UDIA recently communicated to the Planning Minister’s office and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning its finalised position on discretionary height provisions. This position communicates UDIA’s view that there exists a series of discrepancies in the way discretionary heights are set, interpreted and implemented.
In coming to this position, UDIA undertook a thorough analysis of decisions regarding applications to exceed discretionary heights that were referred to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT). A close look at a number of these VCAT decisions proved there are distinct criteria consistently used by VCAT to approve or abandon applications that seek to exceed discretionary height limits set in place.
However, UDIA found that this clear-cut framework used by VCAT was not mirrored in earlier council approval decisions regarding the same project applications. Thus, many cases were referred onto this next authority, resulting in time delays that ultimately cost both the government and developers money.
Furthermore, some cases showed confusion from local residents regarding the appropriateness of projects looking to exceed the discretionary height limits, where VCAT would deem the same project suitable in its context. This misperception stems from inconsistency in the application of preferred discretionary heights that are generally at odds with state planning policy and objectives. The result of this is an unrealistic expectation of the height of developments that will be proposed in municipalities, as discretionary height limits imply one thing, yet planning objectives seek to achieve something different.
UDIA has encouraged the Government to implement discretionary height controls that provide further clarity and cultivate realistic expectations amongst both councils and residents. The UDIA advocates for more streamlined processes in both the setting and execution of discretionary height limits, as this will significantly reduce timely and costly delays, as well as promote public goodwill towards much needed development in Melbourne’s established suburbs.