: Minister for Planning changes the rules 
to avoid scrutiny

Minister for Planning changes the rules 
to avoid scrutiny

Nicholas Croggon

On 8 October 2012, VCAT was due to hear a planning appeal by a small environment group, Friends of the Surry Inc, against a series of decisions by the Minister for Planning, Matthew Guy. The appeal was against the Minister’s decisions to grant planning permits allowing residential development along the coast in the south-west of Victoria, near the little town of Narrawong.

Friends of the Surry opposed the decisions, arguing they were inconsistent with the rules that protect the coast from inappropriate development, as set out in the Glenelg Shire Planning Scheme, and the Victorian Coastal Strategy. The developments, most of which were within 100 metres of the coast, could not only damage the delicate coastal environment, but themselves were at serious risk of coastal erosion. Friends of the Surry looked to a report commissioned by the local council in 2010, which suggested that by 2070 and 2100, the lots may have almost completely disappeared into the ocean.

However, two business days before the hearing, the Minister for Planning took an extraordinary step: he amended the Planning Scheme to insert specific rules meaning that the sites in dispute no longer needed planning permits. The appeals therefore no longer had any basis to continue.

Under the Planning and Environment Act 1987, the Minister for Planning has a broad discretion to make decisions such as this. The Environment Defenders Office have long argued that the Act gives the minister too much discretion, often allowing good planning to be sacrificed to short-term political goals.

The Minister’s actions demonstrate the need to narrow the Minister’s discretion under Victorian planning law, so that decisions about planning can always be subject to proper scrutiny.

NICHOLAS CROGGON is a solicitor at the Environment Defenders Office Victoria, a community legal centre that helps people use the law to protect the environment.

(2012) 37(4) AltLJ 291
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