‘Fear of public input’: Anger as planning system inquiry delayed

Talking points

  • The inquiry into protections in the planning framework received 260 submissions.
  • A parliamentary committee will recommend the inquiry is picked up next term.
  • The decision has caused anger among industry and community groups.

A full parliamentary inquiry into the Victorian planning system has been shelved, angering property and heritage groups desperate for reform.

The upper house inquiry – focused on housing affordability, sustainability, heritage, green wedges and planning controls – received more than 260 submissions before being indefinitely delayed this term of government, in a decision RMIT planning professor Michael Buxton claimed was stifling public criticism and input.

Labor dumped a package of planning changes earlier this year.Credit:Justin McManus

The inquiry will no longer have public hearings and the committee will produce only an interim report recommending a full inquiry be completed in the next term of government.

The decision was confirmed by email just days after the Andrews government walked away from plans to clear red tape for the property industry while taxing developers to fund new social housing, in a separate fallout with the sector.

Labor does not control the planning and environment committee, which features three government MPs out of 10 members. It is not publicly known which members were present for the decision to delay the inquiry.

In an email to those who filed a submission, committee manager Michael Baker said there was no time to complete a full inquiry before the November state election.

RMIT planning professor Michael Buxton.Credit:Pat Scala

“It is not going to be possible to undertake the planning framework inquiry in the manner that such an important issue demands,” he said on February 28.

Fiona Nield, Victorian executive of the Housing Industry Association, said she had shared her disappointment with the committee after learning it would produce only an interim report.

“Planning reforms is something that’s very high on our agenda,” she said. “We’re very disappointed about this.”

Professor Buxton said reforms were needed to properly protect built and natural heritage, describing existing provisions as a joke.

“Regrettably, debate on such a vital issue as heritage has been postponed because the government doesn’t want to provide residents with a means to point out such widespread failure,” he said. “This is a government which fears public participation. If ever such an inquiry was needed, it is now.”

Committee chair and Labor MP Sonja Terpstra said it was important to remember the committee was independent of the government and did not have a Labor majority. She argued an interim report would be thorough and had the potential to include findings.

“The assumption that an interim report is not appropriate is misguided,” she said. “Unfortunately, there is disinformation and misunderstandings being prosecuted about how parliamentary committees function. This is disappointing.”

Ms Terpstra said the committee decided the inquiry was too important to be rushed.

The committee is currently completing another inquiry, which was referred by Parliament first.

Deputy committee chair Clifford Hayes, from Sustainable Australia, shared the frustration of industry groups and advocates. He said the make-up of the next Parliament and its support for the inquiry was not guaranteed, and the committee should not be waiting for the election to pass.

Simon Ambrose, Victorian chief executive of the National Trust, said the heritage group had consulted hundreds of experts and community members to prepare its submission.

“The core problem is continued inaction and an ongoing failure by successive state governments to adequately resource the management of Victoria’s heritage by government and private owners,” he said. “The decision to delay the inquiry just reinforces this.”

Danni Hunter, Victorian executive director of the Property Council, encouraged Parliament to continue looking at planning changes to lock in housing affordability and investment.

A government spokeswoman said Victoria’s better apartment design guidelines would deliver quality homes and communities while Labor embarks on its landmark $5.3 billion Big Housing Build to provide 12,000 new social and affordable homes.

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