To boost the recovery of Victoria’s economy after a year of recession brought by the coronavirus (COVID-19), the Victorian Government has identified Victoria’s building and construction sector as a key mechanism to revitalise Victoria’s economy. Back in April 2020, the Victorian Government launched a pilot program, Building Victoria’s Recovery Taskforce Priority Project Fast-Track pilot program. The purpose of the programme was to fast track projects through the town planning process so they could commence on site. The recovery taskforce was setup to identifying projects across the state that are:
- shovel-ready building and construction projects of Victorian State and Regional significance and,
- planning and investment opportunities.
- projects that will provide immediate benefits to Victoria’s economy
- keeping Victorians in work and priority social and economic infrastructure on track for completion.
If the taskforce determined that the project met the criteria then the minister for planning would exercise his power under the Planning and Environment Act 1987 to ‘call the application in’ and his office would essentially replace council as the deciding authority on the application. The Taskforce received 295 applications for assessment of projects to be considered for fast-tracking. The service has proven popular with developers, project proponents and local governments. Applications submitted from across Victoria represent a diversity of projects, including:
- commercial and mixed-use
- residential dwellings
- social and affordable housing and build – to – rent
- retirement living and aged care
- retail and industrial land.
Following the success of the pilot program, the Minister for Planning, Richard Wynne, has established a twelve-month Development Facilitation Program within the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning to speed up the assessment and determination of identified priority projects that:
- Deliver investment into the Victorian economy,
- Keep people in jobs, and
- Provide a substantial public benefit.
Progress to date
Since the introduction of the pilot program and the Development Facilitation Program (DFP), the Planning Minister, has already fast-tracked and approved $7.5 billion worth of projects since March 2020, including one of the largest solar farms in Australia located in regional Wangaratta and a Collingwood commercial development, for the course of generating jobs and help stimulate Victoria’s economic recovery despite both projects been opposed by locals and the local councils.
The commercial development in Collingwood is a 58-metre-tall commercial building in Wellington Street and was opposed by the City of Yarra because of its “excessive” height and scale. At a March planning meeting, the Yarra councillors decided to oppose the 5-green star development because it was not in keeping with the area’s heritage, had “unacceptable” waste management processes, and its failure to achieve “acceptable levels of environmental sustainable design”.
The development than applied for the pilot program and was approved by the Minister who describes the development as having an “acceptable urban design outcome that responds to the emerging character of the area”. The spokeswoman for the Minister’s office further stated 500-600 construction jobs would be needed to build the 15-storey building, which will generate capital expenditure of $214 million and will include landscaping and a new urban plaza on Wellington Street.
As part of the program, the Minister also approved a 13-storey office building with ground-floor retail, near Burnley rail station. The Minister’s office said, this development will generate capital expenditure of $323 million and support 530 construction jobs.
Another project to be fast tracked is a 72-megawatt solar farm on Wangaratta-Kilfeera Road in Laceby, outside Wangaratta. The development was originally designed as a 60-megawatt solar farm with a $93 million price tag, and was opposed by locals who raised concerns about the loss of agricultural land, the risks of fire, and the visual impacts of the solar farm. The Wangaratta Council voted to refuse the planning permit in February but ultimately it was approved by the Minister for Planning eight months later through the Development Facilitation Program.
The solar farm will generate enough power for about 27,000 Victorian households, and is forecast to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 120,000 tonnes a year which meets all the criteria of the program.
The Development Facilitation Program also helped boost the development of social housing across the state, including a social housing apartment complex in Reservior, consisting 53 two bedroom and three bedroom apartments. The apartment complex is close to public transport and shops, with an $18 million capital expenditure price tag.
As part of the requirements of the Development Facilitation Program, these fast tracked projects are required to commence within 6 – 12 months of approval.
Although the program fast-tracked a number of major projects across the state, almost half the applications were unsuccessful. They did not meet the criteria for a fast track as they were not considered to:
- raise issues of fairness or the public interest, issues of urgency and the public interest would result in immediate action.
- be of State or Regional significance.
- raise a major issue of policy and determination may have a large effect on the achievement or development of planning objectives.
- deliver public value (e.g. public or social housing or environmental sustainability.)
- have been unreasonably delayed.
- provide economic benefits including jobs, capital value, innovation
- Prove project feasibility. Including proof of funding, demand is evident, supply factors mitigated and shovel ready
A dedicated facilitation team has been established within DELWP to oversee the program to ensure it is robust and transparent with assistance from Invest Victoria. The team will facilitate projects for accelerated assessment and determination, which includes:
- planning permits; and
- planning scheme amendments.
A project must meet the eligibility criteria below to be recommended for an accelerated assessment and determination. A recommended project does not mean an approved project and the usual planning rules and policies continues to apply.
Project Selection Criteria
Specific criteria have been established by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning to prioritise the assessment and determination of priority projects. The three essential criteria for accelerated assessment and determination include:
- The project is of state or regional significance and will have a significant short to medium term economic impact.
- The project is “shovel ready” and has investment certainty.
- The technical and compliance matters are resolved or have a clear resolution pathway.
- The views of relevant stakeholders are known.
- The project is dependent on a decision timeframe.
- The project has been unreasonably delayed or impeded.
Policy Alignment and Public benefit:
- The project aligns with government policy and priorities; and
- The project will deliver or is a stimulus to deliver significant public benefit.
The full criteria can be downloaded here.
Given projects that can take part in the program must meet all the criteria of the program, the Development Facilitation Program is heavily weighted to major projects. Even if a project is deemed eligible for the program, it does not necessarily mean a planning permit is guaranteed to be issued by the Minister of Planning.It is recommended that developers continue to do a standard planning application through the local councils and VCAT as the program only assesses if the proposed projects are worthy for the Minister to step in and exercise his power to approve the project.
If you have any questions about the program or have a project that is ready to go and can help the recovery of Victoria’s economy, feel free to get in touch with the team at CS Town Planning Services and we will assist you to take part in the program.
Frequently Ask Questions about the program
How long do I have to make a submission to the Development Facilitation Program?
The program will operate until 31 December 2021.
How long will it take before I know if my project is being referred to the Minister for accelerated assessment and decision?
An initial assessment against the program’s eligibility criteria will typically occur within 14 business days following submission, provided all required information has been provided.
If I apply to the DFP, does this stop a current request before Council or the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT)?
No. it is recommended to continue with the usual statutory application process as the Development Facilitation Team are only making recommendations for prioritisation and not decision.
If a project is recommended for prioritisation, is that a guarantee that the Minister will prioritise it?
No. These are recommendations which are non-binding and still provides the Minister with the opportunity to determine the matter as he sees fit.
Am I required to provide financial information for the DFP?
If your project is deemed to have met the eligibility criteria, financial information will be requested to verify project’s feasibility.
If my project is referred and the Minister decides not to intervene, what happens next?
You will be notified in writing of the decision and your project will be required to continue down the normal statutory application process.
If my project is referred and the Minister decides not to intervene, can I challenge this decision?
No, as the DFP is not a formal statutory process. The program has been offered in good faith to assist industry recover from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Do I need to submit a full planning application with technical reports and supporting information?
Yes. The application should include all information that is/would be included in a planning permit application or planning scheme amendment request. Unless all required documentation is submitted, the application will not be assessed.