“The Victorian planning system has problems that limit its effectiveness – but at the same time there are clear opportunities for productive system reform.”

It is evident that various loopholes stand against the functionality of Victoria planning system.   It emerges that there is a myriad of challenges which prevent the functionality of the planning system employed by Victoria. Still, the system employed by Victoria presents good opportunities that can be used to remedy the shortcomings being experienced top offer a functional and effective planning system.

A planning scheme entails statutory documents that hold the policies, objectives, and provisions for developing, using and conserving the land in which it applies.   As such, this system regulates how land is used and developed. The planning system employed in Victoria is committed to further the objectives planned in Victoria, contain a municipal strategic statement and has provisions towards the development, use, and conservation of Victorian land (Conacher, Arthur, and Jeanette, 1).


 

The planning scheme employed in Australia is applied to public and private land.  It is therefore binding to all citizens, public authorities, government departments, Victorian ministers and the public authority and council. The planning scheme covers all land below the ground as well as land covered by water with exemptions from orders from a governor in council which has been Gazzeted (Conacher, Arthur, and Jeanette, 5).

The Victorian planning system is influenced by politics. As such, this presents challenges towards the delivery of its mandate (Willey, 373).  In a research carried on Melbourne to examine the relationship between the community opposition, local political processes and planning assessments, the research concludes that third-party objections are less weighty (Buxton, Michael, and George, 139). However, the effect is significant given that in real practice, development applications involve many decision makers.  Citing the challenges of using procedure and political pathways in planning, the research finds that objection numbers are dependent on the socio-economic status of residents.  Most notably, the research finds that for applications that receive a high amount of objections, the intervention of elected officials is imminent.  With such challenges, it becomes evident that the planning policy adopted is prone to challenge and changes thereby deviating from the common goal adopted at the planning stage.

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The other factor affecting the Victorian planning system is the erosion of policy by appeal bodies.  In a research undertaken in Australia towards establishing the influence of appeal decisions on planning system, it emerges that the Victorian local councils may be convinced to drop an application for a high-density housing on the basis that such a plan may be dropped at the level of state appeal based on merits (Collia, Christina, and Alan, 111). In this case, the merits referring to the consistency of the plan with state objectives.  Indeed, this emerges as a serious source of conflict towards a successful policy decision.

It emerges that appeal decision has a significant force to erode a planning policy as noted in the Gory decisions in Victoria.  Most notably, the Gory case involves a conflict between the decisions made by the city of Glen Eira local council.  The policy termed the incremental change policy (ICP) aimed to maintain a traditional character as well as a scale on a number of areas in a policy that would limit the proliferation of group housings.  On the other hand, the state government of Australia had a policy that aimed at consolidating urban population.  While it emerges that the city had prepared its policy in line with the objectives of the urban consolidation plan, the VCAT member disapproved the plan. This discredited the policy already approved by the state governments minister of planning on the basis that it conflicted with the greater goal adopted by the state government on urban consolidation (March, 3).

The Victorian planning system effectiveness is hampered by the dominance of legalism.  In line with Frank’s 1955 report on administrative tribunals and inquiries concerning the standards for the Australian panning appeal agencies, it was recommended that judges and related legal practitioners should be involved in such matters (Willey, 383). This was a concern that installed legal bodies as central players in the Victorian planning system enhancing a highly legalistic approach making this system reliance on this setup as an appeal body.  Certainly, the highly legalistic approach does not only shift the control of planning from the state and city officials tasked with the job but rather makes judges and legal practitioners a key part also.  This is a source of delay and also limits the capability of planning officials in implementing policies.     Wiley notes that as a result of the highly legalistic system, a significant number of cases have been ruled on the basis of technical justification of law at the cost of planning based evidence.

Willey notes that the demerits of basing decisions on legalism at expense of substantive planning goals are counterproductive and of real concern (Willey, 268). As such, the greater planning goal is undermined when appeal bodies become more legalistic in their role as specialists in planning. Most notably frank notes that most cases similar to the Highland

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Bridgetown case have been ruled on technical points of law without considering the real planning evidence.  Additionally, over-reliance on legalism has been exemplified by favoring developers who give the most of the legal fees.  While it emerges that theoretically, the VCAT is in the best interest of the rich and poor, it is evident that people who give higher legal fees prevail.  It is indeed evident that the law emerges as a negative force towards planning in Victoria.  Stein notes that the basic planning terms adopted traditionally no longer make sense since they are no longer representative of planning concepts but rather are defined on legal considerations (Willey, 276).  He further notes that the intrusion of legalism in planning shifts the ultimate goal of planning to legal arguments whereby the legal practitioners involved in such cases may not be conversant with the planning issue which may arise.

