On 1 July 2020 the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) announced new initiatives as part of its Planning and Environmental Division (PED) reforms. The reforms are part of the PED’s digitising processes to transition from existing manual and hardcopy-based systems to digital solutions. VCAT suspended all in-person hearings in March 2020 to safeguard the wellbeing of its staff and the general public and have since implemented telephone and virtual online hearings and conferences.
The most recent reforms are summarised here:
New application forms have been prepared for application in the Planning and Environment Division, designed to be more user friendly. A separate application for the Major Cases List is no longer available, rather the new application form allows the applicant to elect to enter the Major Cases List or the Short Cases List. It is also planned for the application forms to be “smart” forms once the PED digital project is complete. New forms have been prepared for applications for enforcement orders and costs, which will be available soon.
New initiating orders have been simplified. Much of the information previously provided on the orders will now be located on the VCAT website. Initiating orders will include the requirement to provide submissions before the hearing to assist in streamlining hearings.
The number of practice notes will be reduced to six, with PNPE2 and PNPE9 revised. Important information from the repealed (deleted) practice note information will be on the VCAT website.
A series of fact sheets has been prepared addressing matters including the amendment or cancellation of permits, enforcement orders, and environment and resources cases. Fact sheets addressing applications under various Acts (eg Heritage Act 2017, Gambling Regulation Act 2003 and Subdivision Act 1988) in planning disputes will be available in due course.
In cases involving multiple parties and expert witnesses, VCAT may direct the preparation of a Tribunal Book. This is a document prepared by the parties, containing documents on which the parties intend to rely. It may be required by VCAT order or at the parties’ initiative. One party (usually the applicant) should co-ordinate the preparation of the Tribunal Book. VCAT must be provided with an electronic copy and one hard copy in colour, with specific format and layout requirements.
Revamped Short Cases List
The Short Cases List was revamped in May 2020, to deal quickly and efficiently with cases which have limited parties, limited issues and which can be determined with three hours. Hearings for the short cases list are to be listed at approximately 12 weeks from lodgement to VCAT. Parties will be required to give VCAT and each other their submissions ahead of the hearing. Parties are encouraged to use a template for the preparation of submissions, which identifies the issues in dispute.
Major Cases List
Practice day hearings will not be listed in applications in the Major Cases List unless requested by a party and determined to be necessary by VCAT.
Section 82 Applications (appeals by objectors, referral authorities and affected persons)
Compulsory conferences are now listed in all applications under section 82 of the Planning and Environment Act 1987.
Further details of VCAT reforms including links to the resources referred to here can be found at https://www.vcat.vic.gov.au/news/planning-and-environment-division-reforms
VCAT Planning and Environment Division COVID-19 Digital Response Program
In April 2020 VCAT received funding to implement digital solutions to support the PED recovery in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and allow it to resolve matters remotely. The following changes will be made over the coming months:
- Physical case files will be replaced with digital files.
- Users will be able to enter details directly into Smart Forms for efficient submission of applications and forms.
- Since 18 May 2020 a new technology platform has allowed matters to be heard virtually.
Further details are provided on the VCAT website at https://www.vcat.vic.gov.au/news/vcat-hearings-during-coronavirus-restrictions. All listed matters which can only proceed face-to-face are being adjourned to a future date.
And lastly, unlike in previous years, fees for VCAT services did not increase on 1 July 2020. The Victorian Government has placed a freeze on fees and fine increases for 2020-21 and will maintain the 2019-20 values of fee and penalty units for this period.
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