Presentation by Diane Chester
The Resident’s role in the planning process – a personal experience
In late 2009, a yellow sign caught my attention – I was about to embark on a very steep learning curve, and become a regular visitor to the Phoenix Building planning department desk.
One of the important things I want you to read here is that an applicant or developer has the right to submit plans for anything they like. That is their right! But, residents have an equal right to contribute. I use the word contribute because I don’t like the fact that residents who care about their community and want to be involved in the planning process are given the negative label of objector.
I, like many residents of Ballarat East, welcome development as long as it is respectful of the surroundings, guided by the planning scheme, and supported by council strategies. However, in most cases we would prefer that more considerate applications were submitted, saving everyone a lot of time and effort.
It is the job of the Council Planning Department to provide a neutral ground for mediation between the applicant and the concerned resident. An applicant will submit an application in the opening gambit to gaining maximum return. If there are no concerned residents playing their part then the Planning Department might have few reasons to refuse the application.
An objection to an application must be based on some breach of the planning scheme or council strategy. The planning process can take a few different paths but ultimately if a decision is made that someone is not happy with then VCAT will decide, and VCAT is primarily guided by the State and Local Planning Scheme. This Planning Scheme is available on the internet; it is a huge document!
For info on the Ballarat Planing Scheme go to http://www.ballarat.vic.gov.au/building-and-planning/strategic-planning/ballarat-planning-scheme.aspx
For the state planning scheme go to http://planningschemes.dpcd.vic.gov.au/ and http://www.vic.gov.au/property-planning/planning-land-use/planning-schemes.html
Individuals often feel too small to make a difference, so it is very important to talk to neighbours, letter drop, share information and knowledge, and support each other. It is amazing how many people are out there who are also concerned but feel helpless.
It is also important that you contact your local Councillors, who are elected to represent you. A planning application can either just go through the Planning Department and be processed by a planning officer or, if there is significant interest and concern, Councillors can ‘call it in’ to be voted on at a council meeting. From our experience, the outcome is better for the residents if you can get your Councillors to understand and support your concerns.
Whatever the final decision of the Council, both parties have the right to take the application to VCAT to argue against that decision.
VCAT’s purpose is to provide Victorians with a low cost, accessible, efficient and independent tribunal. The tribunal aims to provide high quality, low cost dispute resolution. If you do the hard work early and convince the Planning Department to moderate or refuse the application, it is more likely that the applicant will incur the cost of the VCAT application.
Ballarat East residents have had some experience at VCAT and each time we have had a win. Sometimes small, sometimes big, but always a win!
Ballarat East residents have been responding to an increasing number of applications and we wanted some guidelines in place that provide some direction for appropriate, respectful development for the area.
There are already significant aspects of the Planning Scheme in place that support residents and guide planning in Ballarat East, such as the Vegetation Protection Overlay, and the Environmental Significance Overlay relating to the Koala Plan of Management. Strategies nearing completion include the Activity Centre Strategy that defines the location of Activity Centres for Ballarat, and the Open Space Strategy. More often than not, applicants totally disregard these aspects of planning control. The Planning officers who receive the application are, like many of us, overworked and are more likely to take the path of least resistance and approve the application if no one objects. It frustrates me that Council has gone to the effort of creating amendments to the Planning Scheme and then doesn’t use them as intended. Ratepayers money is used to develop these amendments.
Ballarat Council is justifiably excited about the Ballarat West Growth Zone. But the East deserves just as much respect – we pay rates too (I paid rates of $3000 last month). With some properly applied guidelines for planning, such as a neighbourhood overlay or similar, we could hopefully streamline the process and not put such a drain on resources that could be better used for the benefit of Ballarat in general.
Ballarat East is special. It is environmentally significant; it is an important component of the wildlife corridor and the gateway to an award winning major tourist area. Ballarat prides itself on its heritage. The Collins Dictionary definition of ‘Heritage’ is anything that can be inherited. Ballarat East is our environmental heritage which if not protected will be gone for ever. It is worth protecting and – as stated in the Planning Scheme but also usually ignored – enhancing.
I encourage residents to get involved and learn about how they can help shape their community. Ballarat East Network is happy to share our experience in order to protect and guide the future of this area. Please contact us if you have any questions at any time, by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org