Vicsmart; how clever is the process?

At CS Town Planning Services we are well known for building design, town planning and VCAT representation mainly for multi-unit developments.  Multi-unit developments take time to take from concept to decision due to the standard processes in place for planning applications at Local Councils.  From mum and dad investors through to experienced development companies, the process can be frustrating especially given the sometimes subjective clauses in planning legislation that can have different interpretations.  

But what is the process if you only want to make a simple modification to an already approved building?  What if you want to put a small sign up to advertise your business?  Will this require a long, complicated planning application?

The answer to that is not necessarily.  At CS Town Planning Services we have a number of commercial clients and one such client has been rolling out minor alterations to their bank branches over the past twelve months.  The alteration is to replace an outdated item with a new version, with no changes to the building footprint or use and no alterations to the facade of the building.  Many of these minor works are considered exempt from planning due to the zone the building is located in; however when it comes to certain zones and in particular, a Heritage Overlay then planning consent is required.

This year we have explored the Vicsmart process for these projects in Victoria.  Vicsmart is a planning process for minor works with a prescriptive list of what is and isn't accepted under this system.  The main bonus of using Vicsmart instead of a traditional planning application is two fold: time and cost savings.  For example; minor buildings and works to a shop in a Heritage Overlay costing $9,000 would cost the applicant $1,102.30 and take approximately 60 days to get a permit.  Through Vicsmart the same process would cost $192 and take 10 business days.  The difference is due to the fact the applicant must only use Vicsmart for a set list of applications and therefore they are predetermined as appropriate for the process without needing in depth analysis or reporting.  The applications are also not advertised to the public. 

So, does it really work? 

The answer is a resounding yes!  In the last 6 months we have lodged 18 applications through the Vicsmart process.  All of these applications have resulted in an approved permit with very little interaction with Council between lodgement and permit receipt.  We have kept some statistics on the process and report the following:

Average days from lodgement to permit: 10.78 business days
Average days from lodgement to permit - metro Melbourne: 14 business days
Average days from lodgement to permit - regional Victoria: 9.17 business days

This process has allowed us to efficiently deliver tight deadlines and allow the flow from concept to construction for these minor alterations in a smooth and successful way.  Without the Vicsmart process, our client's bill would have been $19,841.40 for planning fees and instead is $3,456.  This is a really important consideration too when looking at small businesses, where a simple alteration that costs $6,000 to construct may cost over $1,000 in planning fees! 

So, any down side to this process?

The Vicsmart process is really useful tool for many different purposes and is underutilised overall due to the fact that Local Councils often don't inform applicants that they could use the process.  Whether intentional or more likely through confusion over what is applicable, it is a definite issue.  There is also a lack of clarity over certain applications and whether they are appropriate for the process.  The other issue is there aren't enough minor works covered through the process so often something that should be available through Vicsmart is ruled out due to an Overlay that has no relevance to the application.  These points were echoed recently through the Victorian State Government in their Smart Planning Discussion Paper 'Reforming the Victoria Planning Provisions'.

The discussion paper raises the argument that Vicsmart should be utilised much more broadly and cover many more application types.  The way this would work is by setting either very clear preset codes for self assessment or a detailed list of application types much like they use in New South Wales or Queensland.  This opens the door for a much more efficient system for many application types, reducing cost and time for businesses and investors.  And it is really good news.  In Victoria we have a lot of activity in building and development and minor works are often delayed due to planning applications that are not necessary for the works involved.  Broadening the Vicsmart 'net' would allow for a smooth, more simplified planning process for appropriate applications.                      

To find out how we can improve planning efficiency for your company or project, give us a call on 03 9824 1902 or email info@cstownplanning.com.au