Mr DIMOPOULOS (Oakleigh)—It gives me great pleasure to speak on this bill. This has been a big issue—I know other colleagues have said similar things—in my community, particularly around Carnegie, Ormond and around parts of Murrumbeena and Notting Hill, covering two different councils: Glen Eira and Monash. The many hundreds of people in my community whom I spoke to in relation to this specific issue feel quite let down by the previous government’s handling of development generally. In my view the bill addresses some of the current imbalances in the planning system. I disagree entirely that it is underwhelming. You are damned by the opposition if you make any little bit of progress in this area, and you are also damned if you do not do anything.

Just to be clear, the bill amends two key provisions of the Planning and Environment Act 1987—sections 60 and 84B—to set out that the responsible authority must consider, before deciding on a permit application, the volume of community objection and community concern. My issue with planning in the municipalities my electorate covers is that while there has been an increase in development pressure over the years, including in our previous time in government, the last few years under the previous government saw an acceleration of that pressure and in my view there was not a commensurate response by the previous government.

Firstly, we had the imposition of the commercial zones with no height limits. After that we had inconsistent application of residential zones. For example, Glen Eira City Council applied for and received from the then government and the then Minister for Planning a translation of the zones from the old to the new without consultation with the community. I remember the language from when I was on the Monash City Council—it said that it was a ‘direct translation’ between those incoming zones and the zones that existed. That is a misnomer; there is no direct translation. There is an approximate translation. My concern about that is that the new zones have different attributes to those that were ‘directly’ translated.

An example of that for my community, particularly around Carnegie, is around the streets on the south side of Neerim Road—streets like Shepparton Avenue, Belsize Avenue, Tranmere Avenue, Elliott Avenue and others. For any normal layperson Neerim Road would be quite a hard-and-fast border in terms of separating a clearly residential zone from an activity zone where the railway station and shopping centre are. The so-called direct translation meant that probably the first 10 houses or so on the south side of Neerim Road ended up being subject to this high-growth zone and the ability to have high-density development while the half the street does not have that. To me, that does not make sense. If that is what was meant by ‘direct translation’, it has failed.

There is an enormous amount of anecdotal evidence in Glen Eira specifically but in other areas in Monash as well where the development pressure is intense. Just the other week we had a decision by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) about a 12-storey apartment building in Carnegie—12 storeys! We are not talking about Richmond; we are talking about Carnegie. It will be the highest apartment building in Carnegie and the highest in the whole city of Glen Eira, and it is entirely inappropriate. That is one example.

I also have here a report from the City of Glen Eira from its meeting of 28 April. Item 9.8 on the agenda for that council meeting shows the number of new dwellings approved for the period before the residential zones came in and the number for the period after. In the 15 months before, May 2012 to July 2013, in Carnegie there were 92 new dwellings. In the 15 months after the new zones came in there were 221 new dwellings. That is an enormous increase. I do not necessarily ascribe every single one of those new dwellings to the residential zones, but you cannot look at those statistics and not find a causal relationship between those two things. Ormond in the same period went from 19 to 55, more than doubling.

This has been said before, but I have no issue with development. I have an issue with development that is out of step with community expectations. While community expectations are hard to define, if you do enough work, you can define what they are. My personal view is that VCAT is out of step with community  expectations. What ends up happening, in my view, is that councillors and council offices end up self-regulating in anticipation of a VCAT outcome.

You then start having conversations with the community, saying, ‘We should do this because you could get a far worse outcome at VCAT’. I do not think they are the kinds of conversations that are constructive.

This bill is not a magic pill—I want to make that really clear to my community—and it will not relieve all our development pressures. It will not be a magic pill for some of the most offensive development applications, unfortunately. It will, however, be one of a number of tools in our armoury as residents to fight the most excessive elements of development. This government is not just introducing one bill to equalise the current imbalance that exists between the planning system and residents. I note that the Minister for Planning has also released a discussion paper, Better Apartments. The minister and the government have made a commitment to review the implementation of residential zones later this year. This is the third initiative that makes changes to what VCAT and the authorities must consider. In my view these three things will together lead to an outcome which equalises the current power imbalance between residents and the development process.

I am proud to speak on this bill. I look forward to the other two initiatives announced by the government and the minister taking shape and starting to enhance the planning system for residents so that they have a say in the planning of their community and their future. I commend the bill to the house.

Mr STAIKOS (Bentleigh)—It is a pleasure to rise to speak on the Planning and Environment Amendment (Recognising Objectors) Bill 2015, which implements the government’s election commitment to require the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) where appropriate to take into account the extent of community opposition to planning proposals.

Like many in this house, I have served in local government as a councillor, and I now serve as a local member of Parliament, so I am fully aware of how emotive town planning can be. A day does not go by without somebody contacting my office to talk about a planning application that has been advertised. My electorate is a special place, with a market gardening heritage of which people are very proud. The suburb of Bentleigh was developed around the 1920s, and the Californian bungalows that line its residential streets are characteristic of Bentleigh. The suburb has a significant neighbourhood character.

