Ms DUNN (Eastern Metropolitan) — I rise to speak on the Victorian Planning Authority Bill 2016. When it comes to addressing our housing crisis I must say that successive governments have too frequently looked to urban sprawl as the answer. The opening up of agricultural land for new residential developments on the urban fringe brings with it a number of challenges that have not been adequately addressed. We have seen an ongoing loss of green wedge land and an ongoing loss of very important agricultural land. It is the land on the fringe of the Melbourne metropolitan area that provides very close access to fresh food for our city. However, if you put houses on it, you certainly cannot use it for agricultural purposes.
Of course the focus on urban sprawl impacts threatened species as well in those areas on Melbourne’s fringe. What we see in those interface and periurban areas is that these communities are usually very far from jobs and economic opportunity. They do not have adequate public transport and have to wait years for services to catch up, if they ever catch up at all. Car dependency and long commutes are the norm, and we have seen in the past in some of those suburbs that the road network is such that buses cannot even manage the curvature of the roads. Public transport has not even been in the thinking of the design of those new suburbs of Melbourne. We would hope in the future that those sorts of issues are addressed. There are sometimes insufficient schools and medical clinics, supermarkets and shopping districts, and some new suburbs have lacked basic infrastructure such as footpaths and bicycle lanes.
All of these planning issues of course ignore the other major issue with new suburbs. While it is outside the scope of this bill or the responsibilities of the Victorian Planning Authority, there are far too many instances of very poor build quality in these new suburbs. Foundations have been particularly poorly constructed, such that there is a burgeoning industry in structural repairs to houses that are only a few years old. A great deal more must be done to aid new homebuyers to avoid these pitfalls in the construction industry in Victoria.
I turn now to the bill, which sees the third renaming of an entity that started its life as the Growth Areas Authority. The Growth Areas Authority was established in 2006 to provide greater strategic planning for the development of these new communities on the urban fringe. That seemed a good idea but of course the test would always be in the implementation, and in that respect, if you consider the issues that have been faced by residents in these new suburbs, it has been a failure for them in terms of the impacts on their lifestyle, their quality of life, the amount of free time they have to dedicate to their families and the amount of time they spend commuting to get to jobs, health services and education. Those communities have really been designed, in a way, to be so dependent on cars that it pervades every area of their lives.
For a moment I want to turn to a recent AuditorGeneral’s report — so recent that in fact it was tabled yesterday — entitled Managing Victoria’s Planning System for Land Use and Development. This is a critical issue for our city because the strategic planning associated with the activities of the VPA flows down to the statutory planning outcomes for our city and really that is the way we see strategic planning being implemented throughout our city. It was a bit concerning to read some of the AuditorGeneral’s conclusions in relation to managing our planning system for land use and development.
The report highlights that planning schemes remain overly complex. They are difficult to use and apply consistently to meet the intent of state planning objectives, and there is limited assurance that planning decisions deliver the net community benefit and sustainable outcomes that they should. The AuditorGeneral’s examination shows that planning schemes have mixed success in achieving the intent of state policy across the three areas the AuditorGeneral examined — developing activity centres; increasing housing density, diversity and affordability; and protecting valuable agricultural land.
In terms of the findings of the audit into land use planning, the AuditorGeneral found that past reforms have had little impact on fixing other systemic problems impeding the effectiveness, efficiency and economy of planning schemes. As a result many of the issues prevalent before the 1996 overhaul of the planning system have reemerged. These include vague and competing state planning policy objectives and strategies with limited guidance for their implementation, which reduces the clarity of the planning system’s direction in meeting state planning objectives; a lack of specific guidance to address key planning challenges, such as social and affordable housing, climate change and environmentally sustainable development; an overly complex system of planning controls in local planning schemes as councils add and amend policies and controls to try to provide clarity and certainty to their schemes in the absence of clear guidance at a state level; the department’s — that is, the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning — and councils’ performance measurement frameworks being unable to measure whether the objectives of the act or state planning policies are being achieved; and lengthy delays in the processing of planning proposals, leading to set time frames not being met and unnecessary costs for applicants.
