Victorian gov’t to boost building and development during COVID-19 crisis

The Victorian government has announced it will established a taskforce “to help keep the state’s building and development industry running through the coronavirus crisis.”

The Building Victoria’s Recovery Taskforce will be overseen by planning and housing minister Richard Wynne and treasurer Tim Pallas. Leadlease senior executive Roger Teale, chair of the Victorian Planning Authority Jude Munro, and CEO of Solar Victoria Stan Krpan have been appointed co-chairs of the taskforce.

The taskforce will have the responsibility of investigating opportunities to boost Victoria’s building and development industry over the short, medium and long term.

Its initial focus will be on fast-tracking planning approvals using ministerial powers. It will also advise the government on issues impacting the industry.

“This taskforce will help ensure the building and development industry is a driving force for Victoria’s economy through this pandemic and beyond,” said planning minister Richard Wynne. “It will help deliver existing projects more efficiently and assist new projects to get off the ground faster.”

The Australian Institute of Architects welcomed the announcement. Amy Muir, president of the Victorian chapter said, “It will be vital to keep the building and construction industry operating as an essential service as long as activity adheres to government guidelines and health and safety regulations.

“There are many existing health, educational, housing and infrastructure projects that are currently in early stage of development that could be fast tracked through government to market as industry stimulus in readiness for strong recovery. This should not be restricted to transport projects but include a range of projects such as social and affordable housing, community facility upgrades, energy efficiency upgrades and most importantly, projects in the fire ravaged regional communities of Australia should be fast tracked as a matter of urgency with a focus on building back better.”

Muir cautioned that fast tracking projects should not impact on design and construction quality, but rather, projects could be accelerated through the efficiencies in the approvals process.

“Governments of all levels should be encouraged to implement a temporary but necessary freeing up of potential planning bottlenecks and fast track approvals provided they meet acceptable standards of planning compliance and construction regulation,” she said. “This may mean ceasing non-mandatory referrals; ceasing multiple design reviews and introducing tighter timelines for interdepartmental referencing. We encourage fast tracking of the planning process but emphasize the importance of quality outcomes for both the built environment and the public domain.”

The taskforce will also provide advice to government on removing barriers to building and development works that support Victoria’s infrastructure, housing, as well as employment in the industry.

Treasurer Tim Pallas said, “Given the economic challenges caused by coronavirus, it’s more important than ever that we support our building and development industry and the thousands of people it employs.”

The taskforce will also advise the government on longer term measures including boosting social housing options as well as financial incentives and revenue measures.

“We fully support this approach,” Muir said. “There has been a well identified need for more social housing. A commitment to stimulus spending to procure public and social housing buildings will immediately support confidence in the development sector while addressing a crucial long-term issue. Funding can also be applied to improvements to existing housing stock.”

The taskforce will be advised by three industry working groups and guided by a steering committee made up of representatives from peak industry bodies and unions.

Muir said, “[The Australian Institute of Architects] will be looking to contribute to the taskforce in any way we can, and we will be making a submission about what types of policies processes and projects the Institute sees as important to support a recovery on the other side of the pandemic.”

The taskforce will run for initial period of three months and report back to government with recommendations.

The Victorian government also simultaneously approved four large-scale projects in announcing the establishment of the taskforce.

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