Yet another State Government planning change – ‘Code Assess’
In April this year (2012) the State Government introduced legislation into Parliament to amend the Planning Act to “cut red tape” and “streamline the planning process”. This initiative has been named “Code Assess”, as it is based on a U.S. idea that simple planning applications can be automatically “assessed” as to whether or not they satisfy the planning “code” – without need for public notice or redress.
Code Assess will identify those planning applications deemed to be so simple and non-controversial that neighbours, the community and all others won’t be disadvantaged if the permit is exempted from normal planning requirements and is granted without local knowledge or the ability to object. The Government’s idea is that such ‘exempted’ permits will reduce the time and cost of planning without disadvantaging the community.
Processing these simple applications will be carried out by an officer, acting alone, who is personally empowered in law as the “Responsible Authority”. This officer’s decisions will be final, and not able to be objected to or reviewed by either citizen, Council or VCAT.
Needless to say, deciding just which permit applications are so simple and benign will be the test upon which this system will either succeed or fail. Success will only be achieved if all Code Assess applications are processed without raising community concerns and without resulting in inappropriate or unfair developments.
It seems likely that there will be public outcries in our area if house or deck extensions are permitted without neighbours being advised of them or being able to object. Recalling the tongue-in-cheek humour of TV’s “Yes, Minister”, Sir Humphrey might have advised the Minister that this legislation will be politically “courageous”.
Perhaps adding to the confusion, despite its initial Code Assess name the Government has introduced the new measure into Parliament under the name “VicSmart” – this being despite VicSmart also being the name of at least two other, unrelated State Government initiatives in recent years.
It appears that the VicSmart (i.e. Code Assess) Bill specifies that each municipal CEO, or alternatively another member of a Council’s staff, will constitute the designated Responsible Authority empowered by law to make the decisions on these ‘exempted’ planning applications. Just how a member of the Council staff will be selected to exercise these powers, which even the Council can’t direct or over-ride, and how their performance might be reviewed, or they might be replaced if needed, isn’t clear.
Also, all of the types of permits which are to be ‘exempted’ in this way haven’t yet been made public, nor has how such exemptions might perhaps be changed in the future. Government statements have indicated that the system will cover 10% to 20% of all planning applications, and will include “small-scale, low-impact applications such as home extensions and small works such as fences”. This is in addition to “minor subdivisions in urban areas, building or extending a fence within three metres of a street, managing vegetation, erecting a pergola, development in a flood risk area, altering road access and erecting small advertising signs”.
The Code Assess legislation was approved by Parliament on 13 September 2012.