Yearly Archives: 2017

When Less is More: Why Smart Planning Will Stymie System Reform


This piece was written for the December 2017 issue of Planning News.

By the time you read this the Smart Planning program will have completed its consultation period after the release of its October discussion paper on the VPPs. The state government will be attempting to roll out its reforms exceptionally quickly, with some material promised by the end of the year and gazettal of a final package of VPP reforms expected by July.

It’s a nerve-rackingly short timeframe. The pace of change invites doubt about the genuineness of the consultation – is there really scope to stop, think, and potentially change course if the consultation raises legitimate issues about the package proposed? Is it long enough to sufficiently “debug” a complex set of changes? I fear not. This is, unfortunately, a deeply problematic set of reforms.

The problem with system reform like this is it all sounds great – yay! Smart! – but the problems are in the detail. This is why the timeframe allowed for the reforms is so challenging; it is also why it is difficult to unpack the issues with this paper in the space available here. Suffice, then, to make a few key points.
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The Hidden Complexity of Smart Planning

The Smart Planning discussion paper has dropped. At some point I expect I’ll take a more detailed run through of what is a complex document that mixes various good ideas with a number of really bad ones. It’s an infuriating read, partly because it is so predictable: in its broad strokes, it’s pretty much exactly what could be envisaged from the Department’s material when I wrote about the program last year.

Rather than exhaustively work through the good and the bad of this new paper now, I wanted to focus on one really weird diagram and use it to unpick the hidden complexities of this document. That diagram is this one, one page 29 of the paper, showing a proposed new assessment to pathway for simpler matters.

smartplanning diagram

Behold the simplicity in all its glorious smartness!

It is presented in contrast to this one, outlining the existing process.

existing process


Wow, the existing system does look complex. And look at all that glorious white space in the new process – that does seem enticing.

[Edit 1 December – below is my attempt at a more honest reckoning of this system diagram. Excuse my crazy person hand-writing.]

How Smart Planning streams actually work. Click to enlarge.

How Smart Planning streams actually work. Click to enlarge.

Smart Planning system flow diagram

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Smarter Planning

Image by Intrinsic-Image - click for detailsThis article comments on the publicly available material about DELWP’s Smart Planning program as of late March 2017. It is adapted from comments previously provided to DELWP about their proposed work program. I have updated those comments to serve as background and supporting material to my presentation at a VPELA seminar on Smart Planning on 27 March 2017.

It is generally accepted that there is a need to reform the Victorian planning system. This has been couched in terms of varying urgency by various system review over the life of the system. The recent release of a scathing VAGO report into the system – which amongst other things noted the lack of action in response to its similar 2008 review – has increased the sense that the need for reform is more urgent than some previous reviews have acknowledged.

In response to such criticism, the government can point to the existing Smart Planning reform program as a sign that a response is in hand. Yet how likely is this program to address the existing problems? Is it focussing on the right problems or the most constructive solutions? I am concerned that the focus of the early stages of Smart Planning, in particular, are poorly thought out and directed. The comments below outline some concerns with the traditional focus of reform in Victoria – which largely align with the Smart Planning work program – and then try to suggest some more productive approaches.

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My Next Book is Out Soon

It’s been a long time between Victorian Planning System: Practice, Problems and Prospectsposts, I know, but in my defense that’s been largely because I ended up writing two books, one on the heels of another.

My second book is both an introduction to, and a detailed study and critique of, the Victorian planning system. I have put a page up at that gives much more of a detailed breakdown of what it covers. In short, though, I hope it is both a good introduction for those new to the system. and a thought provoking discussion for those familiar with it.

It is already available for pre-order at 12% off from Booktopia, here. It should be available by the end of the month or the first week of February at the latest.

While I’m posting, I will just brag that back in November my first book, Movie Towns and Sitcom Suburbs, was awarded the Cutting Edge Research Award at the Victorian Planning Awards. The following are extracts form the citation:

This work is an outstanding feat of scholarship… Movie Towns and Sitcom Suburbs offers a new perspective based on thorough research. It is a formidable academic work that is highly readable… The work is thought provoking about how community views are shaped, how planning seeks to influence day to day life, and how public opinion can be harnessed to guide and implement change.

You can see more detail about that book, including ordering links, at

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