The Victorian Minister for Planning has introduced a bill to amend the Planning and Environment Act1987 (Act) that would make the number of objections to a planning permit application a relevant consideration for decision makers.
Specifically, a responsible authority or the Tribunal will be required to (where appropriate) have regard to the number of objectors in considering whether a use or development may have a significant social effect.
In his second reading speech the Minister emphasized that the number of objectors alone will not establish that there is a significant social effect. However, the number of objectors may be indicative of the scale of a social effect on the community, the presence of a specific social need in the community that may be affected, or the social significance of a site to the community.
According to the Minister, whether it is appropriate for the number of objectors to be taken into account in a particular case will be a matter for the decision-maker but that the decision maker may be influenced by:
- what the objectors have said in their written objection about the proposed use or development;
- whether the issues raised in the objections are relevant planning considerations and relate to the reasons why the proposal requires a permit; and
- whether the issues raised in the objections point to a significant social effect on the community which is supported by evidence.
The Bill is likely a response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Stonnington City Council v Lend Lease Apartments (Armadale) Pty Ltd  VSC 505 which affirmed that the number of objections will generally not be a factor to be considered by the Tribunal and will only be a relevant consideration in certain types of applications. The Court confirmed that local government decision makers should generally only have regard to the substantive grounds of objection to planning proposals.
If passed, this Bill will likely encourage the use of petitions and large-scale pro forma submissions as a means of influencing planning decisions, primarily in cases involving controversial uses such as high density development, uses with potential adverse amenity and uses with perceived social effects such as gaming and licences premises.
If enacted, the Bill is scheduled to commence on 14 April 2016, unless it is proclaimed earlier.