On 24 April 2020 the COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Act 2020 (Vic) (Omnibus Act) came into effect, introducing temporary changes to a number of existing laws to ensure that Victoria’s planning system can continue to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic.
These legislative changes form the next phase of the Victorian Government’s regulatory action following its planning scheme amendment VC181 on 6 April to facilitate the 24 hour delivery of food and other essential goods. For more information on amendment VC181 see our recent article here.
Key changes introduced
Those changes which are of particular interest to the development industry include:
- enabling Planning Panels Victoria to conduct hearings electronically in circumstances where public access is to be made available free of charge (either while the hearing is being held or as soon as reasonably practical afterwards), through the introduction of section 205B to the Planning and Environment Act 1987 (Vic) (Planning and Environment Act);
- facilitating the electronic inspection of documents and notices held by Councils, including proposed planning scheme amendments, permit applications and section 173 agreements, through the introduction of sections 205 and 205A to the Planning and Environment Act;
- enabling Councils to conduct and stream its meetings live and electronically through the introduction of section 395 to the Local Government Act 2020 (Vic);
- facilitating the determination of Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) hearings with or without the appearance of the parties or by audio-visual link through new sections 33D and 33F of the Open Courts Act 2013 (Vic); and
- introducing section 158B into the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 1998 (Vic) to enable the Rules Committee to meet remotely for the purpose of making rules about the practice and procedure of VCAT hearings, including the procedure for filing appeals, expert evidence and the inspection of documents.
The Omnibus Act also deferred the commencement of the Environment Protection Amendment Act 2018 (Vic) from July 2020 until 1 December 2021 (unless proclaimed earlier). For further details about the deferred commencement of Victoria’s new proactive environment protection regime, see our recent article here.
What does this means for development in Victoria?
These measures are welcomed within the development industry to ensure that the planning approval and planning scheme amendment processes can continue to function (albeit remotely). Council’s ability to make decisions under delegation (facilitated by its ability to hold meetings remotely) is key in facilitating a more efficient turnaround time for planning applications. However, we await specific details of how, in practice, planning proceedings in courts and tribunals will operate. Conversely, Planning Panels Victoria has already successfully commenced facilitating proceedings through electronic means and the new regulations will further assist this transition.
New development facilitation taskforce established
The Victorian Government has also announced the establishment of the Building Victoria’s Recovery Taskforce to advise the Government on opportunities to rebuild the development industry and strengthen the Victorian economy. Planning Minister Richard Wynne and Treasurer Tim Pallas will oversee the Taskforce, which will investigate planning and investment opportunities to strengthen Victoria’s development industry over the short, medium and long term.
Please contact Sarah Raso should you wish to discuss the above updates and how they will affect your business.
This publication is introductory in nature. Its content is current at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. You should always obtain legal advice based on your specific circumstances before taking any action relating to matters covered by this publication. Some information may have been obtained from external sources, and we cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such information.