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EPA’s role in the planning system
EPA advises planning and responsible authorities on planning policies and decisions where there is a potential impact on the environment, amenity and human health due to pollution and waste. This advice is made in accordance with the Planning and Environment Act 1987 (P&E Act).
The P&E Act and planning schemes set out when:
- planning permit applications must be referred to EPA under section 55 of the P&E Act, and
- when notice of planning permit applications must be given to EPA under section 52 of the P&E Act.
We aim to improve land use and development decisions by
- highlighting any significant environmental, amenity and human health risks that a proposal may pose
- providing science-based advice and information to help inform planning controls and provisions
- preventing encroachment of proposed sensitive land uses and development on existing industries or other land uses where there may be a conflict
- recommending or requiring changes to address environmental, amenity and human health risks
- identifying best-practice techniques to protect Victoria’s environment, amenity and human health; and
- applying regulatory interventions, where appropriate.
To discuss a planning proposal, please contact one of our planning assessment officers on 1300 372 842 (1300 EPA VIC)
For strategic planning matters, email email@example.com.
How we risk assess strategic and statutory planning proposals
EPA prioritises matters where the public has most to gain from our involvement. When we receive a new planning proposal, the first step is to assess the importance of it, with respect to a number of criteria, including:
Matters that we deem low risk are proportionally assessed and responded to by email or letter. In these cases, EPA relies on the responsible authority to bring attention to any risks or concerns that may have been overlooked.
Our planning team
EPA’s planning team is based in Carlton, Dandenong, Bendigo, Wangaratta, Traralgon and Geelong. The team includes statutory planners, strategic planners, planning policy officers and a number of roles dedicated to business improvement.
Ministerial Direction 19 (MD19)
MD19 came into effect on 18 October 2018. It requires planning authorities to seek early advice from EPA when undertaking strategic planning processes and preparing planning scheme amendments that may significantly impact Victoria’s environment, amenity and/or human health due to pollution and waste. The explanatory report for an amendment must include a statement of how the proposed amendment addresses the views of EPA.
The Ministerial Requirement for information is issued under section 12(1)(f) of the P&E Act. It requires planning authorities to give the Minister for Planning the following information when applying for authorisation to prepare an amendment under sections 8A or 8B of the P&E Act, or preparing an amendment under section 9 of the P&E Act:
- the written views of EPA, including any supporting information and reports
- a written explanation of how the proposed amendment addresses any issues or matters raised by EPA.
We have reviewed and improved our internal processes to ensure that we can provide planning advice in a timely and effective manner. We will continue to monitor and review these processes in order to keep up with needs and expectations of planning authorities.
The Direction and Requirement are contained in a two-part document which is available here. For further information on strategic planning at EPA, see here. Please note that MD19 does not apply to:
- the class of amendment prescribed in regulation 8 of the Planning and Environment Regulations 2015
- an amendment to the Victoria Planning Provisions
- an amendment to a planning scheme that is made as a result of an amendment to the Victoria Planning Provisions.
Ministerial Direction No. 1
The purpose of MD No. 1 is to ensure that potentially contaminated land is suitable for a use which is proposed to be allowed under an amendment to a planning scheme and which could be significantly affected by any contamination.’
When does this apply?
This Direction applies to potentially contaminated land where a use is proposed which could be significantly adversely affected by any contamination. Such uses include, residential, public open space, agriculture, a child-care centre, pre-school centre or a primary school (but not a secondary school).
For the purpose of this Direction, ‘potentially contaminated land’ means land that is, or has been, used for:
- mining; or
- storing chemicals, gas, wastes or liquid fuel (if not ancillary to another use of the land).
Land that is, or has been, used for farming or a petrol station is also typically considered to be potentially contaminated as such industries involve the storage of chemicals, gas, wastes or liquid fuels.
The Direction requires that, for planning scheme amendments that would allow potentially contaminated land to be used for a sensitive use, agriculture or public open space, a planning authority must satisfy itself that the environmental conditions of that land are or will be suitable for that use.
There are two ways a planning authority can do this.
