Planning Schemes Get a Facelift

The Victorian Planning Provisions has just seen its biggest change since the changes to residential zones a couple of years ago.   The changes have taken most of August to implement online, but the website is fully operational now and we have delved in to explore some of the major changes.

This Planning Scheme Amendment has flowed from the consultation work undertaken to improve and reform planning.  We are pleased to see that some of the unnecessary clauses and provisions within the planning scheme have been stripped away to remove some of the weight.

There have been a lot of changes included in this amendment and we are still going through and examining everything.  I will discuss some of the more significant changes that I have noted at this stage below.

Car Parking

There are two major changes to the car parking requirements.

Firstly, properties within the Commercial 1, Commercial 2 and Activity Cente Zone no longer need a planning permit for a reduction of up to 10 car parking spaces.  This relates to uses only within an existing building and is only applicable if there is no alterations to the building proposed.  Other planning controls are still applicable, so this will be most useful for projects where the only planning permit trigger is for a car parking reduction.  This will be a positive step for business owners to reduce red tape and cost for them.  It will allow greater flexibility and freedom for shop owners to change and adapt to market needs with new businesses.  For example a project to convert an existing shop into a cafe or office in a Commercial 1 Zone will no longer need a planning permit.

Secondly, reduced car parking rates will be applied to all land that is within 400m of the Principal Public Transport Network.  It recognises that sites with good access to public transport will generate less car parking demand.  This will support businesses and reduce an unnecessary burden for new or expanding uses in these locations.

VicSmart Integration

VicSmart is the fast track application process for simple applications.  You can read more about VicSmart here.  The planning scheme has been reorganised and VicSmart application types are now integrated into the main zones, overlays and provisions, rather than being in a separate section.  This means that it will be easier to understand when a VicSmart application is applicable.  It will improving the use and management of these types of applications, which will help reduce the burden on the planning system overall.  Time will tell how it works, but it is a positive step that makes sense and will make it easier for both planning professionals and novices to the planning scheme to navigate and understand the planning controls.

Changes to Uses

Following on from the State Government Amendment VC143 earlier in the year (some of the details of this amendment are discussed here), the latest amendment also removes some planning permit triggers.  These changes have been focused on improving business outcomes and include making a convenience shop and take away food premises an as of right use in the Industrial 1 Zone.  Within the Industrial 3 Zone changes also allow a service industry (which includes car wash, motor repairs and dry cleaner) that meets setback requirements to be an as of right use, as well as a take away food premises.  While this will not have a profound affect on businesses, it will remove unnecessary regulation and hopefully reduce the burden on the planning system by removing some unnecessary planning applications.

Structural Changes

The structure of the planning schemes has also been overhauled.  The new planning schemes will have an integrated State and Local Planning Policy area.  This means that the required policy information will be merged into a single area and will be tailored to individual Councils. For example regional policies will be integrated to sit in the same clause as the corresponding statewide policies, and planning schemes will only include the applicable regional policies for their area.  At this stage the overall change to the planning schemes will be minimal as the existing local planning policy framework for each Council will remain unchanged.  However Councils will be required to transistion to the new Planning Policy Framework in the future, eventually leading to a more streamlined and succinct integrated Planning Policy Framework.  Until this has been done it is hard to judge how well this will work, but the idea of a more integrated policy area sounds good.

There has also been changes to the layout and operation of the planning schemes to consolidate provisions where appropriate (such as the VicSmart integration discussed above), make navigation more easy with categorising areas such as the types of particular provisions and the land uses sections and removing particular provisions that are considered unnecessary (such as the particular provision on site requirements for a Car Wash).  With the consolidations provided the overall planning scheme will be reduced by around 20 clauses, which should also make navigation easier.

Heritage Overlay Requirement

Each heritage place that is included in the Heritage Overlay will be required to have a statement of significance incorporated into the planning scheme.  This is a useful step and will make it easier for us when we are assisting clients with their Heritage Applications!  It will be a relief not to have to go searching for the statements of significance and will allow for the significance of the heritage place to be more readily considered by both the applicant and the Council in the decision making process.  We have found that for some Councils this information has been hard to obtain, so this is a welcome inclusion that makes logical sense.

Conclusion

Overall the changes to the planning scheme seem to be a logical and positive move to streamline planning controls.  The change unfortunately had a major impact on the planning schemes online website, and it has only just come back online fully.  This has made it hard to fully understand all of the changes to the planning scheme initially.  It is hard to believe that the website changes couldn’t have been handled without such disruption to services, but unfortunately we have no control over this!   We are just glad to see that the website is fully operational now.  Over the coming days and weeks will continue to explore the changes and provide any further updates that are of use to the community.