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The big planning story of the last few weeks has been the release of the draft new metropolitan strategy, Plan Melbourne. I don’t yet have any detailed comments to make on the plan itself, as I haven’t had a chance to look through it in detail. However I did want to highlight one aspect of the plan relating to notice rights around housing, as it closely relates to a few things I’ve written about before here (namely the new zones and VicSmart). This is something that I know has been widely discussed in the industry, but I haven’t seen an informed version of the discussion in the wider press. I also thought it would be worth covering just to spell out some of the chapter and verse of what has previously been said on this topic, since a fair few of the relevant documents are either hard to find or simply no longer available through the Department’s website.
On the day that the strategy was released, there was a fair bit of publicity about proposed exemptions from notice and review for medium and higher density housing. This is an important issue because it relates to the roll-out of the new zones that is happening as we speak: the government launched new residential zones in July, and Councils have a year to choose where to apply them. Any change in how they are to work is therefore an urgent issue, which potentially needs to be resolved much sooner than the metropolitan strategy.
This is my submission to the recent VicSmart review (with a few minor corrections). Obviously it is partly based on my Planning News article “Breaking the Land Speed Record in an Engineless Car,” but it is considerably expanded.
The new VicSmart provisions are the culmination of a long push towards implementing two closely related reforms: Code a\Assessment and a fast-track permit process. These ideas have been central to the planning reform agenda of DTPLI and its predecessors for some time. It is seven years since Code Assessment was put on the reform agenda by the Cutting Red Tape in Planning report, and ten since Better Decisions Faster floated a “short permit process.”
Throughout this period there has been a lack of clarity about how code assess and a short permit process would work. These measure have been sold in reviews such as the Modernising Victoria’s Planning Act work by floating a false idea that the system currently operates on a one-size-fits-all model. This is not the case, as myself and many other submitters to previous reviews have pointed out. The system currently includes various systemic measures to fast-track simple matters (permit exemptions, notice exemptions and the like) and Councils routinely employ streaming measures of various degrees of sophistication.
The confusion on such points, and the lack of focus throughout the refinement of Code Assessment on drafting specific codes to use with the system, has now led to a seriously compromised fast-track process. The proposed VicSmart measures show a poor understanding of the distinctive challenges of simple / fast-track statutory planning work. They create unreasonable demands on Councils while not providing Councils the tools that will be genuinely helpful in pursuing applications more quickly. Instead they create additional complexity that will actually hinder existing successful fast-track measures.
VicSmart as currently released will be counterproductive. It should be abandoned in favour of more genuinely facilitative measures.
This post was originally written for the August 2013 issue of Planning News and hence was a bit constrained for length. My full submission, with quite a bit more detail, is here.
The new VicSmart provisions, announced during July and currently open for comment, are the culmination of a long push towards implementing two closely related reforms: code assessment and a fast-track permit process. These ideas have been central to the planning reform agenda of DTPLI and its predecessors for some time. August marks seven years since code assessment was put on the reform agenda by the Cutting Red Tape in Planning report, and ten since Better Decision Faster floated a “short permit process.”
Throughout that time the measures have been sold in terms that make them hard to argue with. Certainty! Speed! Efficiency! Yet in the absence of the specifics it has been unclear how the Department would resolve the challenges to realising such a best of all-possible-worlds outcome.
Now, with the release of draft provisions, we have our answers. VicSmart is code assessment… only without any codes. And Councils are expected to drive this engineless car very fast indeed.
The consultation period for the review of the Melbourne metropolitan strategy has just finished. I didn’t make a submission and haven’t really had much to say on the topic. This is despite my usual boundless enthusiasm for getting wound up by planning reform measures, and the fact that this seems to be the biggest thing on the planning agenda: certainly it seems to be the last well-resourced thing left happening at the increasingly besieged DPCD.
Looking through the DPCD’s proposed new zones you can draw a number of conclusions about what the strategic beliefs underpinning them are, even where those beliefs aren’t really spelt out in the material released by DPCD (as I noted the other day, the material accompanying the review is a little thin, to put it mildly).
