• VCAT

November 21, 2022

VicSmart: how smart is the process?

At CS Town Planning we are well known for assisting Project Managers, Architects, Draftspeople and businesses, with all manner of planning proposals – from pergolas in aged care residences to 10,000 sqm Arts Hubs. 

Most developments take time from concept to council decision due to the standard processes in place for planning applications at local councils. From first time developers 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 we have a number of corporate clients and one such client has been rolling out minor alterations to their bank branches over the past twelve months. Alterations to replace an outdated item with a new version, with no changes to the building footprint or use and no alterations to the facade of the building are often considered minor works that are exempt from planning. However, some planning controls, usually overlays such as the Heritage Overlay or Special Building Overlay require planning consent.

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 benefits of using VicSmart instead of a traditional planning application are three-fold: time, cost savings and no objectors. 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 assessment fees for the same process would cost $206.40 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. Due to the minor and prescribed nature of these works, the final benefit is that applications are 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:

In 2021-2022, there were a total of 45,225 new applications lodged across the state.

Regular planning permits are intended to have decisions made within 60 “statutory days”. Calculating “statutory days” is different from actual days that pass. Final outcomes for regular planning permits, in gross days, (between the receipt of the application and the final result) was 130 days on average. That is the average planning permit, in reality took in excess of 4 months.

Of those new applications in 2021-2022, 9790 were VicSmart applications. Of these 76.2% had permits issued within 10 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. 

Initially there was confusion over whether or not a permit was eligible for VicSmart. In 2018, the state government integrated Vicsmart into applicable zones, overlays and particular provisions, and relocated operational and related provisions, via Amendment VC148. They have since extended VicSmart to broaden the number of applications it applies to.

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’ allows for a smooth, more simplified planning process for appropriate applications.                      

To find out how we can improve planning efficiency for your company or project, contact us.