Before a notice or copy of the amendment is given under Section 17, 18 or 19 of the P&E Act, a planning authority must ensure that:
- a certificate of environmental audit must be issued for the land in accordance with Part IXD of the Environment Protection Act 1970 (EP Act), or
- if the amendment allows a sensitive use only in accordance with plans included or referred to in the amendment an environmental auditor appointed under the Environment Protection Act 1970 has made a statement in accordance with Part IXD of the EP Act that the environmental conditions are suitable for the sensitive use in accordance with those plans.
A planning authority must include in the amendment a requirement to the effect that before a sensitive use commences or before the construction or carrying out of buildings or works in association with a sensitive use commences:
- a certificate of environmental audit must be issued for the land in accordance with Part IXD of the EP Act, or
- an environmental auditor appointed under the EP Act must make a statement in accordance with Part IXD of the EP Act that the environmental conditions of that land are suitable for the sensitive use.
This is usually accompanied by the application of an Environmental Audit Overlay (EAO) to the subject land. In some instances, an exemption from the need to comply with this Direction in relation to a particular amendment may be granted. The Minister or Executive Director (Planning, Heritage and Building Division) must consult EPA before deciding to grant such an exemption.
Once we receive a planning scheme amendment, we will review whether the planning authority has addressed the requirements of Ministerial Direction No.1. If an amendment proposes rezoning potentially contaminated land to a zone where sensitive uses may be allowed, the requirements of Ministerial Direction No.1 are triggered and must be addressed.
Prior to the exhibition of a planning scheme amendment, EPA can support the planning authority in making the decision that they are satisfied. However, it is the responsibility of the planning authority to ensure that they are satisfied the land is suitable for its intended use.
What does EPA need to see in an amendment to be satisfied?
Information that will help us provide informed advice includes:
- a history of previous and current uses of the subject site/area (this information can be obtained through the planning/building permit history, rates records, archives from libraries, aerial photos)
- a history of previous and current uses of the surrounding sites (as above)
- evidence of the current/previous zone and any overlays/relevant provisions
- a site layout plan identifying the features of the subject site and surrounding sites
- any recent investigations, assessments or testing of the subject site
- any remediation of the subject site and validation of this process and outcome by a suitably qualified environmental professional or environmental auditor*
- any environmental site assessment reports or audits of nearby sites
- any known or potential contamination on nearby properties or groundwater
- council records for the site
- evidence that the land is remediated and suitable for the proposed use
- evidence that the land can be remediated to a level that would make it suitable for the proposed use.
The Explanatory Statement for MD No. 1 and Planning Practice Note 30 provides further guidance for planners and applicants on the planning requirements for potentially contaminated land.
What significant impacts do we consider?
When considering strategic planning matters, EPA is particularly interested in:
- the public value of the proposal and any environmental, amenity and human health impacts associated with it
- land use compatibility between existing and future land uses (eg. conflicts and interface issues between industry/farming/rural activities and sensitive uses)
- encroachment risk, including impacts to existing industry/farming/rural activities and protecting separation distances of existing industry from encroachment of sensitive uses
- what plans are in place to assess/manage/clean up contaminated land and comply with environmental audits
- potential consequences for air quality, noise, odour and waste
- the impact any future development may have on the environment, amenity and human health
- the proximity of ‘sensitive receptors’ such as accommodation, hospitals, schools, daycare facilities, aged care facilities and convalescent facilities
- how sensitive uses will be protected as part of the proposal.
Human health and amenity impacts can be contextual. For example, some industrial activities may only have a significant impact on the environment, human health and amenity if there are residences nearby. Wherever possible, EPA Victoria’s advice is based on a technical assessment of risk, using regulations, policy and guidance to inform the degree of risk posed and the controls required to address this risk. A list of relevant documents can be found in the Planning guidelines section below.
When should planning authorities seek advice from EPA?
MD19 requires planning authorities to seek early advice from EPA to provide greater certainty to government, community and developers. This approach provides an early opportunity to address potential issues and can assist planning authorities by reducing delays later in the planning scheme amendment process.
