Council applications going to plan

The time taken to assess planning applications has halved and compliance with statutory timeframes has almost doubled under changes to Latrobe City Council’s delegations.

In March 2014 council decided to broaden the scope of planning decisions that could be delegated to its chief executive, in an effort to drive efficiency and faster planning outcomes.

Statistics prepared for a council report, presented to councillors on Monday night, show there has been a 50 per cent time reduction in assessing applications from the 2010/11 financial year to the 2015/16 period.

Council’s compliance rate with statutory time frames has also increased from 47 per cent to 93 per cent in the same period.

“It’s a huge improvement when you reduce the time it’s taken by 50 per cent and double the completion rate,” Cr Dale Harriman said at Monday night’s council meeting.

“There hasn’t been a slight variation, (there has been a) massive change.”

Councillors received and noted the report, which outlined a performance review of council’s planning function.

It noted 300 applications had been decided during the last financial year, 22 of which were made under the changed delegation process.

Prior to March 2014, all planning decisions – bar those recommended for refusal or with objections – were delegated to planning officers.

This model was estimated to have added an average of six weeks to the time taken in making planning application decisions.

In 2015/16, all but two of the 22 applications decided under the amended process were finalised within 60 statutory days.

Cr Sandy Kam said she and fellow councillors had concerns about planning when the current council was elected.

“By changing a few delegations, we’ve managed to do a good turnaround,” Cr Kam said.

“I’m sure when people look at differences per year, that should instil confidence in people who’d like to build in Latrobe.”

As part of the changes, councillors receive regular planning reports, including weekly updates about new and current applications.

Despite being in caretaker mode, Latrobe City chief executive Gary Van Driel said council could continue conducting business as usual in accordance with the Election Period Policy.

This includes designated ordinary council meetings, but some restrictions apply.

“The requirements on council to restrict decision making is related to avoiding decisions that would be considered major or significant policy decisions,” Mr Van Driel said.

He said the decisions made at Monday night’s meeting were not considered to be major or significant, because they did not unreasonably bind the incoming council.

“For example, there is a requirement under the Local Government Act 1989 that the annual report is tabled within a month, at a meeting of the council, after providing it to the minister,” he said.

“With the election being held in October, there is no way to avoid this decision being made during the caretaker period.”