In the lead up to the 2014 State election, the (then) Labor opposition promised to introduce legislation concerning the weight to be given to the number of objections received in respect of a planning permit application.
This policy lead to the introduction of the Planning and Environment Amendment (Recognising Objectors) Bill 2015, which inserted sections 60 and 84B(2)(jb) into the Planning and Environment Act 1987.
In substance the amendments codified the position developed at common law and provides a statutory basis for recognition that the number of objections to a permit application can be relevant in assessing whether the proposal would cause a significant social effect.
These provisions were recently considered by the Victorian and Civil Administrative Tribunal in Backman & Company Pty Ltd v Boroondara CC (Includes Summary) (Red Dot)  VCAT 1836.
In this case, Council received 450 objections to the planning permit application and 80 statements of grounds were filed with the Tribunal. However, consistent with decisions concerning social effects prior to the 2015 amendments, the Tribunal held that even a high number of objections remains insufficient to demonstrate a proposal will cause a significant social effect.
Despite the amendments, the parties must still provide evidence relating to the probability and severity of the social effect and in doing so, address whether the social effect is offset by any social benefits.
In addition, consideration of whether a proposal will have a significant social effect is limited to matters related to the relevant permit trigger. In this case, as a permit was only required for the development, concerns about the social effects relating to the proposed use of the land for apartments were unable to be considered.
This decision confirms that the number of objections is, of itself, insufficient to demonstrate that a proposal will have a significant social effect. To succeed, objections must be supported by evidence to demonstrate a significant social effect and must properly relate to the permission being sought.
Following this decision permit applicants and objectors must now consider the scope of evidence to be presented to the Tribunal in cases where there are substantial numbers of objections.
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