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Focus: Draft planning policy framework for Victoria – open for comment

11 April 2014

In brief: The Ministerial Advisory Committee appointed to review the Victorian State Planning Policy Framework has released a draft version of a new Planning Policy Framework that reorganises the policy framework into themes and updates the policy content to include new policies to support Plan Melbourne and the Regional Growth Plans. Special Counsel Meg Lee summarises the key changes.

How does it affect you?

  • The Ministerial Advisory Committee (the Committee) has prepared a draft Planning Policy Framework (PPF) that proposes to completely change the structure of the former State Planning Policy Framework (SPPF) and Local Planning Policy Framework (LPPF) into thematically grouped policies. All planners, consultants and developers will need to review and understand the revised structure.
  • The draft PPF also now includes new policy initiatives from Plan Melbourne and the Regional Growth Plans. This is completely new PPF content that has the potential to impact land development potential and therefore all land owners and developers will need to review the new content and should consider making submissions to the Committee if the content raises any concerns or unintended consequences.
  • While the relocation and revision to the LPPF has not yet occurred, the revised structure has the potential to highlight inefficiencies and duplication in the LPPF and is likely to lead to a requirement rewrite and simplify many council's LPPF. Local councils will need to consider their LPPF and unique aspects of the policies that they do not wish to lose in any future 'translation' to the new PPF structure.

What is the committee's role?

The Committee was appointed in July 2013 subject to Terms of Reference that focused on a 'policy neutral' translation of the SPPF. The Committee has been chaired by Geoff Underwood and comprises members Cazz Redding, Nicola Smith and Lester Townsend.

In particular, the Committee was asked to advise on the content and structure of a revised SPPF to apply any consequential changes arising from recent legislation and to align and integrate with the review of each of the following state policy matters:

  • the Vision for Victoria;
  • the proposed Metropolitan Planning Strategy;
  • the eight Regional Growth Plans (Central Highlands, G21 - Geelong Region Alliance, Gippsland, Great South Coast, Hume, Loddon Mallee North, Loddon Mallee South, Wimmera Southern Mallee);
  • the reformed commercial, industrial, residential and rural zones; and
  • the Development Contributions system.

Between July 2013 and December 2013, the Committee prepared a 'policy neutral' translation of the SPPF. It then carried out targeted consultation with council planners, State Government departments and statutory authorities as well as some industry stakeholders such as Planning Panels Victoria. In October 2013, the Terms of Reference were expanded to require the Committee to review ways in which LPPFs could be better aligned with the SPPF.

The Committee has now produced and published a full draft of the 'Master' version PPF as well as examples of each Council Scheme to demonstrate how local content can be incorporated under the new thematic model.

While the Terms of Reference state that the Committee is not expected to undertake any public consultation, the Terms of Reference allow it to do so if it considers it appropriate. The Committee has chosen to do so by way of the publication of the draft on the Planning Panels Victoria website and the opportunity for submissions to be provided by email by 23 May 2014.

What is the new structure of the PPF?

The draft PPF has been organised so that all State, regional and local policy on a particular issue sits within the one clause, rather than being spread across the SPPF, LPPF and Municipal Strategic Statement (MSS). The old clauses 11-19 of the SPPF and are relocated to clauses 3-13.

The key changes are that:

  • there is a new 'Context' section at the front of the PPF to provide context for the policy by setting out details of Victoria's environmental, economic and community/population context. While the Committee has stated that it has not written new policy, this is clearly new material for the PPF. References in this section show that the material is largely sourced from Plan Melbourne, however there are also several references showing that this is new material1.
  • the old clause 11 (Settlement) has been replaced by a new provision – clause 3 (Planning Vision) which is in turn divided into visions for spatially distinct areas (such as regional, metropolitan, growth areas, rural areas etc).
  • the remaining clauses have been relocated / renamed as set out in the following table:
Current SPPF Clause New PPF Clause
12 Environmental and landscape values 04 Environmental values
13 Environmental risks 05 Environmental risks
14 Natural resource management
15 Built Environment and heritage 06 Landscape and built environment
07 Heritage
16 Housing 08 Housing
17 Economic development 09 Economic development
10 Community development
11 Open space
18 Transport 12 Transport
19 Infrastructure 13 Infrastructure

Clauses 12 (Environmental and landscape values) and 14 (Natural Resource Management) have been deleted but the content can mostly be found in new clause 4 (Environmental Values) and clause 9 (Economic Development). However, it is difficult to discern whether any of the content has been lost in the reorganisation of the material. New clauses have been introduced titled Heritage (clause 7), Community Development (clause 10) and Open Space (clause 11). Much of the material in the clause 11 (open space) is from the previous clause 11 (Settlement). The material in Heritage (clause 7) is mostly from the former clause 15. The new Community Development clause appears to be a mix of policy material introduced from relevant particular provisions and also from current clause 19 as well as Regional Growth Plans and Plan Melbourne.

Importantly, the draft PPF for each scheme tailors the content of the PPF to the relevant council so that, for example, a council in the alpine region does not include the Coastal Policy Clause and similarly, Coastal Policy is only contained in council schemes that abut the coastline.

