Second reading

MrWYNNE (Minister for Planning)—I move:

That this bill be now 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 84B 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 matters such as:

  • 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 that the number of objectors may be 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 reasons 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 objectors 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 that may be affected, or the social significance of a site to 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).

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Bentleigh electorate

Mr STAIKOS (Bentleigh)—(Question 259) My question is to the Minister for Planning. I ask the minister if he will visit Bentleigh to explain the changes the government is making to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT). For two years Glen Eira City Council has been implementing Matthew Guy’s residential zones, which have seen Californian bungalows in quiet residential streets make way for four-storey apartment buildings.

Councillors often oppose these individual applications and send them off to VCAT. The Planning and Environment Amendment (Recognising Objectors) Bill 2015 means VCAT can now recognise the social impacts a future development may have. Previously VCAT had no mechanism to recognise community concerns about development proposals. This change means the community’s voice will be given consideration in VCAT decisions. The government will also review the former Minister for Planning’s residential zones later this year. I ask the minister to visit my electorate and meet with interested local residents about these issues.

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Bentleigh level crossing

Ms CROZIER (Southern Metropolitan)—While the announcement by Premier Andrews to remove the Centre Road, Bentleigh, level crossing is welcomed, it will be a hollow promise until proper funding has been allocated. While the Premier may have promised to remove the Centre Road crossing, the $2.5 billion allocated to crossing removals does not exist, as it is dependent upon the sale of the port of Melbourne.

This morning we heard the government making more announcements about the removal of level crossings on the Cranbourne-Pakenham line, with vague dates and what appears to be a rushed and panicked process so that it can meet its election promise of removing 50 level crossings. But questions remain about how this will be paid for and how the disruption it will cause will be managed. In Bentleigh the public is still unaware of when construction on the Centre Road level crossing will begin, how long construction will take and what impact the construction work will have.

The success of the traders on Centre Road is contingent on traffic flows and the availability of parking, yet there have been no community forums to discuss these issues. Premier Daniel Andrews has not released a credible plan to minimise interruptions caused by the crossing removal. Questions such as whether the car park adjacent to the station will be closed during the construction phase and what transport arrangements will be in place once the line is closed need to be answered. The people of Bentleigh deserve better than this, and all Victorians need to understand how these level crossings will be paid for. The budget papers clearly state that all capital funding for level crossing removals beyond 1 July 2015 is to be confirmed and highlight that the only level crossings which have been actually funded are those that were funded by the coalition.

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