THE Victorian Government last week said it is delivering on a key election commitment to put the community's voice back into the planning process, following the introduction of the Recognising Objectors Bill 2015 to State Parliament.
The Bill amends the Planning and Environment Act 1987 to provide for the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) and responsible authorities to have regard to the number of objectors to permit applications in considering whether a proposed use or development may have a significant social effect.
According to the explanatory memorandum, VCAT and responsible authorities must have regard to the new consideration "where appropriate". It will be a matter for the decision maker to decide whether it is appropriate for the number of objectors to be considered in a particular case.
In a statement, Planning Minister Richard Wynne said that previously, VCAT had no mechanism to recognise the extent of community concerns about development proposals.
He added that while community views will not outweigh planning rules, the change means the community's voice will be given consideration in VCAT decisions.
"Planning decisions will always be better when the voice of the community is heard. It improves the decision-making process and leads to better outcomes," Mr Wynne said.
"We need to have a system that the community and stakeholders have confidence in – which gives locals and developers a say."
"Certainty in the planning system for both industry and the community is good for business, good for jobs and good for Victoria."
The introduction of the Bill was welcomed by the Planning Institute of Australia (PIA), with Victorian President James Larmour-Reid saying it will go some way to ensuring that the broader community voice is taken into account when important planning decisions are made by councils and VCAT.
"The number of objections will now be a relevant consideration when assessing whether a proposal will have significant social impacts. In PIA's view this is a very measured response that builds upon previous VCAT and Supreme Court decisions," Mr Larmour-Reid said.
"Community involvement in our planning system is central to its relevance and integrity. The Victorian planning system is built around this principle. However good planning isn't populist planning. It needs to take into account the bigger picture and consider the needs of future communities. Planning decisions need to be based on evidence, strategy and planning principles, not social media campaigns.
"Ultimately, what PIA would like, is a broader conversation about planning; one that's not about winners and losers, proponents and objectors, but about shared aspirations for communities, towns and cities," Mr Larmour-Reid concluded.
However, property development industry group, Urban Taskforce, said the move to recognise social impacts and involve communities more in planning determinations will slow down building production.
Urban Taskforce said that while communities must be involved in the planning process, the involvement is best done at the strategic planning end rather than at the determination end when it should be clear how a project fits with the rules.
"The social impacts of development are often very subjective and open to many interpretations. Most communities are wary of change so any new development will have an impact on the existing community who may now be in their rights to stop new development that upsets local social cohesion."