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Our new normal

John Cicero

Paul Kelly expressed a view in the Weekend Australian that Scott Morrison has taken the country to a fresh level of crisis collaboration creating opportunities for our future. Other commentators expressed varied opinions on how the COVID-19 crisis has changed or expedited the decision making process shifting the focus to outcomes rather than processes. It has caused me to reflect on what the new normal should be post or indeed, during COVID-19 for our planning system. What is abundantly clear to me is that we cannot expect to do business as we did pre-COVID-19.

What does this mean for our planning system?

First and foremost, it must shift to an outcome rather than process focus. To do that fundamentally, the planning system must facilitate the processing of development proposals. That of course does not mean ‘an anything goes’ approach.

Fundamentally, we have a robust planning system. It is the implementation of that system that often let us down pre-COVID-19 and, unless addressed, will stall and potentially irretrievably damage the road to recovery post COVID-19.

Let me give you some suggestions.

Landowners should be able to submit to a body other than a Council, a Planning Scheme Amendment request. There are a number of significant urban renewal opportunities in our established suburbs which are not being advanced owing largely to process or political considerations which should be irrelevant if the strategic merits of the proposal meet the aspirations of strategic policy. Too many of these opportunities have either stalled or been rejected, not because of a lack of strategic merit, but because of local political considerations which cannot be the basis for not processing in a transparent and public way the opportunities that these sites present.

Secondly, the private sector must become involved in the processing of planning permit applications. Not, I hasten to add, to become the responsible authority for the decision, but simply to ensure that an application for a planning permit is processed in a competent and timely manner so that it can be placed, at the earliest possible opportunity, before the relevant responsible authority for a decision.

Thirdly, Government must properly resource VCAT. As a frequent user of VCAT, the deficiencies in its technology has sadly and frustratingly been exposed in this crisis whilst other Courts and Planning Panels Victoria have managed to adapt more readily. Government needs to immediately resource VCAT so that the billions of dollars of development proposals that are presently sitting before VCAT can be processed.

Lastly (for now that is), there needs to be a significant cultural shift at all levels of the decision making process. It must change from what is significantly a process driven system to one driven by outcomes. The energy should be spent on not the ‘why’ but the ‘how’.

Let the new norm begin!

John Cicero

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