The Panel appointed to review the proposed amendments to the Hepburn Planning Scheme has reported. It is clear that the Hepburn Shire Council Planning Scheme needs to be updated urgently.

The Council Planning Scheme sets the rules and directions for local economic, social and residential development. It provides the framework for resolving issues between residents, developers, businesses, and community groups.

The Hepburn Council Planning Scheme is becoming an increasingly hot issue as recent calls for more affordable housing and local protests against planning restrictions and new developments have shown.

Unfortunately, despite a number of earlier reviews, the  Shire has allowed its planning Scheme to become out of date over an extended period. It has not been seriously updated for 20 years.

Not surprisingly some of the existing policy and zoning controls for the Shire are now at odds with current State policy directions.

The proposed Planning Amendment attempts to address past failures and update the Shire Planning Scheme to address contemporary issues.

While the Panel commended the Council for conducting the review, it made a number of critical comments and observations.

Importantly, the Panel thought that a number of the proposals were based on inadequate study and research that did not take account of contemporary policy and directions.

Some of the studies used for the the planning amendment date back to work done more than 10 years ago. Some data is out of date and priorities and policies have changed.

In the Panel’s view, the proposed planning amendment, “is largely a policy neutral translation of existing policy settings… It does not address critical issues facing the Shire.”

The Panel accepted the principles behind a policy neutral review, but, “saw a danger that outdated policy might be seen as having been ‘refreshed’ because it has been part of a recent Amendment.”

Some of the proposed Amendment was seen as inconsistent with current State policy directions for country shires. Other parts of the Amendment were seen as having gaps that need to be addressed.

The Panel concluded that “(T)his Amendment will not solve all the Council’s planning problems; it is an important first step, but only the first step.”

The panel recommended the Council adopt the Planning Scheme with 19 amendments. These included conducting further reviews to ensure Council strategic planning is consistent with the State Municipal Planning Strategy, particularly in relation to bushfire hazards, housing supply and economic development.

A Settlement strategy for the Shire is needed urgently. The Panel recommended that the proposal to rezone land in Daylesford and Hepburn Springs from General Residential to Neighbourhood Residential be abandoned until a settlement strategy for the Shire has been completed.

Many other Panel recommendations relate to planning specific issues.

The Council does not have to adopt the Panel’s recommendations, but it does have to report publicly on its reasons for not doing so. A community information session will be held on Tuesday the 23rd of March at the Daylesford Town Hall.

A Special Council Meeting will be held on Monday the 29th of March to consider the report and recommendations. The meeting will be fully virtual and details will be available on the Shire website.