeholders based on the discussion paper

    The Discussion Paper proposed:

    • considering a longer timeframe for more complex applications, along with guidance defining the threshold for ‘complex’
    • requiring councils to report on the time taken at different stages of the assessment and decision process
    • user-focused concierge service to update users throughout the assessment process on the likely timeframe for a decision on their application.

    Feedback from a range of stakeholders noted that the idea of longer timeframes for more complex applications had merit, but that defining ‘complex’ could be challenging and costly exercise. Given the potential for this to add more red tape, this report does not recommend creating a longer timeframe for complex applications.

    Several councils noted that they sometimes enter into agreements with applicants regarding timeframes, and several applicants noted that they are often happy to do so. This report therefore recommends that as standard practice all councils should – through their preapplication processes and potentially through changes to the prescribed application form – make it easy for applicants to declare if they are willing to agree to longer timeframes.

    There was widespread support among councils for the adoption of a concierge service (such as the proposed Better Planning Approvals program) to provide better communication with stakeholders throughout the assessment process. Some councils noted that they already have such practices in place, and that if councils have a proper end-to-end online process management platform in place (see Recommendation B3) then this reduces the administrative burden of making sure applicants know where their application is in the system.

    As with Recommendation B9 (which includes improving reporting during the permit process), many stakeholders, including several councils, supported the proposal to improve the measurement and reporting of activity and timeframes during the permit process as part of the State-led creation of a Better Reporting framework (see Part 1). To deliver this improvement effectively and with due consideration of the resource implications for councils, any additional reporting should be integrated with the existing PPARS system. The potential resource requirements for the Better Reporting framework can be scoped out for each council as part of the Better Planning Approvals program’s stocktake of councils’ digital platforms and systems (see Part 1).

  • This report recommends providing frameworks for councils, based on several best practice examples of delegation arrangements, that councils can elect to adopt or amend, in accordance with local circumstances:

    • DELWP working with councils to develop suitable criteria for delegation of decision-making based on approaches used by councils already where decision-making frameworks are clear, effective and efficient
    • DELWP and MAV preparing example deeds of delegation to support councils in choosing and applying the delegation mechanisms that are appropriate to their needs and consistent with other councils’ practices
    • supporting councillors through training to better understand their roles and responsibilities when making decisions under the Planning and Environment Act 1987 and the planning scheme.

    Existing process(es)

    Councils are the appropriate level of government to make local planning decisions.

    When acting as a responsible authority under the Planning and Environment Act 1987, councils may delegate powers relating to planning permit decisions to a committee or to council officers. The council can determine what categories of applications should be considered directly by the council (or its Planning Subcommittee). This is usually done by the council adopting a “deed of delegation” at the commencement of each term.

    Many councils delegate powers in this way. Indeed 97 per cent of planning permit applications are decided under delegation. In cases where assessment of applications is delegated to officers, the primary role of the councillors is to set the policies and guidelines that enable these to be undertaken effectively. Over time the nature of these deeds has varied significantly with many different triggers being set for when a contested application should be considered by council.

    Unclear delegation processes and practices can be challenging for councils to administer and can make it difficult for applicants to anticipate the way in which their application will be assessed (particularly in cases where applicants work across municipalities).

    The time delays for an application that is decided directly by the council can be significant due to the timing of council meetings and the lead time required for reporting to council.

    The Local Government Bill 2019 is currently before Parliament. It includes a provision in section 32 that requires all councillors to receive induction training. This training should include specific legal advice on the distinction between a council acting as planning authority and its general duties and the individual obligations on councillors when handling planning matters.

    Feedback from stakeholders based on the discussion paper

    The Discussion Paper proposed:

    • developing a best practice model ‘deed of delegation’ and supporting guideline for planning permit decisions
    • increasing the frequency of councils’ planning subcommittee meetings
    • providing training for councillors about their roles and responsibilities in the planning system.

    Submissions reinforced the Discussion Paper emphasis of the importance of councillors’ role in reflecting community opinion and managing local issues. Submissions also confirmed the Discussion Paper’s understanding of the substantial variation in delegation practices and highlighted some of the key factors that should be considered by DELWP in developing guidance and model deeds to support councils in choosing the delegation mechanism that best suits their needs. For example, some rural councils with low volumes of applications reported low levels of delegation from their councillors, while councils with higher application volumes generally had higher levels of delegation, coupled with the ordinary right of councillors to call in an individual application.

    One submission noted that one example of potential improvements from clearer and more transparent delegation processes would be providing certainty about whether delegated powers extended to being able to represent a council at VCAT hearings or not.

    Smaller councils noted that more frequent meetings of their full council would be impractical, particularly in rural areas, which points to the value of councils convening planning sub-committees. Given the large variation in application loads, council sizes and the administrative burden of scheduling additional meetings, this report notes that other opportunities to reduce decision timeframes through more frequent meetings may be identified through support provided to councils in the State-led Better Planning Approvals program.

    There was widespread support for councillor training on their role and responsibilities in the planning system.

  • This Report recommends reducing the time taken for post-permit approvals and improving the clarity and quality of post permit conditions and approvals by:

    • DELWP developing guidance and training on best-practice post-permit approvals processes and standards;
    • focusing guidance and training on applying conditions that arise directly from issues relating to a permit and only using conditions that are necessary and reasonable where other provisions cannot manage compliance;
    • incorporating benchmark approval timeframes into post-permit guidance;
    • setting standards for urban and non-urban areas through a manual of standardised engineering infrastructure requirements and conditions – this approach should aim to facilitate greater consistency across councils and reduce the time taken to negotiate infrastructure contributions;
    • reporting through PPARS as part of the Better Reporting framework on time taken for key stages in post-permit approval processes; and
    • utilising the Better Planning Approvals approach to ensure internal referrals are considered up front and concurrently with planning assessment as part of the permit process to avoid conflicting or unnecessary conditions.

    This Report notes that implementing Recommendations B1, B2 and B7 to coordinate internal referrals as part of a concierge approach that begins with early engagement pre-application services, improve the quality of applications and only assess applications that are decision-ready should lead to fewer post approval conditions and faster assessment of endorsed plans.

    Existing process(es)

    When granting a planning permit, councils may attach conditions that must be met. These allow for important factors that cannot be included in a planning permit to be considered.

