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Streamlining the Planning Process for Non-Government Schools_____

St Joseph's College STEM and Year 7 Building - Cox Architecture

Streamlining the Planning Process for Non-Government Schools

Across Melbourne, there is increasing demand for the timely delivery of both public and private services, including educational facilities.

Recognising this, The Victorian Government has approved a series of Planning Scheme Amendments which have sought to create a more streamlined and efficient planning process for upgrades to government and non-government schools. Planning Scheme Amendment VC165, (gazetted December 2019) represented the interim solution and made the Planning Minister the Responsible Authority for non-government school planning applications associated with the Non-Government Schools Capital Fund.

Last Friday 4 December 2020, Amendment VC180 expands on the ground set by VC165 creating a friendlier planning system for all non-government schools.

Purpose & Detail

To facilitate a more consistent, efficient and streamlined planning process and match non-government schools with government schools, the following changes were introduced as part of VC165:
  • State Policy at Clause 19.02-2S (Education facilities) has been amended and now includes additional strategies to support the expansion and upgrades of new schools. This Clause explicitly recognises that the built form of schools are different to dwellings.
  • The application of VicSmart to non-government schools projects in residential zones has been broadened with the maximum cost of development increased from $100,000 to $500,000. VicSmart applications are not subject to public notice and review, and are required to be determined within 10 days, and have limited application requirements.
  • Clause 53.19 (Non-government Schools) has been amended so that it applies to all applications (except VicSmart applications) for non-government primary and secondary schools. It will also apply to any ancillary education centre uses carried out in conjunction with the primary or secondary school (ie. a kindergarten or child care centre). Exemption is also provided from review (although the applications will still be subject to public notice).
  • Clause 72.01 (Responsible Authority for this Planning Scheme) has also been altered to designate the Minister for Planning as the Responsible Authority for:
    • a new non-government primary school or secondary school,
    • construction of buildings and works at an existing non-government school with an estimated cost of development of $3 million or greater,
    • ancillary education centre (such as a childcare centre or kindergarten) uses undertaken in conjunction with either a non-government primary school or secondary school on the same land or contiguous land in the same ownership,
    • existing applications lodged, or permits issued, under the interim particular provision at Clause 53.19 (Non-government Schools).

These changes represent a positive step towards assisting non-government schools, like government schools, to deliver upgrades in a more efficient manner.

But do the changes go far enough?

One interesting note is that the VicSmart provisions were only expanded for schools in residential zones, despite the fact that many schools are not located in residential zones. Whilst other zones typically already have broader VicSmart provisions, there is usually a range of ‘criteria’ that must be met to use this system – for example, buildings must not be located within 30m of a residential zone, must cost no more than $500,000 and cannot be affected by other planning controls that do not allow for VicSmart (for example, a design and development overlay). This creates an interesting dynamic where it may be more difficult for a school in a less sensitive zone (such as a Special Use or Commercial Zone) to utilise VicSmart than one in a residential zone. Overlays are common across Schools and may act to rule out many schools from benefitting from the new provisions.

The acknowledgement that non-government school projects offer a clear community benefit, and should therefore be exempt from public notice, follows on from the social and public housing reforms to the planning scheme early last week. It will be interesting to see whether this idea stretches to other critical services that need to be delivered to cater for Melbourne’s population growth in future such as health facilities.

Overall, the amendment is positive, but unfortunately still does not completely streamline or make an efficient planning system for all non-government schools. In order to do this, these exemptions and provisions should be broadening in scope and applied across more zones and overlays within the planning provisions.

In addition, many non-government school sites are subject to a Development Plan Overlay or Incorporated Plan Overlay which suggests that it may be more appropriate that the Minister be the responsible authority for the approval of these plans to ensure that long-term strategic planning for school sites can be carried out in a fair and efficient manner.

Further, it remains to be seen whether the complex applications that comprise non-government schools are able to be administered by Councils within the 10-day VicSmart period.

How Can Tract Assist?

Tract has extensive experience working with non-government school clients across Victoria you would like to discuss how Amendment VC180 may affect your school or would like more information, get in touch with your existing Tract contact, or contact Mia Zar on 9429 3111.


Image Credit: St Joseph's College STEM and Year 7 Building - Cox Architecture
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