Recognising Objections Bill 2015, now before state parliament, is so weak and watery it may have the opposite effect and limit resident objections.
The number of objections will only to be considered appropriate when the determining authority deems the proposed use or development may have a “significant social effect” but does not provide any guidance on its meaning. It is further weakened by an explanatory note which indicates that if objections are not relevant to the permission sought, they may not be considered.
Would the Bill allow objections based on a “significant social effect” to prevent this absurd planning decision by the Manningham council approving a ten storey apartment tower adjacent to a land size where only a two storey town house style development is permitted?
Mary Drost AOM, Convenor of Planning Backlash, wrote; “We thank the Planning Minister Richard Wynne for at least honoring an election promise by bringing this Bill to Parliament. However it contains too many subjective words. It seems that whoever wrote this Bill has used many words in it that can be argued in either direction. We call these words weasel words. This weakens the whole Bill so that it becomes meaningless at VCAT. So as it is, it will not change anything. For example it says ‘where appropriate’ Who decides when it is appropriate?
And who decides what ‘social impact’ a development will have? Of course the quality of objections is important, and who decides what is quality? Unless this whole Bill is tightened up then it will do nothing about the number of objectors and totally destroys what the government promised and has set out to honour. One has to wonder who wrote this document and what they had in mind”.
Jack Roach of Boroondara Residents’ Action Group (BRAG wrote: Premier Daniel Andrews’ press release said; “The Labor Government is delivering on a key election promise to put the community’s voice back into the planning process”. “My response is that the Bill will deliver nothing in the way of putting the community’s voice into the planning process. It is nothing more than a public relations exercise so the government can say it has listened to the community and acted accordingly. The whole exercise is totally dishonest”.
Dean Katz (from Cornwalls the lawyers ) commented; “The Bill does not otherwise appear to substantially change the current legal position that the quality of objections is more important than the number of objections”.
DAVID MORRIS MP
Member for Mornington .. Shadow Minister for Finance said in part;
“The effect of this bill is simply to raise further the hopes of people who have previously had their hopes raised, but it will take a while for the effect to work through the tribunal, and those people will again find that this is nothing but a cruel hoax. It is a measure that simply adds extra words to the Planning and Environment Act 1987. It adds extra complexity in terms of planning applications, and in that case it is certainly not a job-generating measure. It will impact, probably not enormously, in terms of the number of planning applications that are considered.
The bill does nothing to protect the interests of the community, whether you are talking about Tecoma, whether you are talking about the Stonnington case or whether you are talking about any of the many other issues that have been raised by every member who has spoken on the issue. The bill will do absolutely nothing in terms of protecting the interests of those residents. It is a bill that is at best vague. It is a bill that is at best unclear. It adds to complexity, it creates false hope and it adds costs to the industries, and the outcome of the bill will be a planning system that is driven by the legal system to an even greater extent than is currently the case”…end of comment.
Below are details of the Tecoma and Stonnington proposals where the council’s rejections were overturned at VCAT and were said to be the catalysts for proposing the Recognising Objectors Bill.
In 2011, McDonald’s lodged a planning application for a 24 hour outlet with drive thru in Tecoma. This application was met with a record number of 1,170 written objections directed at local Council by Hills residents. The numerous objections raised concerns relating to traffic, litter, noise, crime, impact on existing local businesses, locality opposite a Primary and Pre School, proximity within 1 kilometre of a National Park, the development not befitting the character of the Hills, the demolition of the historic Hazel Vale Dairy building which currently resides at the proposed site, local amenity issues and the fact that there are no 24 hour fast food outlets with drive-thrus in the entire Dandenong Ranges. On October 11th 2011, local Councillors met and voted on the proposed development. A reception centre had to be hired to stage this meeting as a record number of 650 local residents attended to hear the decision and once again voice their objections. The Shire of Yarra Ranges Council UNANIMOUSLY rejected the proposal. The McDonald’s Corporation then escalated the application to VCAT (Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal) for review. On October 10th 2012, VCAT overruled Yarra Ranges Council’s decision, deeming the overwhelming objections of the local community as “irrelevant“, and granted McDonald’s planning permission for this highly inappropriate and unwelcome development.
In Stonnington, The Supreme Court had dismissed the appeal against VCAT’s decision to approve Lend Lease’s permit application for a major development at 590 Orrong Road and 4 Osment Street, Armadale. Lend Lease Apartments (Armadale) Pty Ltd v Stonnington CC  VCAT 906 (10 July 2012) and (Stonnington City Council v Lend Lease Apartments (Armadale) Pty Ltd  VSC 505). 627 objections had been made in response to a development proposal to build 19 new buildings comprising 448 apartments and 18 townhouses. Among other things, the Court considered whether the Tribunal’s conduct in declining to take into account the number of objections constituted an error. In that case, the Court found that the Tribunal had not erred. In what appears to be an attempt to justify Justice Emerton’s comments, the Bill seeks to ensure consideration can be given to the extent of objection in assessing whether a proposed use or development may have a significant social effect, however, only in appropriate cases.
Stonnington Mayor, Cr Matthew Koce said: “This is a dark day for democracy.
“It is disappointing that Council’s appeal has been dismissed. The permit was unanimously rejected by the Council, local MPs, and residents. A massive 600 objections to the development were received on this planning application proposing 466 units at a height of up to 13 storeys. No-one wants a 13 storey monstrosity going up next to their home and VCAT’s decision to issue a permit despite more than 600 objections is devastating for the local community. Council took a stand in challenging VCAT’s decision in the Supreme Court and to advocate on behalf of the community for a sensible and responsible community outcome. I call on the State Government to urgently reform its planning system. The Minister must recognise community views and the angst that occurs when developments are imposed that are not in keeping with neighbourhood character. The Minister has the power to ensure planning controls are put in place, which reflect community views as part of the current residential planning zones reform. The City of Stonnington will continue to push for a positive outcome for residents concerned about the controversial Armadale development site. Residents have a right to speak up and be heard about what’s being built next door to them, especially when they’ll be living in the shadow of such a large overdevelopment of a key site. We are once again calling on the State Government to make a timely decision on the Planning Scheme Amendment that has been submitted to the Minister for approval.”