MD19 requires that the written views of EPA must be received prior to authorisation of an amendment. We would also encourage planning authorities to contact us as early as possible, preferably when a proposal is taking shape. This can be done by writing into EPA through firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact should be made with EPA if it is likely that a proposal will result in a planning scheme amendment; and/or have a significant impact on Victoria’s environment, amenity and human health due to pollution and waste. Consulting with EPA will ensure that such risks are understood and optimum solutions can be considered.
What matters can EPA assist and provide comment on?
EPA considers a range of planning matters, including, but not limited to:
- planning scheme amendments, including the rezoning of commercial, industrial or farming zone land for a sensitive use and the rezoning of land for a sensitive use where within proximity to existing industrial uses
- whole-of-scheme reviews, particularly where they involve policy to guide industrial, commercial and agricultural uses or residential growth areas
- application of EAOs
- council strategic plans, visionary documents, structure plans, area framework plans and master plans
- major infrastructure planning and Environment Effects Statements; and
- precinct structure plans and regional growth plans.
What information do we need to assess a new proposal?
Successful strategic planning results in appropriate land use. Our ability to provide useful advice is based on the degree of information provided. Information that can assist us in our assessment include, but is not limited to:
- any operating and closed landfills (private and municipal)
- existing and/or proposed intensive animal farming
- any industry which requires buffers in accordance with EPA Publication 1518 Separation Distances for Industrial Residual Air Emissions and Clause 53.10 of the Victorian Planning Provisions
- location of nearby EPA licensed sites
- location of nearby major hazards facilities
- Groundwater Quality Restricted Use Zones (GQRUZ)
- sites likely to be contaminated from previous uses (including sites nearby contaminated land); and
- sites listed on the EPA Priority Sites Register.
When writing to EPA, include details of:
- the strategic planning matter including, any draft local policy, supporting plans and other relevant documentation
- existing and proposed zones, overlays and land use
- previous and nearby industrial land uses
- any previous engagement with EPA regarding this matter
- council and applicant contact details
- your response to relevant guidelines and legislative requirements, including Ministerial Directions and relevant planning guidelines.
How should planning authorities seek advice from EPA?
As per MD19, planning authorities should contact us once strategic land use planning processes are underway. This is especially important if:
- there could be land use compatibility issues
- the land is potentially contaminated
- there may be a significant impact to the environment, amenity and human health; and
- the matter will or likely will require a planning scheme amendment.
For combined amendment requests and planning permit applications, the same process as outlined above should be followed. For lengthy or more significant projects, we will likely require a face-to-face briefing. For such projects, planning authorities should consider including us in project working groups so that advice may be provided at important project milestones.
What to expect
EPA is committed to providing timely and accurate advice to inform strategic land-use planning decisions. We aim to provide a preliminary response within 10 business days indicating one of the following:
- we do not consider significant risks to be present and have no further comment;
- we need more information
- we have views on the proposal; or
- we think that the request requires a detailed response and will work with the planning authority to ensure project timelines are maintained where practicable.
Our planning officers may sometimes need to consult our environmental experts. When this occurs, EPA officers will work with the planning authority to communicate expected delays.
What happens after EPA advice is issued?
EPA’s advice will most benefit planning authorities if it can be given at the earliest possible stage of the process. Planning authorities should continue to involve EPA following receipt of our advice, particularly where the proposal is amended. We also want to be involved in any iterations of an amendment to ensure that our advice remains relevant.
EPA will remain involved in strategic planning matters, including making submissions at planning panels when necessary. We acknowledge that it may take some time to fully implement the requirements of the MD. During this time, we are committed to working with planning authorities in a constructive and supportive manner.
EPA’s role in statutory planning
EPA is a referral authority under Section 55 of the P&E Act 1987. Pursuant to Clause 66.02 of the Victorian Planning Provisions (VPP), EPA is a determining referral authority for a (use or development) planning permit application that requires any of the following:
a works approval in accordance with Section 19A of the Environment Protection Act 1970
a licence to discharge or emit waste in accordance with Section 20 of the Environment Protection Act 1970
amendment of a licence under Section 20A of the Environment Protection Act 1970
land for an industry or warehouse for a purpose listed in the table to Clause 53.10 shown with a Note 1 or if the threshold distance is not to be met
stone extraction from land intended to be used for landfill at a future date.
