Victoria

'Effectively Planning for Population Growth' report released by Victorian Auditor-General

ALTHOUGH a key objective of Victoria's planning policy is the timely provision of services and infrastructure to communities through orderly development, the arrangements that support coordinated planning and implementation are not clear, according to a report released last week by Victorian Auditor-General Andrew Greaves.

The report follows an audit into whether state planning is meeting the needs of the rapidly growing population for birthing, maternal and child health, funded kindergarten services, and related infrastructure in greenfield growth areas and established suburbs.

Effectively Planning for Population Growth - Victorian Auditor-General's Report

The report highlights the importance of these services for the health and wellbeing of babies and young children – particularly as they can identify health and developmental risks in children at an early stage – and the risks and issues associated with ineffective planning and delivery of such services.

"Ineffective planning for birthing services may cause significant delays in meeting increasing demand in areas of rapid population growth. This can create heightened pressure on service providers in surrounding areas to safely meet demand," the report states.

"Even when local services can provide the required level of care, women may be unable to choose to give birth locally, due to demand exceeding service providers' capacity. This conflicts with the government's objective that women should be able to choose where they give birth, and be able to use local services if clinically appropriate.

In relation to maternal and child health and funded kindergarten services, the report states that ineffective planning risks exacerbating existing issues of under-participation in these services by specific groups—including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

"Another risk is that there will not be enough funded kindergarten services to meet the government objective of providing 15 hours of kindergarten per week for 40 weeks for all children in the year before they start school. There is potential for long-term negative health and education consequences for children who miss out on these important services," the report writes.

According to the report, the existing arrangements that support coordinated planning and implementation have no mechanism to require key state government agencies to fully participate in the integrated land use planning process or to fulfil any commitments they make through these plans.

"As a result, there is a high level of uncertainty that birthing, MCH and funded kindergarten services, and related infrastructure will be provided when and where they are needed in areas of rapid population growth," the report finds.

The Auditor-General makes a total of 11 recommendations, including six directed to the Department of Environment, Land, Water, and Planning, three for the Department of Education and Training, and one each for the Victorian Planning Authority, and the Department of Health and Human Services.

Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning

It is recommended that the Department:

  • In collaboration with key state and local government agencies, develop and advise government on mechanisms that will support them to:

Participate effectively in the precinct structure planning process; and

Integrate precinct structure planning proposals into their planning and delivery processes.

  • Develop guidelines that clarify the concept of 'timely' provision of services and infrastructure for new communities;
  • In conjunction with the Victorian Planning Authority and the Department of Health and Human Services, monitor the effectiveness of the precinct structure planning process for health precincts;
  • Assess the implementation outcomes of existing precinct structure plans to continuously improve the process;
  • Further develop and clarify the governance and oversight arrangements for the Office of Suburban Development, including assigning leadership and accountability arrangements to support its planning and delivery coordination functions; and
  • Develop and implement an outcome evaluation framework to periodically review how effectively the Office of Suburban Development is contributing to greater certainty in the timely delivery of services and related infrastructure for local communities

Victorian Planning Authority

It is recommended that the Authority:

  • Implements the Plan Melbourne 2017–2050 action to 'prepare a sequencing strategy for precinct structure plans in growth areas for the orderly and coordinated release of land and the alignment of infrastructure plans to deliver basic community facilities with these staged land-release plans'.

Department of Health and Human Services

It is recommended that the Department:

  • Apply successful planning lessons learned in the Northern Growth Corridor Service Plan in developing other locality health plans.

Department of Education and Training

It is recommended that the Department:

  • In conjunction with local government, improve the completeness and accuracy of MCH and kindergarten participation data;

Undertake systematic analyses of reasons for under-participation in MCH including, from the eight-month visit onwards, and kindergarten services, including the participation of vulnerable children, and use these to evaluate service delivery models; and

Accept responsibility for overseeing the adequacy of statewide kindergarten service delivery by taking a more active role in estimating demand for and supply of services, including the long-term availability of kindergarten infrastructure, to ensure that government objectives are achieved.

The report, 'Effectively Planning for Population Growth', is available from the Victorian Auditor-General's Office website at <https://www.audit.vic.gov.au/report/effectively-planning-population-growth>.

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