I understand that earlier today the member for South Barwon referred to a neighbourhood character zone. If only such a zone existed! New residential zones were introduced by the Leader of the Opposition when he was planning minister, but a neighbourhood character zone is not one of them. I am not surprised that the member for South Barwon is not aware of that, given that the minister for Ventnor conducted his consultations around kitchen tables at Phillip Island. Members of this government operate in a different manner.

The zones introduced by the Leader of the Opposition when he was planning minister have absolutely been a problem. If we look at what is happening in the Bentleigh electorate, where we have a residential growth zone, we can see that four-storey buildings are being built with anything up to 40 apartments in residential streets, such as Bent Street and Mavho Street. I was down at Mavho Street the other day, and the local residents are absolutely beside themselves. I will tell you what: when the Leader of the Opposition was planning minister, it would have been great if he had taken a walk down Bent Street or Mavho Street instead of spending all that time in Ventnor; it would have been absolutely fantastic.

What is worse is that the local council and the former government introduced these zones without consultation. We have heard that this was a direct translation and that there is no need for consultation, but that is not the case, as we have heard from the member for Oakleigh. If we look at the council’s own statistics—which do not include the March quarter but include the 15 months prior to that—they show that in the residential growth zone in the suburb of Bentleigh development has doubled.

It is important to note when we talk about social effects that one of the social effects is on the McKinnon school zone. McKinnon Secondary College is a highly valued secondary school in this state. It is a public school, and I am very proud of it and proud that the Andrews government is investing $9 million to rebuild it.

Mr Pearson interjected.

Mr STAIKOS—Nine million dollars—zero from the other side, but $9 million from us. Quite rightly the school community and the principal are very concerned about the impact of development in these zones on the school population, which is already nearly 2000 students. It is a relatively small school zone, and within it are included a general residential zone and a residential growth zone. Quite rightly, this is a cause for concern.

I note that in an article in the Age this week on this very issue, the mayor of the City of Glen Eira acknowledged that the former government’s residential planning zones had made the area more attractive to developers. He also said that before too long the school would be accommodating 4000 students. I think that is a bit of hyperbole, but nonetheless, there is a problem to address. I am glad that the mayor now  acknowledges that perhaps these new residential zones are a problem, and the council needs to get on board to address this problem.

It makes absolute sense that this government would introduce legislation into this house to ensure that VCAT is democratised—that is, that VCAT takes into consideration the volume of objections to a development. We have heard of examples in the past where VCAT has said it does not take such considerations on board. One that I do not think has been mentioned today but was just outside my electorate is the case of Minawood Pty Ltd v. Bayside City Council, from a few years ago. VCAT said:

…numbers for or against a proposal are not relevant per se in administrative decision-making.

Last year a significant planning case in McKinnon concerned an application for a 24-apartment development in Penang Street. Fortunately the local council quite rightly rejected that application for 24 units on a street in McKinnon that currently accommodates 10 houses. That matter has been sent to VCAT, and more than 100 local people have objected to it. Their voices should be heard, and that is why this government has introduced this legislation.

The former shadow Minister for Planning, Brian Tee, who I acknowledge for  announcing this policy last year, visited Penang Street on two occasions. Despite many requests made of the Leader of the Opposition when he was planning minister, Penang Street was never visited by him, but Brian Tee met with the local residents, heard their views and listened to them, and today we are debating what is a good piece of  legislation, which I commend to the house.

AND PART OF MR. T.SMITH’S (KEW)ADDRESS

This amendment, however well meaning, will not actually change anything. This is the key point we have to make. The language used in the amendment is not a compulsion. There are too many ‘mays’, there are too many ‘shoulds’ and there are no ‘musts’. We all know that planning is one of those areas of public policy where frankly there are so many inconsistencies. It is comprehensively confusing most the time.

Unless you use the language of compulsion—the musts, not the shoulds—you end up with a situation in which very skilful lawyers at VCAT, essentially against local objectors, are able to drive a truck through community objections and allow large-scale developers to win the day.

We on this side of the house support the community’s right to object to what is to be built over their back fences or next door to their primary assets. I fundamentally believe the property rights of those folk who are already living in local areas ought to be defended against the applications for development made by other people that may undermine the value of the community’s primary assets. However, I do not believe in giving false hope to objectors or in encouraging councils to behave in a fashion whereby they attempt to hold up legitimate developments with genuine planning merit by claiming that there is a quantum of objectors greater than one might have expected. This bill does not change that. This amendment will not change the fact that at the end of the day responsible authorities should judge a planning application on its merits. It means that councils have to do the work to appropriately zone land in a way that is consistent with the expectations of the local community. Indeed the state government ought to have a mind to the wants and wishes of the local community.