    While most planning permits come with conditions attached, and many are not significant hurdles, applicants have reported that conditions are often overused, ambiguous, or could be dealt with via other means (for example in the permit itself or through the building permit system instead of being stipulated as a condition of a planning permit).

    There are some cases in which planning permits have been issued subject to all conditions from DELWP’s now 12-years-old guidance material in a ‘kitchen sink’ approach.

    In other cases a condition such as ‘must comply with the Road Management Act’ is attached to a permit without the permit holder being aware that this can involve lengthy and complex approval processes with Department of Transport (Roads) engineers, and then counter-approval from council traffic engineers. The result is raised expectations about being ‘nearly finished’ with approvals processes, only to find several more stages await.

    These issues can cause delays to applicants that are incurred through testing whether a condition is valid in the first instance, gathering additional information to demonstrate that a permit condition has been met and amending plans to meet those conditions.

    From the point of view of councils, planning staff end up spending large portions of their time handling permit conditions and having to repeatedly send back incomplete or poor-quality requests for post-permit conditions to be approved.

    Feedback from stakeholders based on the discussion paper

    The Discussion Paper proposed developing:

    • a planning practice note and updating guidance to focus on best-practice principles and timeframes for post-permit processes;
    • an education and guidance program to better target conditions and improve consistency of conditions across councils;
    • using the Better Planning Approvals concierge approach to coordinate internal referrals including those between planning and building teams within local council;
    • a State-wide manual of standardised engineering infrastructure requirements and conditions; and
    • collecting and reporting council performance data in the post-permit stage.

    The idea of providing guidance and education to improve post-permit processes was well received. In developing this guidance, DELWP will be able to address issues raised by stakeholders regarding the varying types and complexity of post-permit approvals, rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach. This variation will also be reflected in DELWP’s guidance on benchmark approval timeframes (noting that these benchmarks would not equate to prescribing timeframes).

    The Discussion Paper suggested that the principles recently adopted in the United Kingdom for the use of permit conditions are worth consideration. This was broadly supported. One of the principles is for draft conditions to be clearly communicated to applicants before a permit is granted. This would enable applicants to take proactive steps to address likely conditions or reduce their necessity. Several councils noted in their submissions that they already do this either as a formal step in providing a planning permit or in the general course of communication with applicants during the permit process.

    Other councils noted they would be reluctant to share written draft conditions with applicants – they were concerned that doing so would create another formal consultation stage and result in applicants trying to negotiate conditions. The intention of the proposed improvement was not that councils would be required by law to provide written copies, but that it was good practice where practicable, for councils to communicate and consult with applicants so that they were aware of the types of conditions they were likely to have attached to a permit, and why.

    Submissions reinforced the Discussion Paper’s observation (also noted in Recommendation B1) that internal referrals could be better coordinated to deal with matters up front and make sure that conditions were used only when necessary to manage issues relating to the permit.

    There was widespread support for a State-wide infrastructure manual, with submissions from both councils and users of the system wanting to ensure a degree of flexibility. This Report notes that rather than setting uniform State-wide standards for all infrastructure requirements and conditions, this manual would be developed in collaboration with councils, government agencies and industry to establish more consistent standards. This Report envisages that councils would retain the authority to deviate from the requirements in the manual and that they would be able to explain to applicants the rationale using the manual as a benchmark.

    As with Recommendation B9 (which includes improving reporting during the permit process), many stakeholders, including several councils, supported the proposal to measure and report activity and timeframes during the post-permit process as part of the State-led creation of a Better Reporting framework (see Part 1). To deliver this improvement effectively and with due consideration of the resource implications for councils, post-permit reporting should be integrated with the existing PPARS system. The potential resource requirements for the Better Reporting framework should be scoped for each council as part of the Better Planning Approvals program’s stocktake of councils’ digital platforms and systems (see Part 1).

  • This report recommends making it easier to get variations to the terms of a permit approved by:

    • DELWP collaborating with councils to prepare a Planning Practice Note to update guidance on post-permit variations (including both secondary consents and extensions of time) along with benchmarks for reasonable timeframes for approvals
    • using the upcoming review of fees as an opportunity to consider prescribing fees or fee structures for post-permit services provided by councils
    • making more use of VCAT’s Short Cases List hear appropriate secondary consent disputes more frequently and more quickly
    • as part of the Better Reporting framework, supporting councils to report on key aspects of the post-permit process (see also Recommendation B3 regarding supporting councils to upgrade digital systems to make such reporting easier).

    Existing process(es)

    In contrast to post-permit approvals processes that are created by a condition or requirement of a responsible authority or a referral authority (see Recommendation C1) there are also post-permit approvals that are triggered by requests from permit-holders.

    These most commonly include requests for secondary consent (where a permit-holder requests a change in their permit or attached conditions that requires consent to be obtained again from a responsible authority or referral authority) and requests from a permit-holder for an extension of a time limit on their permit (for example, a requirement that development commence before a specified date).

    The post permit processes are the most unclear, with some stakeholders saying that it sometimes takes as long to get any changes arising from applicant actions or requests that need to be approved to be reflected in the permit.

    Consultation with stakeholders to inform the Discussion Paper revealed conflicting and uncertain views on any prescribed timeframes for approvals for secondary consents or extensions of time. Decisions made as part of post-permit approvals are not reported and so there is no monitoring or reporting on council performance or on how quickly and accurately applicants meet conditions.

    Under the Planning and Environment (Fees) Regulations 2016 there are no prescribed fees for variations to a permit or extension of times.

    Feedback from stakeholders based on the discussion paper

    The Discussion Paper proposed:

    • DELWP preparing a Planning Practice Note to update guidance on post-permit approvals (including both secondary consents and extensions of time) along with benchmarks for reasonable timeframes for approvals
    • VCAT promoting their Short Cases List to hear secondary consent disputes more frequently and more quickly
    • prescribing post-permit fees
    • requiring councils to report on the number of conditions and time taken to approve post-permit conditions.

    There was widespread support for DELWP providing guidance on best-practice post-permit approvals, and submissions suggest that councils would welcome the opportunity to provide input to the development of the Planning Practice Note. Submissions supported the Discussion Paper’s suggestion that DELWP’s guidance provide benchmarked timeframes rather than prescribing new statutory time limits (see also Recommendation C1 for a discussion of the need for any benchmarks to reflect variation in post-permit processes).

    There was broad support for the recommendation concerning VCAT Short Cases List. Some stakeholders seemed unaware of the opportunity this list provides to get an early hearing date, which reinforces this report’s recommendation that the list be promoted.

