Catchment Management

Top ten learnings from planning tribunals in Victoria regarding development within open potable water supply catchments
K Billington, D Deere
Publication Date (Web): 4 November 2016

Victoria has specific statutory planning provisions for developments on land in an open drinking water catchment. As a referral authority, water utilities can object to a planning permit application where the risk to drinking water is considered unacceptable. If the water utility objects on this basis, the local council must refuse to grant a planning permit. Where the water utility recommends refusal of a planning permit, or when a council refuses to grant a permit in its own right, the applicant can seek for the case to be reviewed at the Victorian Civil and Administrate Tribunal (VCAT). The development applicant, local council and water utility then present assessments and submissions in support of their various positions at VCAT. Over the past 10 years, key cases have now provided a body of evidence that can be consolidated into a set of key learnings. For the purpose of this paper ten related principles have been extracted and logically ordered to reflect the key learnings arising from VCAT decisions:

  1. Multiple barriers: Water utilities and councils have complementary roles in development assessment and control as part of the ‘multiple barrier’ approach to water quality protection.
  2. Human health priority: Human health protection considerations take priority over other planning objectives.
  3. Pathogens from humans: Pathogens from human origins take priority over other potential contaminants when considering human health.
  4. Practical over theoretical: Practical ‘real world’ experiences (noting field experience with reliability of controls) rather than theoretical risks need to be considered.
  5. Failing on-site sanitation: Typically, poor performance and failure of on-site sewage management systems in practice is well established and documented and not in dispute.
  6. Cumulative effects: Cumulative impacts must be considered rather than merely considering developments in isolation.
  7. Drawing lines: A ‘line in the sand’ approach that acknowledges the need to avoid an incremental creep is a legitimate reason to limit potential polluting.
  8. Community costs: For vulnerable water catchments, community costs should be recognised when considering the implications for drinking water treatment and contamination events.
  9. Equity: Intergenerational and community equity should be recognised when considering costs.
  10. Precautionary principle: In relation to the protection of public health the ‘precautionary principle’ should be applied.
It is considered that an awareness of these principles will aid water utilities when considering development planning within open water supply catchments and specifically if they wish to present cases for review at VCAT or similar tribunals interstate.


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