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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.
The changes currently proposed to the zones are extensive, covering all major categories of zone (residential, business / commercial, industrial, and rural) and involving multiple significant changes to each zone. The proposed reforms mix together changes that were contemplated under the previous government and the subject of considerable work (the “three-speed” residential zones) with others that have appeared with little foreshadowing (most of the others). Very little information or strategic justification has been provided with this package.
I am a keen proponent of planning system reform and in previous submissions to reviews and writing on system reform have prided myself on providing constructive criticism. Unfortunately the paucity of information makes it difficult to be positive or constructive about this review as the information provided gives a striking sense that these reforms have been rushed and poorly thought through. They also appear to involve policy shifts – notably a weakening of activity centre policy – that are inappropriate ahead of the completion of the Metropolitan Strategy.