    There was strong support for scaling fees for post permit consents with a suggestion that these needed to be set centrally by the Victorian Government. Submissions emphasised the importance of these being cost reflective given the complexity of some consent applications. The Planning and Environment (Fees) Regulations 2016 are scheduled to have a mid-term review completed by October 2021. The scope of the mid-term review can include new fee structures for post-permit services provided by councils.

    Council submissions were broadly supportive of reporting on post-permit approvals provided this was done as an extension of PPARS (as suggested in this report’s recommended Better Reporting framework initiative). Feedback supports this report’s suggestions that such reporting should include clear delineation of the time spent by applicants in meeting permit conditions and not just the time taken by councils to approve those efforts. Council feedback supported the observation in the Discussion Paper that additional reporting requirements can impose administrative burden on councils and so should prioritise the most important information.

  • This report recommends reducing timelines for electricity connections by:

    • developing a performance reporting framework for residential non-standard electricity connections including common timeframes for distribution businesses
    • formalising ongoing public reporting requirements, including enforceable timelines for defined residential non-standard electricity connection in greenfield developments with clear and effective compliance obligations, in parallel with the ESC’s current review of the EDC
    • increasing training requirements and encouraging tighter endorsement for civil contractors to improve the quality of civil works
    • reviewing sources of locational data to identify opportunities to have a single address database for electricity connections and other purposes.

    Existing process(es)

    The timeframes for non-standard electricity connections, which are largely in greenfield areas, are negotiated between distribution businesses and developers. Non-standard are generally more costly and complex than basic or standard connections and may require network augmentation. Unlike basic and standard connections, there are no regulated timeframes or penalties for poor service.

    The ESC has introduced a voluntary Service Improvement Commitment (SIC) to address delays in the connection process. Since being introduced, the development industry has noted some improvements to the timeliness of construction audits and the provision of temporary connections. But timelines for some steps in the connection process have not improved and there is some doubt among developers that any improvement are “locked in” for the future. There is no formal compliance obligation under the SIC and there are no ongoing formal public reporting requirements.

    In parallel to the SIC process, the ESC is also undertaking a review of the Electricity Distribution Code (‘the Code’). The ESC states that this Review of the Code will be a staged process over several years but its principal focus in 2019 and 2020 is on technical standards. Matters related to timelines of connections are yet to be scheduled for review. The ESC and the Australian Energy Regulator are also outlining their respective responsibilities for non-standard connections. The ESC advises that this is yet to commence. Previous advice suggested this would be completed by mid-2020. Regardless of the outcome of the EDC review and responsibility mapping, the EDC can be changed by the ESC after consultation with industry.

    Developers engage civil contractors to carry out many of the steps in the connection process including construction (each distribution business determine which steps are contestable). Some of the work conducted is of low quality which increases the time taken for electricity to be connected and threatens safety.

    To have electricity connected, data on addresses needs to be provided to retailers and in turn to Energy Safety Victoria and distribution businesses. Sometimes addresses are not compatible or not up to date, causing delays in simple connections.

    Feedback from stakeholders based on the discussion paper

    The Discussion Paper proposed:

    • amending the EDC to include a performance framework for distributors
    • include timeframes for connection stages in that framework with penalties for non-compliance
    • developing training and support for contractors and subcontractors to improve work quality.

    There was broad support for the introduction of a performance measurement framework, as delays in this area can have significant costs. Distribution businesses have noted that some refinement is required to the way in which the proposal was couched in the Discussion Paper. For example, non-standard connections may include large scale projects such as solar farms and wind farms. Other feedback raised included the feasibility of applying specific timelines for certain steps, the effect of factors outside distribution businesses’ control (such as weather) and differences in the connection processes of distribution businesses.

    An exemption process for large scale projects such as solar farms and wind farms could be introduced. Subject to further consultation, this could mean regulators are able to grant an exemption for projects outside the scope of this Review (e.g. non-housing or energy projects), for factors outside of the distribution businesses control (e.g. severe weather events or other works) or for safety reasons.

    Overall, there was support from the development industry, councils, civil contractors and distribution businesses about training to increase the quality of contractor’s work. It was also noted that existing bodies, such as the Victorian Electrical Distribution Network (VEDN), already have processes in place to administer training. Further consultation with distributors and industry will be important in the development of training programs to improve the quality of work to ensure the training is tailored to the needs of the sector and provided by trainers with the relevant expertise.

    The issue of inconsistent locational data sources used by retailers, distribution businesses and some regulators was also raised. An application which contains locational data inconsistent with the receiving party’s locational data is immediately rejected. This impacts up to 2.5% of all electricity connections. The source of locational data should be reviewed for the purposes of aggregating these data.

  • This report recommends simplifying the payment of infrastructure contributions by:

    • boosting efforts by the VPA to streamline the GAIC staged payment system (including a simpler method for rolling these over if the GAIC liability has not been triggered within the financial year)
    • establishing regular meetings between the VPA, Land Use Victoria (LUV) and the State Revenue Office (SRO) and industry representatives to monitor the implementation of current reforms (such as SRO’s work with LUV to integrate GAIC notices in the PEXA and SPEAR systems and the provision of an online calculator for staged payments)
    • abolishing the (now redundant) GAIC Hardship Board
    • developing a stronger and more predictable policy framework for future developer contributions, drawing on recent work by the VPA, DELWP, councils and industry on Infrastructure Contribution Plans (ICPs), the work of the current Ministerial Advisory Committee on Affordable Housing and the recent experience with councils’ existing section 173 model agreements.

    Existing process(es)

    Reform efforts to streamline GAIC payments have been underway for some time, in an environment that is changing significantly. The outsourcing of major land title functions to LUV, the implementation of PEXA and the shift to greater online processing of subdivision applications have all resulted in significant process improvements in recent times.

    Since the GAIC Hardship Board’s establishment, legislative changes to the Planning and Environment Act 1987 have been made which render it unnecessary. Under the current provisions a purchaser can elect to defer their GAIC liability and, if they cannot pay the GAIC, they would be able to on-sell the development and would therefore not be required to pay the GAIC.

    Three common recent uses for section 173 agreements by councils are:

    • as an interim measure to secure infrastructure payments until an ICP or Development Contribution Plan is negotiated
    • as a “one off” contribution towards infrastructure outside the growth corridors
    • as an agreement with developers to provide affordable housing.

