Planning for Amenity Health and Safety Buffers Submission

16 December 2019

Planning for amenity, health and safety buffers
Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning
8 Nicholson Street
East Melbourne Victoria 3002
Via email planning.systems@delwp.vic.gov.au

Re: Planning for amenity, health and safety buffers – Planning Policy Framework and clause amendments

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the proposed Planning Policy Framework and clause amendments as part of the review into planning for amenity, health and safety buffers. VicWater is the peak body of the Victorian water industry with its membership comprising Victoria’s 19 statutory water corporations. They are responsible for the provision of urban water and wastewater services, rural water supply including irrigation and related drainage services.

Weak land use planning around critical sewerage assets and the subsequent erosion of buffers – leading to expensive upgrades to reduce odour or noise, or in the worst case to entire closure and movement of an asset – is a major issue for water corporations and a significant financial burden for customers. VicWater has been very active on the topic of protecting buffers around these critical assets for many years, and has actively supported this DELWP policy review since commencement. VicWater welcomes the publication of the proposed amendments, subject to the following feedback:

  • VicWater supports in principle the amendments to Clause 13.07-1S (Land use compatibility), in particular, the increased protections from encroachment.
    • The objective “to protect community amenity, human health and safety while facilitating appropriate commercial, industrial or other uses” suggests a sensible compromise should apply to balancing employment-generating land uses (many land uses listed in clause 53.10) against sensitive land uses. However, this phrasing does not adequately convey the importance of protecting critical community water and wastewater infrastructure from encroachment. Without these assets, which are necessarily situated within urban areas, cities and towns could not function.
    • VicWater recommends adopting clearer phrasing, in the clause objective, that cogently conveys the importance of protecting critical community water and wastewater infrastructure from encroachment in urban and peri-urban areas, such as “… while facilitating critical infrastructure, and appropriate commercial, industrial or other uses…”
  • VicWater supports the reference to the EPA guidelines on recommended separation distances for industrial residual air emissions. However, the guideline could benefit from also considering buffers’ contribution to environmental noise attenuation and public safety in the event of an emergency.
  • VicWater notes that odour or other complaints can arise from non-sensitive land uses. Water corporations support the principle of buffer land being put to best use (i.e. water corporations not opposing planning applications as a norm). However, a water corporation acting in good faith should not be liable for odour complaints in a buffer arising from a supposedly non-sensitive land use.
  • VicWater has previously observed implementation as well as policy deficiencies in the current system. For example, the Environmental Significance Overlay (ESO) has significant shortcomings as a buffer protection tool. The proposed updates to the Planning Policy Framework clauses and strategies will improve some aspects of the current regime. However, additional planning tools and mechanisms are required to give full effect to these proposals. Councils can be further supported with improved buffer instruments such as overlays, guidance and planning practice notes. The momentum from this review should be carried forward into a subsequent project to improve these subordinate instruments and tools.
  • VicWater notes that Clause 53.10 does not specify minimum separation distances for some water corporation utility installations. The need to seek approval from EPA will not constitute an additional (and avoidable) regulatory burden if the activity is already subject to a works approval (or development licence under the incoming Environment Protection legislation). However, where an activity does not already require an EPA approval, specifying minimum separation distances, can avoid an additional and unnecessary regulatory step.
    • VicWater recommends and would welcome further discussion on this matter to enable this outcome.
  • VicWater notes that 33.01 specifies a minimum 30m separation distance for any utility installation. VicWater has previously participated in the review of statutory land use terms and is satisfied that this requirement will not apply to minor utility installations, such as: sewerage or water mains; siphons, water storage tanks, disinfection booster stations and channels; a sewerage treatment plant (and any associated disposal works required to serve a neighbourhood); and a pumping station required to serve a neighbourhood.

VicWater welcomes its further involvement in this review to develop detailed policy implementation proposals. Please contact James Cleaver (James.Cleaver@vicwater.org.au) should you have any questions, or if you would like to discuss any of the issues we have raised in greater detail.

Yours sincerely
Peter Morison
Chief Executive Officer

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