As of 3 January 2012, VCAT has reinstated its Major Cases List.
The Major Cases List aims to speed up the planning appeal process for planning disputes that concern high-cost developments.
The Major Cases List was originally introduced in early 2010, but was suspended in March 2011 after it ran out of funding.
Who does the (reinstated) List apply to? Permit applicants with developments over $5 million (if it does not include a dwelling) or $10 million (if it does include a dwelling) can apply to have their case listed in the Major Cases List.
Permit applicants can also apply to have applications lodged by objectors transferred to the List.
For planning disputes in the List, VCAT will aim to have a final hearing within 14 weeks of the application being lodged, with a decision 4 weeks after that.
The List works on a user-pays basis. If permit applicants want their case heard in the List, they must pay a fee – it varies depending on the type of appeal, but it is around $3,000.
The Major Cases List has some serious problems, particularly for rural and regional objectors.
The EDO wrote to the President of VCAT in 2010 noting our concerns that accelerated hearings in the Major Cases List meant that objectors (who usually had jobs and other commitments) were forced to travel down to Melbourne several times in the space of a few weeks. In its previous incarnation, VCAT had refused to hold hearings in regional areas, and had shown reluctance to allow for phone link-ups for objectors.
The new version of the List does not propose to fix these problems. In fact, it compounds them by requiring eligible developers to pay quite handsomely for the privilege of a speedier hearing, giving the developer a sense of ownership and entitlement to the hearing process. Such user-pays justice is a disturbing incursion into the independence of the Tribunal.
Objectors facing problems with the new List should feel free to contact the EDO with any questions.