    Stakeholders raised concerns that the use of section 173 agreements resulted in protracted discussion between stakeholders and councils about the appropriate cost and specifications for stipulated infrastructure. Community housing developers noted that section 173 agreements were being used in ways that (unintentionally) compromised the viability of those projects from the developer’s perspective due to council planners being unfamiliar with Community housing developers’ business models.

    Feedback from stakeholders based on the discussion paper

    The Discussion Paper proposed that:

    • the VPA continue to streamline the GAIC staged payment system (including a simpler method for rolling these over if the GAIC liability has not been triggered within the financial year)
    • the VPA, LUV and the SRO meet regularly with industry representatives to monitor the implementation of reforms (such as SRO’s work with LUV to integrate GAIC notices in the PEXA and SPEAR systems and the provision of an online calculator for stage payments)
    • the GAIC Hardship Board should be abolished by repealing the relevant sections of the Planning and Environment Act 1987
    • the VPA, councils and industry continue working towards agreement on using simpler arrangements to deliver infrastructure contributions
    • DELWP, councils and the MAV develop model section 173 agreements and explore the opportunity to create benchmark infrastructure prices.

    There was good support for the proposals relating to GAIC. The VPA and SRO have committed to take additional steps, including the provision of an online calculator and convening regular meetings to examine issues as they arise. No submissions opposed the abolition of the GAIC Hardship Board.

    Broadly there was support for the concept of model s173 agreements. In the growth corridors the revised implementation arrangements for ICPs should mean that interim s 173 agreements would no longer be necessary. The primary focus was on individual developments and several councils said they were happy with their own model agreements. However, there is still a lot of time and money spent on negotiations over the details and the quantum of support to be provided. DELWP has already produced a model s173 agreement for affordable housing and this issue is currently being considered by a Ministerial Advisory Committee.

    More attention was given to whether it is possible to set benchmark prices for infrastructure, given the variation in circumstances across the State – both in terms of the standards to be met and the cost of delivery in different locations. As with the proposal for a State-wide manual of engineering standards, there is a strong view that different standards are appropriate for non-metro councils which do not want to have to deliver standards suited to denser urban areas.

    Based on feedback about section 173 agreements and infrastructure prices, this report recommends DELWP collaborate with councils and industry to draw on recent work on growth corridor ICPs, the current Ministerial Advisory Committee on Affordable Housing and councils’ existing section 173 model agreements to evaluate the way in which costs are currently considered.

  • This report recommends engaging earlier with authorities outside the planning system by:

    • using councils’ early engagement approaches including pre-application processes to alert applicants to other approvals that may apply and involving other authorities earlier as appropriate
    • working with the Commonwealth at both Ministerial and Departmental levels to reduce the time taken for approvals under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (including raising the issues through the Commonwealth’s recently announced review of the national environmental approvals system)
    • considering the issues of keeping council heritage studies and overlays up to date, interim heritage protection requests and the relation with demolition permits as part of the Heritage Council’s current review of local heritage issues
    • DELWP providing clearer guidance for councils and proponents about State and local heritage responsibilities and processes, including the safety protections of the Building Act 1993.

    Existing process(es)

    There is a range of approvals that are outside the planning system – each with their own processes and complexities.

    Consultation with stakeholders found that engaging later in the process with other authorities can cause delays and frustration for permit-holders.

    Generally, these processes work best when proponents engage early and when the responsible authority ensures that the necessary provisions and information requirements are up to date.

    Councils maintain heritage studies for buildings of local heritage significance. Sometimes these studies are not up to date. As a result applying for a demolition permit can trigger interim measures that result in delays which would have been avoided if the Heritage Overlays were up to date.

    Feedback from stakeholders based on the discussion paper

    The Discussion Paper proposed that:

    • early engagement (including through preapplication processes) should enable council planners to inform proponents of the range of approvals they will need
    • the Victorian Government and the Commonwealth should work together to reduce time taken for approvals under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
    • councils should ensure that their heritage studies and overlays are up to date
    • DELWP should provide clearer advice and information about heritage responsibilities and processes including coordination with demolition applications under the Building Act 1993.

    Several councils noted in their submissions that they seek to flag ‘other approvals’ early in approvals processes for applicants where relevant and where they are aware of them. Many councils also noted that as they are not technically responsible for approvals by other authorities, they do not have the resources or expertise to provide applicants with any certainties about which future approvals from other authorities will or will not be required.

    This reinforces the Discussion Paper’s suggestion that – while it is the responsibility of proponents to be aware of and obtain all the necessary approvals that may be required for their proposal – councils’ early engagement (including preapplication services) can help identify potential approvals required later and facilitate engagement with authorities early in discussions where appropriate. This is consistent with this report’s recommendation that council concierge services can help applicants get a ‘whole of project’ perspective on approvals processes, without making councils responsible for all parts of that process.

    The Commonwealth has recently announced a new initiative that will work towards digitising environmental approvals and building a national biodiversity database. This represents a significant opportunity for the Victorian Government to work collaboratively with the Commonwealth to advance sensible reforms that improve coordination and efficiency of the environmental approvals process. The priority that this initiative has been given by the Commonwealth is welcome and represents a good opportunity to streamline the process.

    In relation to heritage, councils pointed to the cost and time involved in heritage studies and that this is a challenge in a resource constrained environment. These resourcing requirements could be further explored as part of the Heritage Council’s review of local heritage issues and as part of the Better Planning Approvals initiative (see Part 1) supported in part by the Regional Planning Hubs (see Recommendation B4). Councils also noted that there are sometimes differing views among heritage consultants which can result in varying advice being provided to councils. The subjective nature of heritage issues was a clear theme from the submissions that were received. A greater role for DELWP in providing guidance about heritage matters was widely supported by councils.

    The matters concerning heritage are particularly complex. We acknowledge that councils have expressed concern over their ability to resource the costly work of maintaining heritage studies and note that this activity is a responsibility of councils.

  • This report recommends improving coordination of internal referrals by:

    • involving planning and building staff as well as heritage, drainage, engineering and other specialist staff in councils in early engagement services to identify key issues up front (as part of the Better Planning Approvals program)
    • developing a consolidated flood mapping dataset
    • councils requesting that applicants include up-to-date flood information (provided by the appropriate authority) and other information required by a planning scheme in flood-prone areas.

