Now you're a councillor

Now you're a councillor

A site for women councillors in Victorian local government

A complex world

The Victorian Government’s Department of Environment, Land Water and Planning has overarching responsibility for strategic and statutory land-use planning in Victoria, including managing the state-wide regulatory framework.

Statutory land-use planning in practice is the mechanics around issuing planning permits, it’s about the details of individual cases and where they sit in the land-use strategy. Statutory planning involves assessing applications, not automatic approvals, because some proposals are not consistent with the controls and policy relating to the site.

Strategic land-use planning is about the long term and the bigger picture for the municipality (and sometimes the region) as it evolves.

Under Victoria’s planning system local councils develop planning schemes to control land use and development, and to ensure the protection and conservation of land. Local government is therefore often at the forefront of dealing with competing community interests and conflicts between short term and long-term planning which are often outside their immediate control.

The Victorian Planning and Environment Act 1987 provides the fundamental tools, processes and framework for land use planning. Government policy and requirements guiding the interpretation of the Act change from time to time. Councillors and planners need to consider this legal framework when undertaking local planning.

Planning moderates the development process, seeking a better outcome for communities and more orderly development for developers and landowners.
Generally, councils have a department or section called the Planning Department or similar (read “land use” planning) which implements and enforces statutory planning responsibilities – anything which is regulated by a piece of state or commonwealth land use or environmental legislation. The Building Department or section oversees the administration of the building regulation and may also issue some building permits – often projects involving the physical building or renovation of new and old structures require both a planning and a building permit.

Planning and conflict

Each council prepares its own planning scheme setting out how land is to be used and developed, using the state-wide Victoria Planning Provisions which prescribe requirements for new developments, vegetation protection, and include the zones for various kinds of land use. The Minister for Planning must approve changes to a council’s planning scheme.

Planning, especially land use planning, is complex and often generates conflict because:

  • It is hard and deals with technically complex areas
  • It brings together complex matters for consideration
  • There is often inherent conflict – for example, between development impacts on the natural environment and the need to generate employment
    Stakeholders can confuse their own goals and interests with the law and local politics
  • It is often about weighing up change and status quo, and change can be threatening
  • Many people with different and sometimes opposing interest are involved
  • It is import that decisions consider the interests of future generations
  • People have a lot at stake in planning decisions because of lifestyle, investment, job opportunities, and community culture as expressed through land and structures.

It helps to understand these concerns, but councillors need to balance these differing views in terms of net community benefit and sustainable development.

Strategic planning essential

These decisions need to be guided by state and local land use planning policies and provisions which set out the long term strategic directions for the municipality. These directions are set through an overall council plan and a community plan if your municipality has one. Land-use plans also need to be guided by the professional advice of council town planners, and other key staff such as drainage and traffic engineers.
You can start learning about this by:

  • being familiar with the Municipal Strategic Statement MSS
  • reading the information on the relevant Victorian Government website
  • requesting overview briefings from your council’s professional staff on planning
  • finding other reliable sources of information
  • attending councillor training which may be offered by the MAV and the VLGA.

Eventually you will be able to get your head around the big picture, which is what councillors need to undertake their roles most effectively.  Women have historically been very important in raising social and environmental issues and seeing issues strategically and from valuable new perspectives. As a new councillor, you can be a key player in encouraging planning decisions to look at new issues within a broader holistic context, rather than from a short term economic or political “survival” perspective.