Monday 17/06/2013 Jason Dowling, The Age
Residents and environment advocates fear price rises introduced at Victoria's planning tribunal will lead to far less scrutiny of the planning system.
Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal application fees have more than doubled to almost $800 in planning cases, and new hearing fees for some cases will be more than $1400 a day.
Attorney-General Robert Clark said the fees that came in on June 1 would ''restore a reasonable balance between taxpayer and user funding and provide VCAT with additional funds so it can hear more cases more quickly''.
He said the government had listened to community concerns and objectors would not have to pay fees when they oppose an application by a developer. But residents or community groups opposing a council decision at the tribunal will face the higher fees.
Felicity Millner, from the Environment Defenders Office, said the new fees would ''lead to less scrutiny of council decisions about planning matters, which may reduce the quality of planning decisions''.
She said cases that had the greatest impact were usually more complex and these cases would attract the biggest fees.
''This means that cases with a high degree of public interest may cost objectors many thousands of dollars in fees. We think that this might mean that many public interest cases will not get run,'' Ms Millner said.
She said one case involving a challenge to the dual gas power station proposed in the Latrobe Valley went for 22 days.
North Melbourne resident Jan Lacey, who has been involved with community group fights at the tribunal, said the new fees would affect community action.
''At $240 a time you can afford to go to VCAT; at $1000 a time plus hearing fees we have no hope in the world,'' she said.
Jennifer Cunich, Victorian executive director of the Property Council of Australia, said a new metropolitan planning strategy and new planning zones should add certainty to planning.