Red tape tangles: How long your council takes to decide on permits
Lucy Sinclair and her 17-month-old twins, Everly and Harvey, pose for a photo at the construction site of their home, in Northcote, Melbourne. November 10th 2017. Photo: Daniel Pockett Lucy Sinclair and her 17-month-old twins, Everly and Harvey, pose for a photo at the construction site of their home, in Northcote, Melbourne. November 10th 2017. Photo: Daniel Pockett
Victorians’ building permits are being delayed for months on end as processing times balloon in some local councils, government data shows.
Manningham council, in Melbourne’s north-east, is the slowest council, according to a statewide analysis of the median number of days each council took to decide on a planning application in 2015-16. In Manningham, the median was 166 days ??? more than double the state average of 69 days.
Dandenong and Hume councils were not far behind with median response rates of 135 days for the former and 127 days for the latter. Overall, there were 10 councils in metropolitan Melbourne with a median response rate above 100 days.
In regional Victoria, Baw Baw’s median decision time of 96 days was the longest followed by the Surf Coast’s 90 days.
Many councils have been inundated with complex planning applications for new developments, slowing their overall response times.
But the often sluggish state of town planning means homeowners’ renovation plans can turn into lengthy and expensive affairs.
Master Builders’ Association chief executive Radley de Silva said planning delay pile-ups increased the costs of building at a time when the state was experiencing population growth and housing affordability problems.
“Building proposals that languish in bureaucracy and become entangled in red tape add unnecessary costs for everyone,” he said.
“We need some sort of centralised decision making for planning that will take appropriate decisions out of the hands of councils to address these delays.”
Lucy and James Sinclair first submitted an application to renovate their small Northcote house in July 2015, hoping to add some space before they had children. It was approved four months later.
They then scaled back their plans to save money, submitting an amended application to extend the rear of their semi-detached house ??? a renovation they thought was a “simple, low-cost build”.
After paying a second $1500 application fee to Darebin council, their amended application took another three months to be approved. During this time, they moved into a rental after Ms Sinclair gave birth to twins.
“We’ve been paying the mortgage, and the cost of renovations, and rent as well so it’s pretty tough,” said Ms Sinclair.
“At the end of the day, we’re paying them for a service [and] we’re paying rates,” she said. “We should get a lot better customer service and a lot better two-way communication.”
In response, Darebin council provided documentation showing the Sinclairs’ plans had compliance issues that required changes before a permit was issued.
The Municipal Association of Victoria defended local government planning processes, noting decision times varied due to the volume and complexity of applications.
“Statewide, 60 per cent of all planning applications are decided within statutory timeframes (60 days), and more than 90 per cent are made under delegation by council officers,” president Mary Lalios said.
Ms Lalios said more than half of all applications required further information from the applicant, or the application needed to be referred to authorities like VicRoads or the Environment Protection Authority, which increased decision timeframes.
“While councils are always working to improve their decision times, we must remember that a fast assessment doesn’t necessarily equal a good outcome for the community,” she said.
There are also inconsistencies in the data. For example, some councils do not count weekends in their statistics.
Other councils, like Manningham, have recorded a dramatic spike in the number of received applications. A Manningham spokesperson said the council had reviewed their processes and improved decision timeframes since 2016.
Hume council’s planning director Kelvin Walsh said it was working with the state government to streamline its system. Mr Walsh also said the council contained “many developing neighbourhoods” which meant planning applications were more complex than other parts of Melbourne.
Greater Dandenong’s planning director Jody Bosman said it had significantly reduced the median number of days for decisions. Baw Baw council said it was one of the fastest growing municipalities in regional Victoria and large residential subdivisions meant planning applications were becoming more complex.