Pursuant to Clause 66.05 of the VPP, we must be notified of the following application, in accordance with Section 52 of the P&E Act 1987: 'an application to use or develop land to establish a new broiler farm, or to increase the farm capacity of an existing broiler farm, that meets the requirements of a Special Class Broiler Farm or Farm Cluster as specified in the Victorian Code for Broiler Farms 2009.'
The planning scheme of a municipality can also establish referral provisions to EPA. These referral requirements are established at a local level, typically in consultation with EPA.
Application document requirements
When referring planning applications to EPA, the responsible authority should provide a complete copy of the application. Section 19 of the Planning & Environment Regulations 2015 outlines what information is required to be given to a referral authority. Requirements include:
- the application reference number
- the date the responsible authority received the application
- a description of why a permit is required
- a list of the clauses in the planning scheme that require the application to be referred to that referral authority
- a copy of the applicable description in the planning scheme of the kind of application required to be referred to that referral authority; and
- clarification of whether the referral authority is a determining referral authority or a recommending referral authority for the application.
Other information that will assist us includes:
- any relevant history of the site and/or surrounding area, including enforcement actions
- any other matters that the responsible authority deems relevant.
Application materials should include an assessment of the potential offsite impacts and any proposed measures to address them. EPA can provide guidance on the level of assessment, scope and relevant guidelines. If the information required under Section 19 of the Planning & Environment Regulations 2015 is not supplied, we may not be in a position to respond. In these circumstances, we will request the additional information.
Clause 53.14 – Resource recovery
Clause 53.14-2 of the VPP sets out the application requirements for all land used – or all land proposed to be used and/or developed as a transfer station and/or materials recycling facility. EPA encourages the responsible authority to require information of the applicant that clearly outlines what activity is proposed.
Agent of change (Established in EPA Publication 1518, Section 9)
As per EPA Publication 1518, the ‘agent of change’ is the proponent of the proposed land use that will give rise to the consideration of separation distances.
It is the responsibility of the ‘agent of change’ to provide evidence to the planning or responsible authority that a variation from the recommended separation distance is appropriate. The agent of change must take into account the principles of EPA Publication 1518, the modelling protocol set out in Schedule C to SEPP (Air Quality Management) and any other guideline or code that is applicable to the industry in question.
Proposals for an industrial use
If the proposal is for an industrial use, application documents should, where appropriate, cover:
- the purpose of the use and the types of processes to be utilised
- the type and quantity of goods to be stored, processed or provided
- how land not required for immediate use is to be maintained
- whether a works approval or waste discharge licence is required
- whether a notification under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 is required
- whether a licence under the Dangerous Goods Act 1985 is required
- whether a fire protection quantity under the Dangerous Goods (Storage and Handling) Regulations 2012 is exceeded
- the likely effects (if any) on the neighbourhood, including:
- noise levels;
- air-borne emissions;
- emissions to land or water; and
- traffic, including the hours of delivery and dispatch.
The level of information we require will vary for each proposal. It is the applicant’s responsibility to submit adequate information to demonstrate any risks to the environment, human health and amenity are acceptable or manageable. Based on risk (e.g. air, odour, noise) it is likely that permit applicants will need to submit additional information, including:
In some cases, we may need to know an industrial facility’s capacity or annual output. This is particularly relevant for assessing threshold triggers in the Scheduled Premises Regulations and EPA Publication 1518.
How to submit a statutory planning referral to EPA
Responsible authorities should refer relevant planning permit applications to the appropriate EPA region. See contacts below.
Permit requirements and management options
When responding to a planning permit referral, EPA will advise the responsible authority that it:
- does not have concerns
- does have concerns, which can be addressed by permit conditions; or
- objects to the proposal for certain reasons which we outline.
Where permit conditions are included as part of our response, they will require either a particular outcome or a particular management approach or will compel a design requirement at the site. Management/design conditions may include:
- surface treatment including hardstand
- provision of building enclosures
- stormwater containment and bunding
- stacks and flues with adequate velocity for dispersion
- afterburners and catalytic oxidation; and/or
Rejecting a referral request
Where a referral request contains insufficient information to complete administrative procedures (in accordance with Section 19 of the Planning and Environment Regulations 2015), EPA will likely reject the referral request. Our planning administration officers will liaise with the responsible authority requesting the required administrative information.
