Council’s planning dept gets tick of residents’ approval

David Braithwaite

WELLINGTON Shire Council’s planning department has had a rise in its customer satisfaction rate increase during the past five years.

Seventy-one per cent of planning permit applicants who took part in council’s customer satisfaction survey conducted last year rated their overall experience in dealing with the planning department as “excellent”, compared to 42 per cent in 2014.

The number of objectors to planning applications who rated their experience as “excellent” rose from nine per cent in 2014 to 75 per cent in 2019.

The results will be used as a benchmark for more customer satisfaction surveys and help council improve its customer service and statutory planning processes.

Council plans to re-implement annual local development industry forums to gain feedback into improving service and talk about strategic land use planning issues.

Councillor Darren McCubbin said the results were surprising, considering the nature of the planning process and angst caused for some applicants and objectors.

“We want people to live and work and play in the Wellington Shire, but we want that development to be appropriate and proper, so to create and maintain our wonderful lifestyle, we have a planning department which needs to balance the demands of an applicant with the absolute requirements of objectors to live in an area which is not spoiled,” he said.

“Few departments can claim that sort of improvement over a five-year period.

“The planning department is uniformly polite and respectful, they deal with the issues in a timely manner, they try as much as possible to create a mediated process whereby everyone gets a chance to speak.”

Meanwhile, council will release an amendment to the Wellington Planning Scheme, reflecting moves to streamline the application process, for public comment.

Amendment C109 relates to the implementation of the Planning in Economic Growth Zone (PEGZ) planning policy framework.

Following the closure of the Hazelwood mine and power station in 2016, the state government established the PEGZ project to improve the planning system and ensure development and investment can progress in a streamlined manner across the Wellington and Baw Baw shires and Latrobe City.

PEGZ was running alongside the state-wide Smart Planning program, which was aiming to reform Victoria’s planning system, making it more efficient, accessible and transparent.

Among the proposed changes to the planning scheme are amendments to planning zone and overlay schedules to improve their operation and reduce unnecessary permit triggers.

Deputy mayor Gayle Maher said the aim of the amendment was to provide a clear set of guidelines, delivering a greater level of certainty to the community and developers.

“This results in a far more efficient and transparent planning scheme, with less triggers requiring planning permits,” she said.

“I know this is a very positive outcome for our local communities.”

The planning scheme amendment won’t be released for public comment until the COVID-19 crisis passes.

When the process begins, if submissions are received, an independent planning panel will consider any issues raised.