To the Spring Edition of our Legal Brief where we will outline recent legal changes in the Local Government and Planning sector as well as consider what the Shire’s population may look like in 2051. We appreciate that you would already be aware of many of these changes and new government policies though are available as a resource for answering your queries or providing further information on any issue raised.
Planning for an ageing population
Recently, the Victorian State Government released ‘Victoria in Future 2014’, the Government’s official projection of population and household growth across Victoria from 2011 to 2051. The projections indicate that Victoria’s population will nearly double during that period from 5.5 million to nearly 10 million.
Where does the Mount Alexander region fit into these projections? With a projected population increase of around 1% annually, Mount Alexander is not expected to experience the same degree of overall growth as other areas of Victoria.
However, what is significant for the Mount Alexander region is the projected shift in age demographic of the population. While it’s no secret that Victoria’s population is ageing, the impact of this will be felt more keenly in regions like Mount Alexander where the percentage of residents aged 65 or older is projected to increase from 20.5% in 2011 to 32.1% in 2031.
The town planning and service delivery implications of this would include:
- an increase in the demand for affordable and quality aged care services;
- the development of age-friendly infrastructure to ensure older people can remain active and independent. The planning, design and construction of environments for older people, in both the public and private domain, would need to be considered at each stage of the planning process;
- the availability of affordable, accessible and suitable housing options. Flexible models of accommodation would need to be provided while at the same time fostering supportive environments and independence; and
- a declining demand for certain types of community facilities such as recreation and sporting facilities that are not necessarily suitable for an ageing population. Though, of course, a balance would need to be struck in relation to the provision of various categories of services and amenities to keep the region attractive to all ages.
Update on Water Bill 2014
We originally wrote an article in our January brief about the release of the Exposure Draft of the Water Bill 2014 for public comment. The government received 151 written submissions on the Exposure Draft.
Since that time, Minister for Water Peter Walsh has introduced the updated Bill to Parliament and the second reading took place on 26 June 2014. He said:
“over the past 20 years… Victoria’s water legislation has ballooned in size and complexity. The Water Act 1989 is cumbersome and can be hard to follow. It is no longer adequate for the water management challenges Victoria faces. These challenges include helping a rapidly growing urban population become more self-sufficient, doubling the state’s capacity to produce food and fibre by 2030, and preserving and improving the health of waterways. This bill will help Victoria deal with these challenges by removing the impediment of cumbersome legislation, and establishing the best possible basis for managing water.”
Changes made since the exposure draft include:
- the inclusion of a whole of water cycle management planning framework to implement actions from the government’s Melbourne’s Water Future strategy;
- further refinements to the statutory liability regime;
- improvements to powers of entry to construct and install certain infrastructure;
- the term ‘infrastructure’ is now defined, and replaces the term ‘works’; and
- amendments in accordance with the Water Amendment (Flood Mitigation) Bill 2014 and the Water Amendment (Water Trading) Bill 2014.
Many other minor amendments were made including savings and transitional provisions to facilitate a smooth transition between the legislative schemes.
The bill is intended to come into effect on 1 January 2016.
Overhaul of Minor Planning Permit Processing
It’s now September 2014 which means VicSmart minor planning permit applications are set to be introduced.
VicSmart is intended to “speed up the assessment of straightforward, low impact applications and provide certainty to applicants, councils and their communities.” It is expected that approximately 10% of planning permit applications will be subject to the new VicSmart system.
As you would be aware, the term VicSmart covers changes to the Planning and Environment Act and Regulations which will prescribe:
- 10 business days after which an application for review of a failure to grant a permit for a VicSmart application may be made;
- five business days within which the Responsible Authority may require further information and stop the statutory clock; and
- require the Responsible Authority to specify in the planning register whether an application is a VicSmart application.
Requirements for advertising of these applications will also be stripped back.
Planning Schemes will also be amended from this month to identify which types of applications are to be made subject to the new VicSmart system but are likely to include things such as fencing applications, signage applications for residential areas, changes to car spaces, removal of vegetation in urban areas, works to heritage zoned buildings, works up to a value of $50,000 in business and industrial area, realignment of common land boundaries and other minor subdivisions.
Update on changes to the VCAT Act.
In our previous brief, we advised that the VCAT Act was coming into operation on or before 1 February 2015. An earlier commencement date was proclaimed on 27 May 2014 and the Act came into force on 2 June 2014.
Council performance reporting
As part of the 2014 Victorian Budget, Dennis Napthine announced a further $12.5 million over the next four years to be directed to the local government sector as part of the ‘building better local government’ reforms.
The Local Government Inspectorate will receive an additional $9.9 million to allow it to meet its obligations under the expanded Local Government Act 1989 (for an overview of the changes, please see our April 2014 brief).
The remaining funding will be directed to a ‘My Council’ website modelled on the My School website introduced in 2010. The Minister for Local Government Tim Bull has explained that the website is intended to allow residents and ratepayers to see how their council compares to other similar councils and how their rates are being spent which will help drive improvements across the local government sector.