The AuditorGeneral’s report highlights that these systemic weaknesses exist because of the poor uptake and implementation of review recommendations. It notes that this is due to a lack of clear prioritisation, time frames, actions or resources to support the implementation of recommendations by planning departments or government; a lack of continuity in reform processes and commitment to their implementation due to changes in government or government policy; and poor project governance and oversight, with frequent machinery of government changes to the planning department and its systems, and the absence of a good project management structure to oversee the implementation of recommendations.
I must say that one of the things that is highlighted in the AuditorGeneral’s report tabled yesterday relates to the statutory time frames for planning application decisions. What was alarming to me was that of the applications that were being considered by the Minister for Planning in the other place there was only a 30 per cent compliance with the 60day statutory time frame on decisions. The AuditorGeneral highlighted that one of the core issues around this is the transparency of that decisionmaking process. It was not that there was no decision but that there was no information as to how the minister arrived at the decision they did. Conversely, that was quite different for local government authorities, who of course have extensive reporting by way of council reports, online planning application systems and planning application assessment processes. However, the assessments of reporting decisions in the case of the Minister for Planning were not transparent, and that remains a concern.
Also of concern is that it is very hard in relation to those particular decisions to test one of the core objectives of the Planning and Environment Act 1987, which is the net community benefit and the longterm sustainability for the municipality to which the application relates.
The decisionmaking process of developing new suburbs became focused on ensuring streamlined access to land for developers, releasing developments as quickly as possible, and too little attention has been paid to the longterm needs of the community. There are a number of matters that the Greens think are very important in relation to this. It is important to limit the spread of urban areas and protect productive agricultural land by encouraging mixed and mediumdensity development in established areas and renewal sites within existing urban areas. It is also important that transport infrastructure and land use planning are integrated and respect major service industries.
Planning must include discrete diverse centres of activity and prioritise the efficient use of Victoria’s limited resources — economic opportunity, public transport, ecological sustainability, social equity and representative decisionmaking — at all levels. Any Victorian planning policy must lead authorities to whom local or designated decisionmaking devolves by setting mandatory and guideline standards and allocating support funding for their climate adaptation and carbon emissions mitigation planning. One of the core issues even at a strategic planning level for this state has been the lack of focus on climate change mitigation and environmentally or ecologically sustainable development as part of that. Although it is pleasing to see local governments in some areas are trying to lead the charge in relation to those particular areas of strategic planning, it has been a difficult road for them to travel in terms of getting those things embedded into their planning schemes.
If we were going to have a strategic planning system that truly met the needs of this state, those things would be embedded at a state planning policy level, and of course the other thing that is really important in all of that is that there is certainty in the planning scheme. As the planning schemes sit at the moment there is an extraordinary amount of grey space in there that leads to an interpretation of those schemes and the clauses within those schemes that really could go any way. They have been written in a way that does not provide certainty to communities, and I can understand why we see so much activity in VCAT in relation to communities fighting against inappropriate developments. The reality is that the planning schemes do not have the sorts of certainties that communities require, and in fact it is very difficult sometimes to even interpret what those planning schemes are trying to say.
In terms of the Victorian Planning Authority and its strategic role in this state and what we have seen in the past in the development of new suburbs that fringe around Melbourne, one of the core issues in relation to that was the overrepresentation of developers on the board of the Growth Areas Authority, which of course was replaced with the Metropolitan Planning Authority. The bill before us is welcomed in that it ensures that there is greater diversity on the board; however, the representation of a person with extensive local government experience is set at a minimum of one. We would think that, considering the infrastructure challenges and social challenges faced in new suburbs, it would be good to see this minimum exceeded through the judicious nominations by the planning minister to the Governor in Council.
The reality is that local governments really have to wear the consequences of bad strategic planning in their suburbs. It all comes back to the local government authority. I think it is incredibly important to get appropriate representation at the highest level to ensure that those issues are raised at this level and we can start to see a properly integrated approach in terms of strategic planning for Melbourne and for Victoria.
The Greens will be supporting this bill.