The Major Transport Projects Facilitation Bill 2009 (Vic) (Bill) will facilitate the more cost-efficient delivery of critical transport infrastructure projects by creating a one-stop shop for the assessment and approvals process. At this stage, it is estimated that the Bill will commence on 1 November 2009.

The Bill is one of the new pieces of legislation introduced by the Brumby Government as part of the Victorian Transport Plan. It is envisaged that the Bill will expedite several key projects in the Victorian Transport Plan such as Peninsula Link, Melbourne Metro Rail, and completion of the M1 Monash-CityLink-West Gate upgrade.

Scope of the Bill

The Bill will only apply to ‘declared projects’. These are transport infrastructure projects that are of economic, social or environmental significance to the State or a region of the State. The Governor and the Executive Council, on recommendation from the Premier, may declare the projects to which the Bill will apply. The Government will shortly release guidelines concerning what types of transport projects are likely to qualify as ‘declared projects’.

Features of the Bill

The Bill implements three key changes - the implementation of two new assessment processes for projects, the creation of a one-stop shop for all approvals, and the limitation of the ability to review decisions.

‘Declared projects’ will either be assessed by the Planning Minister (under the Impact Management Plan process), or by an Assessment Committee appointed by the Planning Minister (those projects requiring a Comprehensive Impact Statement). The Impact Management Plan (IMP) assessment process will only be used for projects involving land that is owned by a public authority or reserved for a public purpose, as these only require limited approvals and no public consultation. Projects that would have typically triggered statutory approvals and public consultations will be assessed under the Comprehensive Impact Statement (CIS) process.

The main difference between the two processes is that the CIS will be exhibited for public comment with submissions reviewed by an Assessment Committee. Although the CIS will take longer than the IMP process, both these processes still aim to reduce the time taken to assess and approve major transport projects by an average of 12-15 months.

Once a project is ‘declared’, a public authority is appointed to facilitate the development of the project. The authority is responsible for addressing the requirements of the IMP and CIS processes. Furthermore it has the power to initiate the acquisition of land, negotiate with utility providers and act on behalf of the Government in engaging contractors to undertake the project.

In addition to the public authority’s streamlined project delivery powers, the Minister for Planning will also have enhanced decision-making powers. The Minister for Planning can determine all required approvals but must do so within strict time limits. This will facilitate the completion of major transport projects within a shorter time frame. This one-stop shop will ensure greater consistency in the approvals granted.

The Bill clearly aims to facilitate the faster delivery of major transport projects. However, in order to achieve quicker completion of projects, the ability to appeal or seek a review of decisions is limited. The only decision that may be reviewed is the final approval decision of the Minister for Planning.

Outcomes sought by the Bill

The Bill aims to significantly reduce the time required to plan, approve and deliver specific major transport projects by creating a single assessment and approvals process. This one-stop shop approach will address current problems caused by multiple processes and the duplication of approvals. Furthermore, the introduction of the Bill will avoid the need for project-specific legislation used in the past, such as the EastLink Projects Act 2004 (Vic).

The backdrop to the Major Transport Projects Facilitation Bill is the $38 billion worth of projects proposed as part of the Victorian Transport Plan. It is these types of projects - ‘declared projects’, those that are urgent, complex and have major significance for the State - which will predominantly be affected by the Bill.