Please note this information, as required by Regulation 19 of the Planning & Environment Regulations 2015 must be received before the statutory timeframes commence.
Requesting further information
Where a referral request contains sufficient information to complete administrative procedures, it will be allocated to a planning assessment officer. Where a risk to the environment and human health has been identified, and it is considered that the proposal or supporting information does not adequately address it, the officer will request further information within 21 days.
Seeking internal advice
EPA officers consult our environmental experts for applications where:
- the recommended separation distance as per EPA Publication 1518 will not be met
- sensitive uses will encroach on industry (agent of change principle)
- technical reports and assessments such as acoustic and air quality assessments have been submitted for review; and
- there are human health risk assessments that require preparation and/or review.
EPA has a range of policies and guidelines for planning and responsible authorities under the P&E Act, which are available on the publication search page of the EPA website. Relevant documents include, but are not limited to, the following:
Air and odour
EPA is continuing to develop planning advice and guidelines for planning and responsible authorities to assist in better land use planning outcomes. EPA will engage with relevant stakeholders during the development of new and revised documents. EPA also provides guidance more generally on legislation administered by EPA (including state environment protection policies, waste management policies) and guidance for businesses on a range of environmental issues.
Key guidance relevant to planning
EPA’s planning strategy aims to prevent future environmental impacts through good land use planning. EPA recognises that good planning is one of the most effective ways of preventing environmental impacts. For example, planning can ensure there is an appropriate distance between incompatible uses and that necessary environmental measures are imposed via planning permit conditions, thereby reducing the need for future compliance work. If you are considering establishing a new facility or expanding an existing facility, you may require a planning permit. Environmental issues may not be immediately obvious. For example, surrounding industrial or rural land may be earmarked for future residential development, requiring a higher level of amenity protection.
EPA recommends that you consider and address any environmental impacts (including amenity impacts) associated with your proposal early, before making any significant investments. Your local council will be able to answer any queries.
Potentially contaminated land
Where a development is proposed on potentially contaminated land, Ministerial Direction 1, Planning Practice Note 30 and the State Environment Protection Policy (Prevention and Management of Contamination of Land) should be referenced, where appropriate. More information can be found at our Advice for planning authorities page.
Buffers and encroachment and sensitive uses
EPA Publication 1518 Recommended Separation distances for Industrial Air Emissions provides advice on recommended separation distances between industrial land uses that emit odour or dust, and sensitive land uses. EPA is working on multiple projects that seek to better manage encroachment onto buffers and conflicting land uses. Please note that Clause 53.10 of the VPP is different in its intent to EPA Publication 1518. Specifically, Cl.53.10 sets up threshold triggers, for referral to EPA, where a new industry is proposed in proximity to a sensitive use. While these threshold distances relate to a potential odour or noise risk, they do not always coincide with established separation distances.
Residential encroachment on critical industries
Increasing urban development in Victoria is leading to residential areas being built closer to existing industry. With Melbourne’s population estimated to increase to be 7.7 million by 2051, EPA recognises that residential development will need to increase. However, residential encroachment and intensification near critical industrial facilities can impact on the health and amenity of future residents as well as the viability of these industries. If you are concerned about the encroachment of residential or other incompatible land uses, EPA recommends that you engage with the relevant developer and council to explain your concerns. You may also object in writing to planning permit applications or rezoning proposals that would allow incompatible uses to be established. The information you can provide about the amenity impacts caused by your business, such as odour and noise, will assist in the best planning decision being made.
EPA is working with key stakeholders in government, the community and industry to ensure that:
- industries are upgraded or located so they will have minimum off-site impact
- the health and amenity of new residents are protected from nearby industry through appropriate buffers
- the viability of key industries is not threatened
- strategic planning recognises and manages encroachment.
Assessing planning proposals near landfills
Landfills are an important part of Victoria’s waste management infrastructure. However, they can continue to impact the surrounding environment and community long after they have ceased operating.