One of the underlying assumptions seems to be that we don’t need to worry about activity centres so much. The Minister has already moved to allow more kinds of big-box retail to move to industrial land outside of centres (which I talked about here and here); these new changes would allow small supermarkets and offices to join that exodus.
There isn’t a very clear statement in the material about where this leaves traditional activity centre policy. However, speaking to a regional paper, the Minister has given more idea of what his thinking on the issue is.
The consultation for the review of the new residential zones, announced back in July, is about half over. A great deal of mockery has been directed at the supporting information provided for us to consider: a ten page discussion paper and four double-sided fact sheets, available on the DPCD webpage. But what kind of strategic work underpinned previous reviews? Well, there are a few obvious comparisons.
Browsing the DPCD consultation page for the Metro strategy the other day, I noticed that they have set up a page on Melbourne’s strategic planning history. It provides valuable access to a range of strategic documents for download, right back to the 1929 plan for general development (although, frustratingly, technical limitations of DPCD’s website have apparently forced them to be broken up into multiple PDFs). It allowed me to fill some gaps in my own library, but also got me thinking about the possibility of sharing a much wider collection of Victorian planning documents.
The above was Matthew Guy’s response yesterday morning to Michael Buxton’s opinion piece in The Age about the announcement of new zones.
Buxton’s article was perhaps a little extreme, if only because we lack the detail to confidently make some of these charges. But if people are leaping to assumptions, Guy needs to accept the blame for that, since he is the one who has decided to announce the zones without releasing any meaningful supporting information. And whatever arguments you might have with Buxton, this isn’t an appropriate way for the planning Minister to engage with legitimate criticism of his policies by one of the state’s leading planning academics.
Freedom from Information: My FOI Submission to get Release of the Residential Zones Advisory Committee Report
Sir Humphrey: How are things at the Campaign for the Freedom of Information, by the way?
Sir Arnold: Sorry, I can’t talk about that.
- Yes Minister, “Party Games”
Victorian planners will have seen the announcements about new zones this week. This is a big planning story and one I hope to write more about once the detail is available. But it also marked the conclusion of my own curious adventure through Victoria’s Freedom of Information procedures.
Through 2011 I had been thinking a bit about residential zones, and contemplating writing something for Planning News about how zones could better facilitate the rolling out of local housing solutions. My thinking had been that the focus on fast, medium and slow-growth zones, evident in the earlier discussion papers, was misplaced. For me the focus needed to be not so much about setting different “temperatures” of redevelopment, with all the political challenges that can involve, but instead being more specific about the forms preferred development should take.
As I thought about how such controls could work, I became increasingly frustrated that the Advisory Committee report on residential zones, finished in 2009, was not publicly available. This was, after all, the biggest single piece of work on the subject, and DPCD and the Minister had sitting on it for more than two years. I asked DPCD for it, but got the expected answer: they weren’t releasing it until the government’s response was ready.
This is an attitude to the release of information that has been getting more prevalent and which drives me crazy. It wouldn’t hurt anybody for such a report to be in the public realm while a response is being considered, as has occurred for numerous reviews in the past. So I lodged a Freedom of Information request seeking the Advisory Committee’s report.
I don’t have time for a detailed post about Matthew Guy’s extraordinary decision to tell DPCD to change its advice to him about the Ventnor rezoning. But then, who needs one? Thanks to the good work of the opposition and The Age, the facts are now out in the open, and they speak for themselves. You wonder why he couldn’t just disregard the advice, rather than seeking for it to be changed… But then this kind of stuff, like Madden’s Windsor debacle before it, defies explanation. As I said then, good governance would actually be the canny political strategy in these instances.
I did, however, want to make one quick point about Guy’s conduct here that I haven’t seen made anywhere else, and that’s the contrast between the approach of the state government versus local government in a situation such as this. At state government level, the Minister can direct the Department to change its advice and top bureaucrats will acquiesce. In considering how bad a piece of behaviour that is by the Minister, it is worth considering that if he had been a councillor in local government, his request would have been not just poor governance, but actually illegal.