Thursday 04/10/2012 Jane Lee, The Age
PLANNING Minister Matthew Guy has hatched a plan to avoid a Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal hearing days before it is due to start – by changing a law so the hearing cannot go ahead.
Mr Guy approved a plan for several houses to be built along the coast near Narrawong, near Portland.
This decision was appealed by environmental activist group Friends of the Surry, and a hearing was scheduled to begin on Monday.
But the group yesterday received a letter from Mr Guy – seen by The Age – that said he would change the Glenelg planning scheme so that these, and any developments in the area, would no longer require a permit.
The group's lawyer, Nicholas Croggon, said he was preparing to argue that Mr Guy's decision had been inconsistent with the state government's policies, which require permits to take into consideration the appropriateness of the development in line with environmental concerns, such as coastal erosion.
''By changing the planning scheme, the minister's effectively taken away the ability for his decision to be scrutinised as to whether it's consistent with those policies or not,'' he said.
Mr Croggon said it was rare for such action to be taken so close to the hearing date. ''The minister has a very broad discretion under planning laws to make decisions like this … this shows us that those discretions need to be narrowed.''
An online explanatory report on the amendment said it would ''provide certainty for coastal development within the Rural Living Zone in the Narrawong area.
''The amendment will also hand back responsibility for administering and enforcing the Glenelg Planning Scheme for land generally located along and near the coast … to the Glenelg Shire Council.''
The change to the scheme is expected to come into effect today.
Mr Guy was not available for comment.