Changes to the operation of the VCAT Planning & Environment List are imminent!

What is the issue?

At the end of 2014, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal  announced changes proposed to be implemented to its Planning and Environment List from
2 February 2015 which will affect the way this List operates for all applicants, respondents and responsible authorities.

What does it mean for me?

All clients with exposure to the jurisdiction of VCAT, including as proponents, objectors, referral authorities and responsible authorities will be impacted by these changes which we consider will streamline this List to follow a similar mode of operation to the Major Cases List, a subset of the Planning and Environment List.

VCAT advised of the following four key changes in a recent media release.

  1. Initiating orders will be sent out for all matters in the Planning and Environment List.  These orders will specify hearing dates and any compulsory conference or mediation dates.  This changes from the current position where parties are not advised of a hearing date until later in the process.
  2. Alternative dispute resolution using the expert services of the mediators at VCAT will be further encouraged by notification of the date for attendance at a compulsory conference or mediation at the outset of proceedings.  The current position relies on solicitors advising their clients of the method and process of mediation at VCAT in order to attempt to resolve the dispute by mutually acceptable terms for all parties.
  3. Email is proposed to be the ‘preferred method’ of communication with parties and their advisors, rather than posting orders and hearing dates out in hard copy by ordinary post.
  4. New application forms will facilitate the early provision of required documentation and additional details. This includes a copy of the planning permit application, plans and supporting material lodged by the applicant for permit,  detail regarding objectors and whether a cultural heritage management plan has been prepared.

These changes are reflective of the new Major Cases List process, whereby applicants are provided with standard initiating directions setting out all relevant hearing dates together with a timetable for other procedural steps.  In our experience, this new method significantly expedites the hearing and determination of a matters, and if possible the early resolution of a dispute without jeopardising the allocated hearing date.

These changes will predominantly affect applications for review of the decision to grant (or not to grant) a permit, failure to decide appeals and applications for review of conditions of permit.  Enforcement matters will instead be referred to an initial practice day hearing.

What are the next steps?

Until 2 February 2015, VCAT advise that the old methods and procedures will be applied to applications for review.  At that time, finer details regarding the new procedures will be clarified.  Parties should seek legal advice regarding the impact of the announcement on any future matters proposed to be filed in VCAT.

This was first posted on the VGSO Blog.

Author: Eliza M Bergin

Eliza practises in public and commercial law. She has specialist capabilities in planning and environment law and public inquiries. Eliza appears in all major jurisdictions including Federal and State Courts, Tribunals, Inquiries and Royal Commissions. In 2019-2020, Eliza is appointed one of the Counsel Assisting the Aged Care Royal Commission. Eliza practised for 17 years as a solicitor in large commercial and government firms prior to coming to the Bar. Eliza has appeared in large, high profile, long running and often complex cases for clients. She applies a strategic and practical approach.