    Existing process(es)

    In some instances, the assessment of a building permit raises matters not previously stipulated or anticipated at the planning permit stage. These take time to resolve and may require additional conditions to be attached to the planning permit or amending the permit itself before the building permit can be issued.

    Some councils have attempted to address these issues by creating ‘development’ branches that co-locate council planning and building staff, to deliver faster and more integrated coordination of internal referrals.

    One prominent concern regarding the intersection of requirements prescribed on planning permits and the requirements of building permits relates to flooding. Examples include planning permits not considering flooding requirements that are likely to be dealt with in the building approvals stage and flooding information being inconsistent across the 2 stages.

    Feedback from stakeholders based on the discussion paper

    The Discussion Paper proposed:

    • councils using the concierge approach, which would start with preapplication services (see B1), to coordinate internal referrals
    • development of a consolidated flood mapping dataset to reduce frequent contradictions between the requirements prescribed through planning permit assessments compared to those prescribed through building permit assessments
    • requiring building statements to be prepared when lodging planning permit applications in flood-prone areas (as an interim measure until a consolidated dataset can be developed).

    Councils largely supported a concierge approach that provides more integration between their planning and building services.

    The Better Planning Approvals program would work with councils to apply these concierge and concurrent approaches in a proportionate way. Council feedback confirmed the value of a proportionate approach. In some cases, for example, councils’ Municipal Building Surveyors are active in assessing and granting building permits, so the need to focus the concierge approach on building permits would vary between councils.

    Many submissions supported the suggestion of councils adopting the ‘development branch’ organisational structure, with better integration between council planning, engineering and building teams. The Better Planning Approvals program should help councils explore opportunities to adopt this practice.

    The proposal to develop a single, consolidated set of flood mapping information was largely supported by stakeholders. The interim measure proposed in the Discussion Paper – using Building Information Statements (BISs) earlier in the planning and building approvals process to provide up-to-date flood level information – was widely supported. This proposal was to change the point in time at which a Building Information Statement was prepared, without changing the party that would complete the Building Information Statement. Feedback suggests that there are other ways of councils or permit applicants obtaining this information from the relevant authority. This report recommends that councils request that applicants include up-to-date flood level information along with other information required by a planning scheme.

  • This report recommends expanding the workforce of building surveyors, inspectors and fire safety engineers by:

    • DELWP collaborating with the VBA to Introduce a new class of registration for building surveyors restricted to certifying Class 1 and Class 10 buildings and structures with a floor area of up to 500 square metres. To ensure national consistency this recommendation should take into consideration equivalent classes of registration in other states and territories and be aligned with the current Commonwealth national training package project, which is reviewing the vocational education and training qualifications for building surveyors
    • the VBA partnering with industry bodies to continue to promote the building surveying and inspection professions as a career option for secondary school students (with a focus on women)
    • the VBA partnering with industry bodies and training providers to work towards improving the availability and quality of the courses prescribed for the registration of building surveyors and inspectors by:
      • improving access to these courses in regional Victoria
      • strengthening the coverage of the Building Act 1993 and the National Construction Code (NCC) in the curriculum for those courses
      • exploring whether other courses could be prescribed for the registration of building surveyors and inspectors
      • supporting the development of industry trainers and training materials
    • the VBA, municipal building surveyors and industry bodies working together to introduce cadetships to assist graduate surveyors to obtain relevant work experience in the sector
    • supporting Engineer Australia’s pipeline strategy to address the predicted shortage in local engineering skills
    • the VBA developing bridging pathways to enable practitioners from related occupations to transfer into building surveying and inspection work.

    Existing process(es)

    Shortages of building surveyors, building inspectors and fire safety engineers are causing delays in the approval of building plans and the construction of buildings. The problem is more acute in regional areas and for smaller building projects.

    Some of the factors contributing to the shortages are the:

    • inadequate numbers of students enrolling in and completing the courses for entry to the building surveying and engineering professions, and for building surveyors and inspectors an ageing workforce
    • limited access to courses for building surveying and inspection careers
    • lack of bridging pathways for building practitioners seeking a career change into building surveying
    • heavy reliance on skilled migration to meet local demand for engineers.

    Feedback from stakeholders based on the Discussion Paper

    The Discussion Paper sought feedback on several proposals including creating a new class of building surveyor, increasing interest in the building and engineering professions as a career option, improving the quality and availability of training; and developing bridging pathways for practitioners from related occupation to transition into building surveying and inspection work.

    There was widespread support for these proposed improvements.

    The proposal to create a new class of building surveyor for low-rise domestic buildings was supported by the majority of stakeholders. Stakeholders who did not support the proposal appear to have misinterpreted it as duplicating the existing class of ‘limited’ building surveyor. By comparison the limited building surveyor class is authorised to deal with all classes of building up to three storeys and with a maximum floor area of 2,000 square metres whereas, the proposed new class of building surveyor would be restricted to class 1 and 10 buildings with a floor area of up to 500 square metres.

    A small number of stakeholders were concerned that the new class of building surveyor may risk public safety. However, setting the appropriate training and experience standards for the new class of building surveyor would ensure practitioner competency. Other stakeholders noted that further work would be required to set these standards. This work would be undertaken as part of implementing the proposal and should consider the review of the building surveying qualifications contained in the national Construction, Plumbing and Services Training Package being undertaken by Artibus Innovation on behalf of the Commonwealth Government. Stakeholders also commented that the training and experience standards for the new class of building surveyor should be consistent with those in the other states and territories where there is an equivalent class of registration.

    Almost all stakeholders supported the proposals outlined in the discussion to increase interest in the building and engineering professions as career options, and to improve the quality and availability of training. These proposals included, for example, scholarships, subsidised tuition fees, cadetships, a specialised unit of study on building law and the NCC to be included in the courses prescribed for the registration of building surveyors and inspector, exploring whether additional course could be prescribed and improving training delivery. These measures were seen as necessary to address current shortages and to ensure that sufficient numbers of practitioners are available to meet future demand from private sector and government projects.

    Councils, industry associations and regulators all supported the introduction of bridging pathways for builders, architects, engineers, project managers and the like wishing to move into building surveying and inspection work. Stakeholders noted that courses forming the bridging pathways would need to recognise the existing skillsets of the different categories of practitioners while being sufficiently rigorous to ensure public health and safety.

