THE Municipal Association of Victoria's (MAV) submission to the Victorian Government's review of planning fees has called on the Minister to adopt councils' preferred option and restore fairness to the system.
Cr Bill McArthur, MAV President, commended the Minister for Planning for acting on the Association's request to review planning fees and said if option three was adopted, it would be a massive step towards redressing more than a decade of inequitable cost burden imposed on ratepayers.
"The planning system has grown in complexity over many years and has been costing councils far more to administer, yet planning fees have remained stagnant for many years," Cr McArthur said.
"The current planning fees only recover around 20 to 30 per cent of actual council planning costs, leaving ratepayers to subsidise the rest. Meanwhile users who received a private benefit from planning decisions had contributed less than their fair share.
"This placed an unfair burden on council budgets and ratepayers to ensure planning departments were adequately resourced to perform their planning responsibilities."
The MAV submitted a response to the planning fees Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) released by the government in May, which proposes three fee structure options. MAV's submission supported option three as the preferred outcome.
The Planning and Environment (Fees) Regulations were set in 2000 and did not include automatic annual indexation. They were scheduled for review when due to expire in 2010, but the review never progressed.
Cr McArthur said local government had been in limbo since the failed 2010 review, with interim regulations renewed for each of the past six years without any indexation to assist with councils' rising costs.
"The lack of annual indexation created a funding gap of $12 million for councils in 2015-16," Cr McArthur said.
"Our submission described the proposed planning fee reforms outlined in option three as a fair and comprehensive outcome that more adequately covers councils' planning costs.
"The RIS estimated that our preferred option could generate an additional $40 million in planning fees for councils, covering about 60 to 70 per cent of local government's planning costs.
"Importantly, it would make the system fairer by requiring those who receive a private benefit from planning permits and planning scheme amendments to pay a more reasonable share of the cost.
"However, we also acknowledge the broader public benefit to the whole community from councils' role as a planning and responsible authority. That is why we haven't sought full cost recovery for all fees.
"If option three is adopted by the Minister, councils will be able to reinvest the additional revenue back into improving their planning systems to make better and faster decisions.
"The types of improvements that councils have identified for action include fast-tracking of online lodgement options to ensure faster transfer and processing of information; increasing planning resources; and working towards other streamlined processes for applicants.
"We commend the State for initiating the planning fees review, and seek adoption of option three to achieve a fairer system that provides a better cost balance between the public and private benefits," he said.
More information, including a summary of the proposed new fees, is available from the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning website at <http://www.dtpli.vic.gov.au/planning/about-planning/legislation-and-regulations/review-of-planning-and-subdivision-fees>.