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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 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.
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 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.
I’m on crikey today – here – expanding on my thoughts from the other day about Matthew Guy’s Big Box retail reforms, and on Ministers forsaking planning merits in favour of quick political fixes.
What follows is a slightly edited version of my submission to the Underwood review into the operation of the Victorian Planning System (I wrote about that review back in June). With the committee due to report back early in the new year, I thought it would be timely to post it here since it’s one of the longer pieces I’ve written about the systemic problems with the Victorian planning system. A couple of points have been altered slightly to make it read better in this context, but mostly it’s as submitted.
I took a long time to post it as I have some reservations about it. I would have liked to have covered more nitty-gritty issues, which would have allowed me to be more specific and hence more constructive. Unfortunately time – and more particularly, a disillusioned sense that I wasting mine – got the better of me, so it ended up tackling just a few of the higher level systemic issues, rather than delving into detail. A more comprehensive overview of my take on the problems with the system would be gleaned by taking this in combination with the article Building a Better System that I co-wrote for Planning News (from which parts of this are cribbed), as well as my submission to the review of the Planning & Environment Act.