Take Geelong Authority out of planning approval process, add staffers with Geelong development experience, UDIA says

Geelong framework plan

Urban Development Institute of Australia’s Geelong chair and senior town planner with Tract Consultants, Nick Clements. Picture: Brad Fleet

The state government needs to utilise local knowledge and take Geelong CBD development planning “more seriously” for the region to realise its potential, a top town planner says.

Urban Development Institute of Australia’s Geelong chair Nick Clements, also a senior town planner with Tract Consultants, said on-the-ground knowledge of Geelong was not being used to streamline assessments of major inner-city developments.

Building worth more the $500m planned for Geelong’s CBD was in limbo for about a year before the state government released the 30-year rule book for the area this month.

The Property Council of Australia, the G21 Geelong Regional Alliance and the Committee for Geelong say development assessment should be sped up.

Mr Clements said resourcing at the Department of Planning meant major city centre developments weren’t regularly assessed by members of its Geelong office.

“When the department of planning has a Barwon South West office (in Geelong), I find it absolutely surprising the department rarely has local resources to ensure that Geelong CBD permit applications are assessed by Geelong-based officers.

“When the state government is the decision maker … there is a extremely convoluted assessment process which involves council, the Geelong Authority and advice from the Office of the Victorian Government Architect (OVGA).

“If we are legitimately a second-tier city then the state government needs to take it more seriously and needs to resource the Barwon South West (planning) office and ensure the OVGA is made up of individuals not from outside of Victoria.”

Mr Clements said the Geelong Authority, established in 2015 to fast-track major planning decisions and attract investment, shouldn’t assess major Geelong CBD development plans.

“The Geelong Authority is made up of professionals who aren’t all in the development space but they still have to provide comment on all development applications that go before the minister.

“There is no reason for the Geelong Authority, in my view, to play a role in the assessment of permit applications in the Geelong CBD.”

Two of the seven Geelong Authority members have residential construction or design experience, according to public information.

Partner at Maddocks lawyers, Adam Jaques who specialises in development law, also called for a streamlined approached.

Geelong Community Foundation

Adam Jaques. Picture: Mike Dugdale

“The multiple layers of decision making and referral authorities in Geelong has made it more complicated that it needs to be.”

Mr Clements said the OVGA should play an important role in Geelong planning but it needed to be based on on-the-ground experience.

“It is frustrating when we see (OVGA) members who are coming from Sydney and other cities sitting on the panel when some of them have not even stepped foot in Geelong.

“They are, of course, well skilled in their background but if the minister continues to rely on the OVGA, I believe that it should be mandated that panel is made up of individuals that have direct experience in Geelong, let alone Melbourne.”

Committee for Geelong chief executive Michael Johnston said: “There’s absolute logic to having (government staff) on the ground in Geelong making decisions effecting Geelong. There’s an overarching sense to have more presence of state government staff as the city keeps growing.”

A state government spokeswoman didn’t answer questions about the Geelong Authority or having Geelong expertise used for Geelong planning matters.

“Central Geelong is significant to the state and the Barwon region. Clearer design guidelines will protect the city’s unique look and feel, while providing greater certainty for investors to plan ahead,” the spokeswoman said.

“We’re ensuring growth in Geelong is appropriate, directed to the right areas and protects what makes our city such a great place.”

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