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Planning & Environment Alert

Strategic Planning – Minister for Planning directs that Environment Protection Authority to be consulted where significant impact on environment, amenity and human health

| Published by Stefan Fiedler, Andrew Sherman, Ian Pridgeon

This Alert is relevant to strategic planners, design engineers and plant operators within municipal councils, water corporations, Waste and Resource Recovery Groups and industry.

On 10 October 2018 the Minister for Planning directed planning authorities to engage the Environment Protection Authority (“EPA”) during the preparation of an amendment or in reviewing a scheme, and to obtain the EPA’s written views.  The Minister’s direction codifies sound strategic planning practice and prioritises allocation of resources to ensure the EPA’s contribution is taken into account.

New Strategic Planning Requirements

Ministerial Direction No.19 (Direction) consists of:

  • Part A: Ministerial Direction on the preparation and content of amendments that may significantly impact the environment, amenity and human health; 
  • Part B: Ministerial requirement for information for authorisation or preparation of amendments that may significantly impact the environment, amenity and human health.

The Direction is available here

Concurrently, the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning published Planning Advisory Note 73 titled ‘New requirements for a planning authority to consult the Environment Protection Authority’ (Advisory Note). 

The Advisory Note is available here.

The Direction implements recommendations of the Independent Inquiry into the Environment Protection Authority released on 31 March 2016.

The Direction and Advisory Note have their genesis in the objectives in planning in Victoria, including to protect public utilities and other assets and to enable the orderly provision and co-ordination of public utilities and other facilities for the benefit of the community. 

The Direction and Advisory Note build on the substantive State Government work detailed in the State-wide Waste and Resource Recovery Plan, Regional Waste and Resource Recovery Plans, Plan Melbourne 2017-2050 and the Regional Growth Plans.

These new requirements will over time lead to consistency in the EPA’s contribution to strategic planning.

Consistency will provide certainty, which is critical for medium and long-term decisions concerning major infrastructure investment for waste and resource recovery, wastewater management and sewage/trade waste services.

The Direction appears to be confined to operational industry (including resource recovery and wastewater management) and areas of Victoria where the environment is polluted.

Application for Variable Separation Distances and Closed Landfills

The Advisory Note appears to extend the application of the Direction to consider ‘past’ industry such as closed landfills.  How the Direction and Advisory Note will be applied to the separation distance for closed landfills across Victoria is uncertain. 

The separation for many industries is not prescribed by EPA guidance documentation, but requires a site specific evaluation and risk assessment.  In practice this is likely to translate to consultation with the EPA where the separation distance is variable irrespective of the anticipated separation distance.

It is clear that the intention of the Direction and Advisory Note is for consultation with the EPA to occur in the preliminary stages of strategic planning work ensuring that this information is taken into account.

This early consultation with the EPA has consistently formed a part of strategic planning work lead by Victorian water corporations, Regional Waste and Resource Recovery Groups and local government.  Until now the EPA’s decision to provide written advice has been discretionary.  The timelines of EPA’s written views will be important.

Polluted Groundwater and Vapour Risk

Other matters that will require consideration in applying the Direction and Advisory Note include areas of polluted groundwater including Groundwater Quality Restricted Use Zones declared by the EPA through the environmental audit process (contaminated land). 

The risk of vapours migrating through the geological profile and impacting on land development and use from polluted groundwater is also an issue that warrants consideration in strategic planning.  It is not clear how the Direction and Advisory Note will apply to these matters.  The EPA’s views as the authority declaring Groundwater Quality Restricted Use Zones will be critical in this area.

If you require any further information, please contact Stefan Fiedler on (03) 9609 1672 or by email sfiedler@rk.com.au.

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