How is Fast Track Town Planning Progressing?

A couple of years ago I wrote about a new fast track program that the State Government was introducing called VicSmart.  You can read more about the program here and about what I wrote here.

As the program has been going for a while now I thought it would be useful to revisit the program and share some of my experiences.

Examples of some of the VicSmart applications that we have been involved in:

  •  Small waiver of car parking (less than 10 car spaces)
  • Minor dwelling additions
  • Minor buildings and works in an industrial zone
  • Minor works in a rural zone
  • Works on a non-contributory building in a Heritage Overlay
  • Signage applications

What Does the Process Involve?

For us the process typically involves:

  • Preparing a planning report, ensuring all relevant decision guidelines for the applicable VicSmart application type are discussed.
  • Organising plans to be drawn up, making sure all relevant information is included.
  • Filling out the correct VicSmart Application Form and VicSmart Checklists.
  • Lodging all of the necessary material in to the Council.

As planning professionals we find VicSmart Applications to be generally quite simple and fast, which is obviously the intention of the program.  It is certainly satisfying to work on a project and receive a permit and endorsed plans only weeks after being engaged, rather than months or years like with many of the more complex applications!

Who Can Use VicSmart?

In theory anyone can lodge a VicSmart application.  In reality though, it may be difficult to lodge a successful VicSmart application without professional guidance.  Given the emphasis is on providing a pre-defined set of information, it may be difficult to do a VicSmart application without professional help or advice.  In the main we have found that the level of information required has not been unreasonable or out of scale with the minor nature of the application types.  However, the checklist of information does need to be provided to Council’s satisfaction in order for the application to be accepted for processing.  If the required information is not provided, the application will at best be delayed, and at worst may even be returned without lodgement.  It is at this point that VicSmart applications may be difficult for inexperienced people.  Utilising either a consultants like us or other related practitioner such as a builder, surveyor or designer may save both time and a headache.

How is VicSmart Going?

It is certainly good that there are many types of minor applications that can be done under the VicSmart process.  Since the process was first introduced it has been expanded in 2017 to include a range of additional application types.  There is also a fee relief with VicSmart applications as they are significantly less expensive than other planning fees.  The expanded set of VicSmart applications seems to be having an impact, as there was a significant jump in the amount of VicSmart applications from 2016 to 2017 (data on planning permit activity can be found here).

We have done applications in a wide range of Councils and have had a fairly consistent result across the board.  Most Councils seem to be working hard to maintain time frames close to the 10 day turnaround VicSmart promised.  However, with many of our more complex applications taking more than 8 months to get through Council, I do wonder if the focus needs to shift back to reducing the processing time of standard applications, rather than worrying too much if a VicSmart application takes an extra week or too.  Of course there are many factors that can influence Council time frames and it is hoped that initiatives such as VicSmart will over time result in a more efficient and faster planning system.  We await to see what new reforms come from the Smart Planning Program in 2018.

If you want to discuss a minor application to see if it can qualify for VicSmart, or if you need help with a current project please give us a call to see how we can help.