    Some stakeholders raised the increasing cost and the coverage of professional indemnity insurance for building surveyors as affecting the numbers of people entering and exiting the building surveying profession. However, given the action taken by the Victorian Government in mid-2019 and the work underway by the Building Ministers’ Forum, at this time no further action is recommended on professional indemnity insurance for building surveyors.

  • This report recommends improving access to building records by making the Building Activity Management System (BAMS), introduced by the VBA to manage building permit numbers, the State’s central registry for these records for councils and building practitioners in Victoria.

    Existing process(es)

    Building owners and developers are experiencing delays preparing building permit applications where the records of a property – such as previous building plans or records of construction materials or methods – are not available, incomplete or only kept in difficult to access hard copies.

    The issue is compounded over time and as properties are sold. The consequences where accurate records are not available include safety risks, challenges for regulators undertaking audits and building inspections, including for combustible cladding, and additional costs and delays to prepare a building permit particularly where an owner must engage a consultant to compile the information needed.

    While building records can be lodged electronically with councils by building surveyors, some records continue to by lodged as hard copies and many historic records are still stored as hard copies.

    Feedback from stakeholders based on the Discussion Paper

    The Discussion Paper supported the Victorian Government’s longer-term objective to centralise the storage and retrieval of building records by utilising the BAMS platform managed by the VBA.

    Almost all stakeholders responding to this proposal agreed with the BAMS platform becoming the central database for all building records for Victoria. Where the proposal was not supported this appears to be based on early experience with software issues following the introduction of BAMS in mid-2019, and highlights the important role that systems design, consultant and support for councils will play in implementing this proposal.

    In supporting the proposal councils commented on the heavy workload that would be required to migrate their records to the BAMS database and the need for funding assistance to do this. Council resourcing and funding along with technical queries about the platform, such as the need for ease of use and maintenance of records would be considered as part of the implementation of this proposal.

    Concerns about loss of council revenue from the introduction of BAMS for the storage of building records are speculative as councils would be able to continue to respond to, and charge for, public request for access to building records in their jurisdictions.

    Some stakeholders suggested further extending BAMS to manage all building permit activity or to capture other building records, for example, fixtures, fittings and appliances to track faulty products and assist with rectification. While extending BAMS in these ways may have merit, it is a longer-term goal.

    As BAMS develops it will become a rich source of data that could be utilised to monitor and report on the performance of the building permit process as recommended in D7. In addition, this data could be integrated with the data proposed to be collected on the planning permit approval process. This would provide a holistic view of the performance of the planning and building system from the application for planning permit through to the issue of a certificate of occupancy on completing the construction of a building.

  • This Report recommends DELWP and VBA streamlining building permit requirements for low-risk work while maintaining safety and quality by considering the following exemptions in the context of national harmonisation:

    • exemptions for the construction of decks and sheds from the requirement to obtain a building permit if they comply with the NCC and any other conditions determined necessary to ensure the standard of building work, nearby amenity and community safety, for example:
      • the deck is less than 800 millimetres in height
      • the shed has a floor area not exceeding 16 square metres
    • an exemption from the requirement to obtain a building permit for mobility access ramps, for example based on the criteria such as:
      • it complies with the NCC
      • it complies with any other conditions determined necessary to ensure the standard of building work, nearby amenity and community safety
      • if the mobility ramp is 800 millimetres or above in height, it is certified on completion by a building surveyor or inspector
      • the appropriate class or classes of buildings to which the exemption is to apply have been assessed and determined.

    Existing process(es)

    For some categories of low-risk, low-impact building works, such as sheds, mobility access ramps and decks, the requirement to obtain a building permit:

    • imposes a cost that outweighs the potential benefits of the permit
    • leads to delays for developers and builders
    • puts additional pressure on the heavy workloads of building surveyors
    • can result in work being done illegally to circumvent the permit process.

    Feedback from stakeholders based on the discussion paper

    The Discussion Paper proposed exemptions from the requirement to obtain a building permit for the construction of:

    • decks up to the height of 800 millimetres
    • mobility access ramps provided those above 800 millimetres in height are certified on completion by a building surveyor or inspector
    • sheds up to the size of 16 square metres, which would mean increasing the current exemption that is set at 10 square metres.

    In each case the exemption is proposed as being conditional on the building work continuing to meet the requirements of the NCC.

    There was broad support for the proposed exemptions provided that appropriate conditions are imposed to ensure the standard of building work, nearby amenity and community safety is maintained, and that the proposals are considered in the context of national consistency.

    In addition to the NCC requirements proposed in the Discussion Paper, the additional conditions suggested by stakeholders for decks are the size of the deck, its set back from the property boundary, overlooking into neighbouring properties, easements and the protection of utility assets. Similar areas for conditions were raised for mobility access ramps and sheds with the addition of height and number of structures for sheds. The flexibility to consider such conditions in drafting the exemptions has been incorporated into the actions recommended above.

    Ensuring that the details of the exemptions are consistent with the VPP was also considered important. Except for sheds, the proposals are consistent with the VPP, which exempts mobility access ramps from requiring a planning permit and also decks that are less than 800 millimetres high unless a permit is specifically required in a particular zone or overlay. There are exemptions in the VPP for sheds (described as out-buildings) in specific zones and overlays, however, the trigger is less than 10 square metres, which is the same as the current exemption from a building permit. Increasing the building exemption trigger, therefore, may prompt a review of the trigger for sheds in the VPP.

    In addition, the VBA has advised that the exemption for decks should also consider any findings or recommendations of the current Coronial inquest into the collapse of a balcony in Melbourne in 2017. However, it is noted that this was a second storey balcony and, therefore, may have limited application to the proposed exemption.

    Although most stakeholders agreed with the thresholds for the exemptions for decks and sheds, some suggested that for decks it be lower at 600 millimetres or 250 millimetres, and for sheds it be increased from 10 square meters to either 15 or 20 square metres. In response, 800 millimetres is considered to be the appropriate threshold for decks as this height qualifies a deck for an exemption from the overlooking requirements of the VPP, while 16 square metres for sheds ensures that enough space is available to store land and bushfire management equipment.

    A challenge raised in relation to the proposed mobility access ramp exemption is the complexity of the NCC and the difficulty of identifying the requirements for ramps attached to different types of buildings. Therefore, one suggestion was to limit the exemption to ramps attached to Class 1 and Class 10 buildings. To address this, an action is recommended above to consider the classes of building to which the exemption for mobility access ramps should apply.

