In one of his last acts as premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews announced the most significant planning reforms for the state of Victoria in the last decade. The former premier was unapologetic in his criticism of local Victorian councils making political decisions that have resulted in a bottle neck in housing supply for the state of Victoria. The premier took specific aim at Stonnington and Yarra councils in a press release from 21st September , stating that the former rejected almost one in every five applications and the latter progressed only 38% of planning applications within the statutory timeframe.
One of the major reforms of amendment VC 243 aimed at removing local politics from planning decisions was the replacement of the locally elected councillors by the CEO of Council as the decision maker for planning applications for apartment developments that meet a small list of criteria.
Changes to how Rescode operates
In a further measure aimed at removing the subjectivity around planning assessments, Rescode has been ‘codified’, meaning that if a design response meets a prescriptive standard, then the associated objective is met and there is no discretion for decision makers such as Council or VCAT to assess it any further. This will create more certainty of outcome for permit applicants.
The maximum building height standard of rescode remains unchanged but the part of the standard that specifies that ‘Changes of building height between existing buildings and new buildings should be graduated’ has been deleted to remove any exercise of discretion by decision makers.
Likewise the maximum height of a front fence remains unchanged but that part of the standard that specifies “The design of front fences should complement the design of the dwelling or residential building and any front fences on adjoining properties” has been deleted form the standard.
Exemptions for single dwellings and dwelling extensions
A single dwelling or extension on a lot greater than 300 square metres will no longer be subject to a planning approval in the General Residential, Neighbourhood residential or Township zones. Previously, local councils had the ability to require a permit under a schedule to these zones but that ability has now been removed and a blanket exemption applies across zones.
Where a single dwelling or extension is proposed on a lot less than 300 square metres in any of the aforementioned residential zones or the mixed use zone, the application is subject to assessment of five rescode standards and qualifies for assessment under the Vicsmart process. The five rescode standards are the prescriptive standards for side and rear setbacks, walls on boundaries, daylight to existing windows, north facing windows, overshadowing and overlooking.
A front fence within 3 metres of street on a lot less than 300 square metres requires a permit where the fence exceeds 2 metres in height along streets in the Transport Zone 2 and 1.5 metres in other streets.
These exemptions do not create exemptions from requirements to obtain a planning permit under other provisions of a planning scheme. This means that triggers for dwellings, dwelling extensions or front fences under overlay controls will continue to apply.
New Particular Provision – “Future Homes”
A new standalone particular provision has been introduced, specifically for apartments that minimises the number of design standards these developments are subject to assessment against. The reduced assessment applies only to those apartment designs that meet the below criteria:
- The development must be an apartment development.
- The design must use a licenced exemplar design approved under the Future Homes project overseen by the Department of Transport and Planning.
The site must meet these criteria:
- Must be in the General Residential Zone
- Must be within 800 metres of a passenger railway station; or
- Must be within 800 metres of a metropolitan, major or neighbourhood activity centre in Metropolitan Melbourne; or
- Must be within 800 metres of an activity centre outside Metropolitan Melbourne; and
- Must not be within a Heritage Overlay or Neighbourhood Character Overlay.
Where a site and proposal meet the above requirements, a design response is not subject to assessment against the objectives or standards of the residential zone, Clause 58, Clause 52.06 for car parking supply and design or Clause 52.34 for bicycle parking supply and facilities. The proposal is not exempt from public notification, but it is exempt from third party review rights at VCAT.
The new provision specifies that the CEO of council is the delegated decision maker for these applications in lieu of the locally elected councillors. It also installs the Secretary to Department of Transport and Planning as a determining referral authority for these applications meaning that the local council is obliged to refuse an application where the state government object.
For an application to avail of this provision, the applicant must first seek preapplication support in writing from the Department of Transport and planning within three months of the application being lodged with the local council.
The basis for the changes
This a far-reaching amendment with various aims at targeted sections of the planning process. The aims can be summarised in a concise list as:
- Removing the need for planning approval for single dwellings or extensions on standard residential lots.
- Ensuring a ten day turnaround and a reduced list of requirements for dwellings or extensions on smaller lots in standard residential zones.
- Creating more certainty of outcome for applicants subject to a rescode assessment.
- Removing local politics and NIMBY VCAT appeals from the decision-making process for apartment developments in strategically located sites in the general residential zone.
The premier also announced the government’s intent to make second dwellings exempt from requiring a planning permit for units less than 60 square meters and codification of further rescode standards to remove any exercise of discretion. These changes were not included as part of the statewide amendment formalised into planning schemes on September 22nd 2023.
The new provision 53.24, “Future Homes” is the most significant inclusion in the amendment. It will undoubtedly remove the local politics from the planning process for these types of projects and will no doubt be of concern for locally elected councillors and residents. We hope the department of transport and planning has the resources to process the numerous incoming requests for the required preapplication consent letters over the next six months across the middle ring suburbs of Melbourne.
The removal of planning permit triggers for single dwellings and extensions in residential zones will absolutely assist ‘Mums and Dads’ in saving time and money and be of huge benefit to them.
The codifying of Rescode creates the obvious drawback of the removal of the ability for decision makers to exercise discretion to require increased setbacks and the like where sensitive interfaces or character outcomes are more important than ticking the rescode box. However, this is an acceptable trade off in our assessment because of the absolute certainty for applicants that is created.
The amendment marked Daniel Andrews last major change as premier of the state of Victoria.