Controversial planning rule changes retained at Yarra City despite outcry over lack of consultation

Updated April 5 2022 - 8:07am, first published 5:00am
Cr Steve Jolly ... consultation had "gone missing"
Cr Steve Jolly ... consultation had "gone missing"

Recent controversial changes to planning rules were revisited but not overturned despite being slammed by members of the public and two councillors at last week's Yarra City Council meeting.

The changes, introduced "to enable greater efficiencies", make it harder to have planning decisions reviewed.

Notably, amendments to the council's 'Instrument of Delegation to the Planning Decision Committee' increased the minimum number of separate objections needed to trigger a committee review from six to 15.

An amendment introduced only in 2019 had increased the number of objections required by specifying the six then needed be from separate households.

Socialist councillor Bridgid O'Brien moved a motion at the March 29 meeting to rescind the changes, arguing they were likely to result in many more matters going to VCAT, which would not be more efficient, and that "the amount of pushback from the community" justified revisiting them.

Her colleague, Cr Steve Jolly, said consultation, which was "almost the middle name of Yarra council", had "gone missing" on the issue, with residents groups finding out about it just four or five days before it was voted on and criticising the amendments as "a rush job".

Other submitters pointed to inadequate evidence presented to the public for the changes and talked about community "angst" over the lack of consultation.

While council officers gave advice that consultation had not been required around the changes, which were regarded as procedural, several submitters made the point that public trust was important.

Glen McCallum, from Protect Fitzroy North Inc. said that while his group accepted the changes were well meaning it did not accept they were well founded or properly implemented.

"Legal advice or technical arguments about how you don't have to consult on a matter really doesn't cut it in the community," he said.

As well as raising the bar on the number of objections needed to get a matter referred to the committee, the changes exempt decisions from being referred to it in the case of buildings and work in a commercial zone worth up to $1 million and in an industrial zone up to $2 million.

Objections in those cases will be heard by council officers.

Also controversial was the change to require two councillors rather than a single councillor to refer a planning issue to the review committee.

Cr Herschel Landes argued the amendments were needed to address a backlog of planning cases and improve outcomes for all stakeholders, particularly small business owners.

"Delays to obtain planning permits for signage, maintenance, changes of usage and minor alterations can take up to nine months," he said.

"In this context reforms are long overdue, especially when many of the applications for smaller projects are constrained by planning regulations in any case and where the discretion of the councillors is limited."

Cr Landes told the Inner East Review that the council was currently only able to process 37 per cent of simple planning applications within 60 days.

Councillors O'Brien and Jolly were joined in supporting the motion to rescind the planning rule amendments by former mayor and Greens councillor Amanda Stone.

Councillors Landes, Crossland, Nguyen, Mohamud and mayor Sophie Wade voted against the motion, which was lost.


Jenny Denton


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