27 May 2015

Mr Wynne (Minister for Planning) – I move

That this bill be read a second time.

Speech as follows incorporated into Hansard under sessional orders:

Victoria’s planning system encourages community participation in decision-making. This is especially true of the planning permit process. The community enjoys broad rights in the permit process to consider and object to proposals and to seek review of decisions through the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).

Community participation has many benefits. It improves the decision-making process and often leads to better planning results. Objections can provide important insights into the potential effects of a proposal, not just on those who live or work nearby but also on the wider community. In the right circumstances, the number of objectors to a proposal can also provide such insights.

This bill amends the Planning and Environment Act 1987 to ensure the extent of community objection to planning proposals is considered. It does this by requiring the two key decision-makers in the permit process – responsible authorities and VCAT – to have regard, where appropriate, to the number of objectors when considering whether a proposal may have a significant social effect.

This new requirement must be considered before a decision or determination is made, together with other matters that must be considered under the Planning and Environment Act 1987, such as the objectives of the act, the planning scheme, and any significant economic and environmental effects that the proposal may have.

The bill amends two key provisions in the Planning and Environment Act 1987: sections 60 and 84B. Section 60(1) sets out matters a responsible authority must consider before deciding on a permit application. Section 84(B) sets out an equivalent set of matters that VCAT must consider. The bill inserts the new requirement in both sections to promote consistent decision-making.

Decision-makers must already consider whether a use or development may have a significant social effect. Social effects are not defined in the act but may include such matters as:

the demand for or use of community facilities and services;

access to social and community facilities;

choice in housing, shopping, recreational and leisure services;

community safety and amenity;

the needs of particular groups in the community, such as the aged.

This bill makes it clear the number of objectors may have a relevant fact that ought to be considered in this assessment.

Whether it is appropriate for the number of objectors to be taken into account in a particular case is a matter for the decision-maker. In making a decision about whether to take into account the number of objectors, the decision-maker may be influenced by:

what the objectors have said in their written objection about the proposed use or development;

whether the issues raised in the objections are relevant planning considerations and relate to the reason why the proposal requires a permit;

whether the issues raised in the objections point to a significant social effect on the community which is supported by evidence.

It will be for the responsible authority and VCAT to determine this based on the particular circumstances of the case.

The number of objections alone will not establish that there is a significant social effect. However, the number of objectors may be indicative of the scale of a social effect on the community, the presence of a specific social need in the community may be affected, or the social significance of a site in the community.

The new requirement is likely to be particularly relevant where a proposal may reduce access to or enjoyment of community facilities or services or adversely affect public health and safety. The number of objectors, and the consistency of views expressed by objectors, may demonstrate that the community or a section of the community may be significantly affected.

This bill does not seek to reduce the weight given to the views of a single objector or a small number of objectors. It also does not seek to promote the consideration of irrelevant matters in decision-making. As is the case now, an objector will need to put their concerns in writing and state how they would be affected by the grant of a permit. The relevance of the issues raised will continue to be an overriding consideration in the assessment of all objections. It is the intention of the bill that decision-makers will ensure that the objections are a genuine reflection of an anticipated significant social effect that is supported by evidence, rather than simply the views of a number of objectors.

I commend the bill to the house.

Debate adjourned on motion of Mr Pesutto (Hawthorn).

Debate adjourned until Tuesday, 9 June.