    While some stakeholders were generally cautious of exemptions referring to the issues that had arisen in the past when there was a permit exemption for all building work under the value of $5,000, there was also recognition of the narrower character of the proposed exemptions.

    The approach to ensuring the compliance of exempt building work with the building standards was also raised by stakeholders. This will be clarified as part of the implementation of the recommended actions.

  • This report recommends standardising construction management plans by DELWP working with councils and MAV to:

    • develop a model law for adoption by councils on the matters needed to be included in different levels of construction management plans. The model law should standardise these matters to the extent possible
    • prepare a standard template for each level of construction management plan identified in the model law along with supporting guidelines for builders and developers that could be adopted by councils across Victoria with local variation, where required. Development of the standard templates and guidelines should draw on the documentation already being used by some councils
    • include the construction management plan process in the Better Planning Approvals program.

    Existing process(es)

    Delays of between 6 to 12 months for the approval of some construction management plans are, in turn, delaying the issue of building permits. The causes of these delays are:

    • unclear and varying requirements
    • inconsistent standards of documentation and administrative procedures between councils
    • inexperience and gaps in the skills of some council officers assessing construction management plans
    • poor communication between council officers and building surveyors issuing permits.

    Feedback from stakeholders based on the Discussion Paper

    The improvements proposed in the Discussion Paper included the development of a model local law supported by a template for a construction management plan and guidelines for builders and developers who need to prepare a plan. It was also proposed to include the construction management plan process in a Better Planning Approvals approach to enable councils to case manage builders and developers through the process.

    There is strong support for the development of a model law, template plan and guidelines.

    Some stakeholders suggested that the model law would need to provide for different levels of construction management plans to reflect the nature, scale and complexity of different types of developments. Different template plans and guidelines would also need to be developed to support each of the different level of construction management plans. The first action recommended above recognises this need for different levels of construction management plans and supporting documentation.

    It was also suggested that development of the model law and associated documentation should draw on any relevant state or national standards and be clear on the circumstances that trigger the need for a construction management plan.

    A collaborative approach that involves DELWP, the MAV and councils as outlined in the Discussion Paper was confirmed by stakeholders as the approach to developing the model law and standard documentation. However, it was noted that councils would need support to participate in the process and adopt the model laws, which among other matters, would require changes to council processes and amendments to the laws that each council makes locally under the authority of the Local Government Act 1989. B4 recommends action to improve planning resources for councils that could assist with this process.

    The development of a model law and standard documentation was welcomed as a means of achieving certainty and consistency for both industry and councils. However, councils agreed with the proposition in the Discussion Paper that they should be able to vary the model law and documentation in certain circumstances to reflect their local conditions, in particular, the different needs of metropolitan and regional and rural councils.

    While the Discussion Paper acknowledged some councils as having pre-existing templates and guidelines, other councils indicated that they also have templates that could support the development of the proposed model law and documentation.

    All stakeholders supported the Better Planning Approvals approach as proposed in the Discussion Paper to manage the preparation and assessment of constriction management plans. B1 recommends that councils adopt a Better Planning Approvals approach that features early engagement with permit and other applicants.

  • This report recommends improving the consistency of council asset protection requirements by DELWP working with councils and MAV to:

    • prepare a standard practice guide for applicants for asset protection permits that could be adopted by councils across Victoria, allowing local variation, where required
    • develop a model law and enforcement policy to be adopted by councils on the matters needed to be covered by permits to protect council assets, utility assets and other development related work – the model law should standardise these matters to the extent possible while recognising the different needs of individual and groups of councils
    • include the asset protection permit process in the Better Planning Approvals program.

    Existing process(es)

    Inconsistent requirements between councils for the protection of council and other assets, such as utility assets, are delaying the start of building work and imposing additional administrative overheads on builders and developers operating in more than one municipality.

    Many of the requirements are imposed by councils through their local laws and administrative arrangements.

    Feedback from stakeholders based on the Discussion Paper

    The Discussion Paper proposed several improvements to streamline the asset protection permit process by standardising the requirements across councils. These included:

    • developing a model law and consistent enforcement policies; and
    • proving support for permit applicants through a standard practice guide and a Better Planning Approvals approach at councils.

    Stakeholders were unanimous in their support for a standard practice guide that could be adopted by all councils to create uniformity in asset protection permit requirements across Victoria. There was also widespread support for a model law to establish the uniform requirements that would underpin the standard practice guide. Some stakeholders noted that in certain circumstance councils would need to retain the ability to be able to vary the model law and standard practice guide to meet particular local conditions. This need for flexibility was reflected in the improvements proposed in the Discussion Paper and is included in the relevant actions recommended above.

    Stakeholders reinforced the view in the Discussion Paper that the practice guide and model law should not be limited to council assets but should encompass the requirements for protecting utility assets and other relevant development related work.

    An online portal was suggested by stakeholders as the long-term goal for recording, tracking and reporting on building permit applications, including asset protection permits, and also planning permit applications. Recommendation B3 sets out the actions for moving towards digital planning processing and tracking, which in the future could be extended to the building approvals process, and Recommendation D2 outlines the actions for establishing an online registry of building records.

    There was general agreement that councils would need assistance, in particular additional resources, to support them to contribute to the development and implementation of these proposed improvements, and subsequentially to enforce compliance with the model law. B4 recommends action to improve planning resources for councils that may also benefit the building approvals processes.

    As with construction management plans, all stakeholders supported the asset protection permits process being managed through the Better Planning Approvals approach recommended in B1 to support early engagement by councils with permit applicants.

  • This report recommends distinguishing building “consultants” from building surveyors by:

    • CAV continuing to raise consumer awareness of:
      • what to look for when engaging a building consultant
      • the importance of engaging a qualified and/or experienced building consultant
    • DELWP (in consultation with the VBA) reviewing the role and conduct of building consultants, and the measures to address the issues identified – the review should consider non-regulatory and regulatory measures such as a registration scheme and a code of conduct for building consultants.

    Existing process(es)

    Some building consultants employed by owners to provide them with independent advice on the quality of building work are causing unnecessary disputes between owners and builders that are causing delays to building work while the matter is resolved.

    Disputes referred to Domestic Building Dispute Resolution Victoria demonstrate that some building consultants are either unskilled and provide reports that are incorrect and misquote regulatory requirements, or aggressively market their services and provide reports that while technically correct mislead owners about the consequences of minor matters.

