JASON DOWLINGJune 16, 2010
DEVELOPERS are quietly seeking approval for massive and often contentious developments from the state government and heritage authorities months before applications are formally lodged and the public is notified.
The hidden meetings, that can include well-connected lobbyists, has led to calls for the secret meetings to be urgently regulated.
An email shows the head of Heritage Victoria met the developers behind the controversial $260 million redevelopment of the Windsor in December 2008, eight months before a heritage permit application was lodged. The email indicated that the project could ”have legs”.
The email was sent on December 19 2008 from the executive director of Heritage Victoria. It was obtained by The Age under Freedom of Information, with the recipient of the email deleted.
”They were looking for a view as to whether it would have legs from a heritage perspective. I think it could, but there is a significant history of opposition to redevelopment at the Windsor and a lot of very interested parties in the building over the road,” the email said.
”Since the development is big enough to require the minister’s approval of a planning permit, I thought it would be wise for them to make a presentation to him early in the new year.”
It goes on to ask that a meeting be organised with the Planning Minister, Justin Madden.
The current executive director of Heritage Victoria, Jim Gardner, who was appointed in October 2009, said developers were never told in pre-application briefings if their projects were likely to get heritage permits.
Mr Madden was also briefed by representatives behind the Windsor redevelopment proposal before a planning permit application was lodged.
Mr Madden has refused to release the notes of that meeting or say who attended or where it was held.
Last month, Mr Madden told a parliamentary committee he often met developers and other groups prior to planning permit applications.
The planning process behind the Windsor redevelopment plans is the subject of an upper house inquiry after it was revealed that Mr Madden’s then media advisor Peta Duke had revealed a sham public consultation.
A spokesman for Mr Madden said he had not attended a pre-application briefing with the developers behind the Upper West Side proposal.
The Greens Greg Barber said pre-application briefings had to be urgently regulated to increase transparency in planning.
He said pre-application briefings were a ”major hole in our anti-corruption and integrity system” and called for a ministerial code of conduct to regulate the meetings.
Mr Madden’s spokesman defended the meetings.
”Pre-application meetings provide an early opportunity to identify potential issues and help ensure that once a planning permit application has been formally lodged, the responsible authority has all the information required for assessment of the application against the requirements of the planning scheme”.