The former 'Decision Guidelines' are now headed 'Guidelines for decision-makers' and include two sections – 'Guidelines' and then a section titled 'Consider as relevant', which generally includes a list of what were formerly, 'reference documents'. There is then a new additional section at the end of sub-clauses setting out 'background documents'. These appear to mostly be new references to documents produced under other legislation, for example Environment Protection Authority policies and publications, Water Authority documents and Department of Health documents. The definition at the front of the PPF for 'background documents' is 'documents that provide additional information about the objectives and strategies and have the same status as reference documents in other parts of the scheme.'

Clause numbering includes letters to indicate whether the clause is a 'State' policy (S), Regional Victoria policy (RV), Metropolitan Melbourne policy (M) or local (which will be indicated by a relevant abbreviation to the Council name).

What new material has been included?

While the Committee was tasked with a 'policy neutral' translation and has stated in public forums that it has not written new material, there is much in the PPF that is effectively new content for the Planning Schemes, even if it is sourced from other documents.

For example, there is significant new material included in clause 3 (Context) to introduce objectives and strategies from the Regional Growth Plans under headings for each region, although notably content for all regions has not yet been completed. Notably, the clauses to incorporate content from the Regional Growth Framework Plans have not yet been populated. Further there is significant new material written apparently by the Committee in the Vision section of this clause, for example the following statement of policy in clause 3.01-S01:

Areas will be identified for urban renewal, and local planning will respond to changing local economic circumstances to maintain opportunities for investment and employment..

Clause 8 (Housing) includes a lot of new material from the Residential Zones Practice Note 78 so as to incorporate references to the new residential zones and how they are intended to be applied. Some of the policy from current clause 16 (Housing) has been brought across and been merged with references from Plan Melbourne. For example, there is a statement in clause 8.01-M00-01 as follows:

Strategic planning should:.... 4. Use the Neighbourhood Residential Zone across at least 50 per cent of Melbourne's residential-zoned land.

Clause 8 also includes several new objectives such as:

  • To reduce adverse economic, social and environmental impacts of residential development [objective 1, clause 8.01-RV-01];
  • To facilitate the supply of social housing [objective 4, clause 8.02-S-01]

While such objectives are important, they are new and therefore careful consideration needs to be given to the potential use and reliance on these objectives in decision-making to ensure there are no unintended consequences.

There are also many new references included in the 'Background Documents' sections and also new documents listed in the Guidelines for decision-makers that were not previously included in the Victoria Planning Provisions. For example, in clause 9.05 (Industrial Development), decision makers are directed to 'Consider as relevant.... 4 Land use planning near a major hazard facility: Guidance Note (Worksafe Victoria, 2010).' This document had not previously been a reference document in the Victoria Planning Provisions and its absence had been noted by the Tribunal and Panels in numerous cases2. Such changes are not innocuous 'policy neutral' changes as they clearly have the potential to alter factors relevant to decision-making.

Links to relevant particular provisions have also been included as applicable. For example in clause 9.05 (Industrial Development) there is now a reference to the particular provision clause 52.10 (Uses with Adverse Amenity Potential).

What other changes have been made?

The Committee has made significant formatting and language changes.

For example, each objective and strategy is now given a number, rather than the previous system of only numbering headings and clauses and having a series of bullet points for objectives and strategies beneath these headings.

The language of the PPF has been tightened to make the policies more consistent and directive. The introductory section of the draft PPF includes a 'Matrix of Verbs' to set out the Committee's approach to its 'policy neutral' translation of the SPPF text. For example:

  • Where the Committee considered that a particular SPPF policy was directed at controlling what happens in the context of a new building, then the verb used in the PPF is 'Require'.
  • Where the policy was considered to be a control of what happens in the context of a desire to preserve an environment, then the verb used in the PPF is 'Avoid (the adverse impact)' or 'Minimise (the adverse impact)'.
  • Where the Committee considered that the SPPF policy was directed at making a decision, then the Committee has used the words 'recognise' and 'balance'.

While this is certainly a laudable effort to achieve consistency throughout the SPPF, the choices made by the Committee may have the effect of changing previous interpretations by the Tribunal and Panels as to the meaning of SPPF policies.

Next steps

The draft PPF is open for comment until 23 May 2014. Submissions can be made by emailing the Committee at: planning.panels@dtpli.vic.gov.au

A survey can also be completed to give feedback on the format and usefulness of the structural changes to the SPPF.

The Committee is required to complete its report and submit to the Minister by the end of June 2014. This date was extended from the original date of October 2013 in the Addendum to the Terms of Reference to a date of 1 April 2014 due to the revised scope of the Terms of Reference and the release of Plan Melbourne. It has obviously been further extended to the new May date by agreement of the Minister.

It is considered likely that there will be a need to extend the Committee's role beyond June 2014 to carry out the consequential work of translating the LPPF of each scheme across into the new structure.

Footnotes
  1. The draft PPF document contains reference markers throughout to identify where the material has come from. For example: [PM] means that the source is Plan Melbourne; [new] indicates new text; [DP] indicates that the text is from the Metropolitan Planning Strategy Discussion Paper, 2012.; [Update] means that the text has been amended from the equivalent clause in the SPPF; [RGP] indicates the text has been included to implement the Regional Growth Plans.
  2. See: Shell Company of Australia v Hobsons Bay CC & Ors (includes Summary) (Red Dot) [2012] VCAT 1184 (8 August 2012); Sandbar Properties Pty Ltd v Maribyrnong CC [2010] VCAT 678, the Advisory Committees appointed to consider the Port Phillip Woollen Mills PPV 5310 May 2011 and the Ports and Environs Controls [2010] PPV 115 (1 November 2010).

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