    Some building consultants have been targeting particular ethnic communities and older home owners.

    As there is no requirement for building consultants to be qualified or registered, the only action that can be taken is by the property owner under the Australian Consumer Law for false or misleading conduct and representations, or for services that are not fit for purpose or not provided with due care.

    Feedback from stakeholders based on the Discussion Paper

    The Discussion Paper proposed a review of the role and conduct of building consultants and, as an interim measure, a communications campaign to raise consumer awareness of the issues that can arise from the reports provided by building consultants.

    Almost all stakeholders responding to this issue supported these proposals. It was noted that in some cases consultants were targeting more vulnerable community members who are less able to check their qualifications and levels of expertise.

    The proposed review was strongly supported with most stakeholders considering that mandatory qualifications and/or a registration scheme were the preferred solution. Alternatively, some stakeholders agreed with the view in the Discussion Paper that the review should also consider other measures to protect consumers. Examples of such measures raised by stakeholders for consideration were mandatory insurance requirements for building consultants and the role that the industry bodies could play.

    While the conduct of building consultants may be misleading and have financial consequences for consumers, building practitioners and related occupations are regulated under the Building Act 1993 to ensure public safety. As DELWP has policy responsibility for the Act, the above recommendation is for DELWP to lead the review in consultation with the VBA, as the regulator for building practitioners.

    In the context of the proposed review, the VBA noted that a registration and licensing framework for building trades is currently being developed and is scheduled for implementation in September 2020. There is an opportunity for this work to consider the role and regulatory framework for building consultants.

    There was also strong support for the proposed communications campaign as an interim measure. The above recommendation acknowledges that since the release of the Discussion Paper CAV has commenced work on such a campaign.

  • This report notes that there are several measures underway which support this outcome, and in that context, recommends clarifying the processes for enforcement of the building permit approvals process through:

    • the review of the Building Act 1993 announced by the Victorian Government in 2019 considering:
      • alternative models to clarify and strengthen responsibility and processes for the administration and enforcement of the building permit approvals process
      • the respective roles of private and municipal building surveyors to minimise the conflict of interest inherent in the private certification of building work
      • expanding the role of the State Building Surveyor to include ongoing monitoring and reporting on the performance of the building permit approvals process, and to make recommendations to improve that process, where needed
    • developing the protocol between the VBA and councils that was recommended in the 2019 Report from the Co-Chairs of the Victorian Cladding Taskforce to set out accountabilities, mechanisms for cooperation and communication, strategic interventions and agreed procedures for referring enforcement actions
    • the VBA continuing its current work to:
      • develop and implement a code of conduct for building surveyors and inspectors
      • develop VBA/council statements of intent to strengthen information sharing
    • DELWP and the VBA also developing practice guides for building surveyors and inspectors on the processes and matters they must examine when conducting inspections of the various classes of buildings.

    Existing process(es)

    Fragmentation of responsibility for enforcing the building permit approvals process along with an inherent conflict of interest in private certification for building surveyors contribute to delays that add costs to the permit approvals process.

    Accountability for enforcement is split between four groups – private building surveyors, municipal building surveyors, local councils and the VBA – meaning that, in practice, it is often not clear who is responsible for enforcing building permit matters.

    In addition, there is evidence that some private building surveyors are reluctant to act against builders with whom they have a commercial relationship and depend on for ongoing work. This is a concern as private building surveyors have control over all stages of the building approvals process and, therefore, for all but a few projects have responsibility for verifying the standard and quality of building work in Victoria.

    Feedback from stakeholders based on the Discussion Paper

    The Discussion Paper sets out several proposals to:

    • clarify the accountabilities for enforcement for the building permit approvals process
    • introduce ongoing performance monitoring and reporting of that process
    • minimise the inherent conflict of interest in the private certification of building work.

    Stakeholder feedback confirms that the improvements proposed in each of these areas are appropriate measures to address the issues and bottlenecks identified in the Discussion Paper.

    Responsibility for enforcement

    The majority of stakeholders supported a review of the enforcement arrangements on the basis that the current arrangements are ineffective and limited funding makes enforcement challenging for councils, particularly those in regional and rural Victoria.

    As an early action there was also broad support for developing the protocol recommended by the Co-Chairs of the Victorian Cladding Taskforce in their 2019 Report, which is aimed at fostering cooperation and communication between the VBA and councils and guiding enforcement actions. The VBA advised in its response that, as a complementary measure, statements of intent have been finalised with the majority of councils that will strengthen information sharing and grow its market intelligence.

    There was some support for councils to develop local building control plans. However, the timing for considering such plans may be of more benefit following the review of the Building Act 1993, which is due to commence in 2020, and the subsequent implementation of any changes to the enforcement accountabilities resulting from that review. Therefore, while the development of local building central plans was suggested in the Discussion Paper, it has not been included in the above recommendations.

    Performance monitoring and reporting

    There was unanimous support from councils and the VBA for expanding the role of the State Building Surveyor to include monitoring and reporting on the performance of the building permit approvals process. A performance monitoring framework was considered to be a positive step in facilitating ongoing process improvements, although it was noted that councils would require funding assistance if further reporting obligations were imposed on them.

    Any monitoring and reporting functions given to the State Building Surveyor would be supported by the information and data available by expanding BAMS, in the first instance, to capture all building records, as proposed in Recommendation D2, and in the future to potentially record all building permit activity. In addition, date collected on the building permit approvals process could be integrated with the planning data collected through the approach to digital processing and tracking outlined in Recommendation B3.

    Conflict of interest

    There was widespread support for the proposals outlined in the Discussion Paper to address the inherent conflict of interest that arises with the private certification of building work.

    All stakeholders supported a review of the respective roles of private and municipal building surveyors. Most stakeholders saw merit in practice guides for building surveyors and inspectors on the processes and matters they must examine when inspecting buildings during construction, and a code of conduct for building surveyors and inspectors, in particular, to strengthen their obligations to avoid conflicts of interest.

    In its response to the Discussion Paper, the VBA confirmed that it is currently developing a Code of Conduct to set out the core principles and conduct expected of building surveyors when performing their statutory functions and other work they undertake as building surveyors. For clarity, the VBA intends to publish example of the types of conduct that would breach this code, which should include conduct and practices that create a conflict of interest.

Reviewed 09 November 2021

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