By Cr David Clark, Municipal Association of Victoria President
Community consultation has long been a key plank of Victoria’s planning system. It is an element of our system that is well-regarded nationally and internationally. Through their elected councillors, communities have a say, and always have had a say, in the development of the places they live.
As with any system, of course, there is room for improvement, and much-needed reform of the planning system is now afoot.
But it cannot be changed at any cost. As the State Government moves forward in its plans, councils across Victoria have noted an alarming lack of open consultation with councillors and their communities. There is genuine concern that the voice of the community, which has a rightful place in directly shaping the places where they live, may be lost.
This lack of consultation may even foreshadow the reforms themselves, cutting out critical checks and balances within the planning system that allow communities to share a view in the process.
With the release of its Planning and Building Approvals Process Review, the Red Tape Commissioner outlined much of the case for reform at all levels of government in a pragmatic manner.
The Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV), as the peak body representing the local government sector, was pleased to see the report consider the actual challenges and experiences of councils in navigating our current planning framework.
Importantly, what the report did not recommend is a watering-down of council and community input into planning.
The concern for communities across the state is the Victorian Government’s consistent and deliberate moves to take planning decisions away from councils.
A prime example of this happening, even before any major reforms, was the amendment to make the Planning Minister responsible for the Battery Energy Storage Systems at Hazelwood in the Latrobe Valley.
Often under the guise of “pandemic recovery,” this approach puts aside longer-term community aspirations, often already outlined in councils’ individual planning schemes.
Our planning system should not be overhauled for short-term economic benefit. While MAV acknowledges the Government’s need to think laterally as we all recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, we should all be increasingly alarmed by the type of projects the State is choosing to drive through the planning system themselves.
Local government, through the MAV, is ready to engage with the Victorian Government on these reforms to ensure communities – who value and care for their local character and amenity – can express their concerns about planning decisions.