The Victorian planning system is based on the government policy.   It’s however evident that inconsistent decision-making sets in when a legislative direction is not adopted. In such a case, the planning appeal bodies are not obligated to conform to the policies of the national government hence introducing inconsistencies.  As such, this creates a system that delivers unpredictable outcomes which damage the administration of the government. As reverend Drake, the minister for immigration and ethnic affairs noted in 1979, inconsistencies exceeds inelegance making decisions disreputable delivering arbitrariness that is incompatible with notions of justice commonly accepted within the society (Clinch and  Robyn, 13).  In his research, Stephen Willey notes that appeal members who undertake decisions based on individual choices undermine the consistency of decision making.  Willey further notes that this is a common scenario in Victoria where planning appeals are heard by a single person (Willey, 385).  In such a scenario where an individual makes a decision on planning, personal ideologies and opinions become central towards the decisions informing the ruling of the appeal.   Further affirming the rot in appeal cases for planning policies in Victoria. Willey notes that parties in Victoria complain that the VCAT is a “lottery” and its outcome is highly predictable when a particular member is allocated an appeal case.   Certainly, individuals have different personalities with some having pro-development and others anti-development attributes that can directly introduce inconsistencies in the decision making.  In his research, Willey recommends that the essence of having a panel in making such decisions is based on the need to harness a wide range of expertise as well as opinions which informs on decision making (Willey, 385).

On the other hand, it emerges that inconsistencies are further enhanced by the delegation of duty.  In his study, Willey notes that most powers have been delegated to planning officers from the elected officials.

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This sets inconsistencies in planning decisions especially for larger departments when planning officers use their own views. Such inconsistencies have been witnessed through the delivery of different decisions by different officers on similar matters.  Still, it emerges that even with the consistent application of policy, it can deliver inconsistencies. This is evident when the policy is inherently flawed and thus decisions makers may be wrong and consistently unjust in the process.

The people of Victoria have lost faith in the planning system. Most notably, corruption has been seen as a major factor that has led to a loss of public trust in the system.  It emerges that the people of Victoria do not have faith in their planning system towards designating height limits since it issues building permits which are of higher magnitude than the preferred or set height limits. Based on an investigation carried from the Wollongong corruption case, it emerges that some property developers are given favors as well as concessions which undermine the ultimate goal of the planning body.  This has led to approval of structures which are non-compliant such as the Victoria square.

Jerold examines the Wollongong corruption case and established that council managers need to ensure that powers are used transparently and properly. Indeed, he notes that powers allowing departures from recognized development standards have to be honored (Williams, 63).  While it cannot be ruled out that corruption is a major shortcoming, the state environmental planning policy has been accused of permitting local councils to deviate from the recognized development standards such as floor space and height limits for buildings.

Despite the various challenges towards a successful planning policy in Victoria, the planning system has a framework that can be of great help towards achieving a highly effective planning system.  It is evident that the ministerial powers towards planning and heritage issues are functional.  Under the 1987 act of planning and environment, the 1995 heritage act and the 1998 Victorian civil and administrative tribunal, the minister for planning can amend a planning scheme under section 20(4) of the 1987 act.   Under thee powers, the minister can not only advance an amendment but can also stop planning permits application thereby enhancing best practices in the planning system (March, 3).

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Lastly, under the merit review system, the expertise of decision-makers will come to play. This is aimed at eliminating inconsistent decisions made by single policymakers.  While it is evident that several issues can emerge from an appeal, the appealing party can substitute their opinions with those of the state or the local government. Under this approach, the over-reliance on legalism and influence of law practitioners can be overcome. This, therefore, puts the interests of the planning system on the upper hand and shields them from legal interference.

 

 

 

References

Conacher, Arthur, and Jeanette Conacher. Environmental planning and management in Australia. Oxford University Press, 2000.

Buxton, Michael, and George Tieman. “Patterns of urban consolidation in Melbourne: planning policy and the growth of medium density housing.” Urban Policy and Research 23.2 (2005): 137-157.

March, Alan. The democratic plan: Analysis and diagnosis. Routledge, 2016.

Willey, Stephen. “Planning appeals: are third party rights legitimate? The case study of Victoria, Australia.” Urban Policy and Research 24.3 (2006): 369-389.

Willey, Stephen. “The merits of merit-based planning appeals: observations from Australia.” International planning studies9.4 (2004): 261-281.

Collia, Christina, and Alan March. “Urban planning regulations for ecologically sustainable development (ESD) in Victoria: Beyond building controls.” Urban Policy and Research 30.2 (2012): 105-126.

Clinch, Robyn Joy. The places we keep: the heritage studies of Victoria and outcomes for urban planners. Diss. 2012.

Williams, Caroline. “Inquiry into the Environmental Effects Statement process in Victoria.” (2010).

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