EPA has released a guideline on Assessing planning proposals within the buffer of a landfill (publication 1642). This guideline provides advice on assessing planning permit applications and planning scheme amendments that would lead to development within the buffer of an operating or closed landfill. The publication recommends a staged, risk-based approach consistent with EPA Publication 788.3 Landfill Best Practice Environmental Management .
Importantly, Publication 1642 recommends that responsible and planning authorities contact EPA for site specific advice where a landfill is operating nearby, before recommending a Section 53V audit. In some instances, EPA has taken the position that sensitive uses should be prohibited outright in a landfill buffer until the landfill ceases operation, rather than allow sensitive uses subject to a Section 53V audit. In some recent cases, even where an audit has been completed for a proposal within an operating landfill buffer, EPA has objected to the subsequent planning permit application, as the audit has been unable to provide the required certainty for EPA to support the proposal. Therefore, early dialogue with developers and authorities is highly recommended, to inform appropriate land use decision-making around landfills.
Other relevant EPA information on landfills can be found on our Landfills page.
Odour environmental risk assessment for Victorian broiler farms – guideline
Publication 1643 outlines existing requirements within the Victorian Code for Broiler Farms 2009 (the code) and the State Environment Protection Policy (Air Quality Management) (SEPP (AQM)) to ensure new and expanded broiler farms have minimal odour impacts on nearby residents and communities.
The requirement to submit an odour environmental risk assessment comes from the code, with formal notification established under Cl 66 of the Planning Scheme. The process involves modelling and analysing odour predictions. Where an assessment has been undertaken, EPA will provide advice to the responsible authority about its methodological rigour and the validity of the results. Whenever possible, EPA will advise council if we consider the risk to be acceptable or unacceptable in terms of odour impacts beyond the farm boundary.
The guideline provides advice to odour modellers on conducting an odour assessment in accordance with SEPP (AQM) and presenting the results in a clear and consistent way. It also provides advice to responsible authorities on interpreting such assessments.
Combustible recyclable waste materials
See this page here for more details.
In May 2015, the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water appointed a Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) to undertake an independent inquiry into the EPA. The MAC examined the EPA’s role, powers, governance and funding, and tools. The MAC made several recommendations, with respect to EPA’s involvement within land use planning, all of which were supported in the Government’s response.
EPA is implementing the Victorian Government’s vision of a more agile, modern environmental regulator. For further information, please visit our webpage.
For further information about the Victorian planning system, please visit: https://www.planning.vic.gov.au/
EPA regularly presents at, or supports, training and professional events, including PLANET training courses. Future training and education sessions will be advertised through professional planning networks, including Planning Institute of Australia (PIA), and Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV).
For further information, please call EPA on 1300 372 842 (1300 EPA VIC)
Does EPA offer pre-application meetings with responsible authorities and/or applicants?
We are willing to meet with council and applicants to discuss proposals where the risks involved in the use/development are considered high. EPA’s assessment of a proposal will be significantly improved by a more thorough appreciation of the development. Additionally, EPA can inform council and the applicant of environmental and human health considerations that need to be assessed or considered, before a permit is sought.
How is EPA concerned with amenity?
EPA is concerned with amenity where it may be unreasonably impacted by pollution and waste, including impacts from noise, odour and litter. Amenity impacts may include, but are not limited to:
- unreasonable noise disturbances
- impacted environments that reduce the perceived quality of an area (aesthetics)
- unreasonable odours being emitted from certain uses that may impact upon the ordinary enjoyment of a person
- dust and smoke at levels below that which may affect physiological health, but still impact on quality of life.
In this instance, amenity does not refer to issues such as perceived visual bulk, overlooking or overshadowing from a structure, or light pollution.
Do the requirements of Ministerial Direction 19 apply to planning scheme amendments that have been authorised but not yet approved by the Minister?
No, it is a general rule that the law which exists at the time a decision is made should be applied. While an amendment that has been authorised but not yet approved by the Minister may not formally require the views of EPA, we would still encourage planning and responsible authorities to seek our advice on strategic planning matters.