Planning decisions and good governance

Making planning decisions is a complicated business.

There’s community interests, commercial pressures, legal issues, site parameters and market demands – all framed by planning laws and policies which may or may not be very relevant to today (let alone the future).

In terms of complex decisions of government, it’s probably on par with assessing the most complex of commercial tax arrangements.

So the way that governments make these complex planning decisions is therefore vital.

You might win or lose, you might be a proponent or an objector, but you need to be able to have faith in the process and accept the umpire’s decision. Fundamentally, you need to have confidence that decisions will get made on their planning merits, not on the basis of political crosswinds. 

It’s called good governance and it is a core ingredient of Australia’s enviable reputation as an investment destination.

So the industry was rightly stunned last week when the Victorian Upper House utilised a rarely-used legislative clause to revoke two lawfully issued planning consents based completely on political considerations.

The projects related to an over-station development at Ormond associated with the Victorian Government undergrounding of Melbourne level crossings, and the Markham Estate public housing project. Both had successfully navigated the planning process and were approved by the Minister.

The Property Council does not express views on individual projects, so we make no assessment of the merits of these proposals.

However as an exercise in good governance, this is a shocker.

Politicians using a political chamber to let off steam on a controversial issue is not new. But actively overturning the legitimate decisions of consent authorities is quite another.

What’s worse, the Victorian Opposition (which correctly railed against the Andrews Government tearing up the East-West tunnel contract) has signalled its intention to keep using this power.

Planning processes should be transparent, efficient and fair. This dangerous precedent is none of those things.