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What is a panel?

A panel is appointed by the Minister for Planning to hear submissions about amendments to planning schemes, and to make recommendations or provide advice about if the amendment should proceed.

It will have one or more members, depending on the issues involved.

What does a panel do?

The basic role of a panel is to:

  • give submitters an opportunity to be heard in an informal, non-judicial manner
  • give expert advice to the planning authority – usually the local council – or the minister about an amendment and about submissions referred to it.

A panel is not a court and is not bound by legal rules of evidence.

A panel may inquire into all aspects of the amendment and submissions.

Find out how to make a submission.

Our members deal with different types of panels and committees appointed to consider and advise on planning proposals and policies. These include:

Unless specified in the terms of reference, advisory committee hearings and environment effects inquiries are generally undertaken in the same way as a panel hearing.

Read more about committees and inquiries.

A planning authority requests a panel be appointed to consider submissions about:

  • amendments to planning schemes – unless an exemption is granted, hearing dates need to be pre-set before the exhibition period commences
  • combined planning scheme amendment and planning permit process
  • planning permit applications called-in by the Minister for Planning.

The planning authority is typically the local council but can also be the Minister for Planning or a public authority, such as VicRoads.

When a planning authority requests the appointment of a panel, it will usually provide the following documents, as relevant:

  • the planning scheme amendment
  • a full copy of the Environment Effects Statement (EES)
  • the planning permit application
  • a full set of plans
  • any supporting reports or other documentation exhibited with the amendment, EES or permit application
  • any relevant council officer reports
  • all submissions referred to the panel
  • any other submissions received
  • a copy of the Planning Policy Framework including the full Municipal Strategic Statement, all local planning policies and relevant extracts from the planning scheme – for example, schedules to zones or overlays
  • other relevant policies
  • any other relevant information

The chief panel member normally chooses the prospective panel members and appoints the panel under delegation from the minister. The minister directly appoints an advisory committee and environment effects inquiry.

Members for an individual panel are usually selected from a list of panel members based on:

  • the experience or expertise required by the subject matter of the panel;
  • the likely length of the panel hearing; and
  • the availability of panel members.

Members of a panel are required to declare that they have no conflict of interest :

  • when approached to be appointed to a panel
  • after the directions hearing.

After a panel is appointed

Typically, the following will happen after a panel is appointed:

  • Each submitter receives a letter that explains the process, invites them to participate in the hearing process, and provides indicative dates for the hearing.
  • Within 2 - 3 weeks of its appointment, the panel conducts a directions hearing to decide the hearing process, consider and confirm dates, venue/format, and answer questions. Hearing dates are often pre-set before the amendment is exhibited.
  • Sometimes a directions hearing is not needed but written directions may be issued. The panel will advise submitters if this is the case.
  • The panel issues a directions letter to each party that includes procedural directions including when expert evidence should be provided and a timetable confirming when each party will appear.
  • The panel conducts a hearing about four to six weeks after the directions hearing.

Find out more about how hearings work.

The panel prepares its report after the hearing is completed. This includes any supplementary submissions allowed or requested by the panel. It is generally lodged with the planning authority in the following prescribed timeframes:

  • 20 business days for a panel with one member
  • 30 business days for a panel with 2 members
  • 40 business days for a panel of 3 or more members.

Request to appear before a panel

If you wish to appear before the panel to present a submission, you must complete an online request to be heard by the date specified in the letter you receive.

The panel needs to receive the requests by the specified date so that it can review them and prepare before the directions hearing.

If you do not lodge the request to be heard by the required date, or at the directions hearing, it will be assumed you do not wish to appear. You are welcome to attend and observe any part of the hearing as it is open to the public.

Contacting the panel

You can only contact the panel in the public forum of a hearing or in writing. You cannot contact panel members by any direct means to discuss matters before the panel.

If an issue or concern arises, send a letter or email to the panel chair through the panel coordinator. A response will be provided to you through a Planning Panels Victoria officer or at the hearing. The panel may send copies of your letter to other submitters.

Some large panels have a project officer assigned to them – you can directly contact that nominated person for assistance. Contact details are included in the letter that is sent to you following the directions hearing.

Preparing for the hearing

Relevant documents are available on the planning authority’s website. If you do not have access to documentation contact the planning authority and/or council.

Useful documents include all documents provided by the planning authority when requesting a panel be appointed.

You should read the documents before the hearing to be prepared and to avoid unnecessary questions.

If you have requested to appear at the hearing, please consider how you will approach your presentation.

You may ask a spokesperson to speak for you or other parties. You can be represented by someone else, such as a family member, friend, neighbour or professional advocate. Consider if you need any professional advice, such as from an urban planner.

The request to be heard form asks for information about any representative appearing for you and any expert or other witnesses you plan to call.

Before the hearing, if you have requested to be heard by the panel, you may receive material such as expert witness reports. These statements are relied upon to support another party's case at the hearing. They must be sent to parties by the deadline directed by the panel, which is generally at least five business days before the hearing.

You should read any expert reports, referred to as evidence, before the hearing as they will be discussed. It will be assumed that parties have the relevant material before the hearing. Be prepared to address the reports should you wish.

Questions of expert witnesses are permitted, but are confined to questions, not statements or comments. Arguments with expert witnesses are not helpful and will not be allowed by the panel chair.

Your submission must identify your concern about the proposal and explain your reasons. Focus on these points and think about ways to demonstrate them. Photographs, diagrams or a short video can help.

You can refer to a previous panel report or VCAT decision if it is directly relevant to the point you wish to make. You can access these at the Australasian Legal Information Institute.

Make sure you rehearse what you want to say, so that you remain within your allotted time.

Generally, there will be a panel direction requiring you to provide an electronic version of any document such as your presentation or photos by 12 noon the day before you propose to refer on them at the hearing.

Read more about how hearings work.

Attending the hearing

You do not have to attend the entire hearing. You can attend at any time to observe the proceedings and may access documents presented at the hearing.

If you are a party, the panel will ask you to be present at least 15 minutes before your scheduled commencement time.

You should attend if you:

  • are new to the panel process and wish to participate in the hearing
  • have questions about the panel process or wish to raise procedural issues.

At the directions hearing, the panel will:

  • give directions about exchanging information before the hearing and the conduct of the hearing
  • identify any particular matters it wants the planning authority, proponent or other parties to address in submissions
  • consider hearing times and venue and site inspections
  • answer questions people have about the panel process including the hearing.

The directions will be confirmed in writing to those who have asked to be heard or kept informed.  A timetable will be issued at the same time.

If you no longer wish to appear as a party to the hearing:

  • advise the panel chair at the directions hearing or hearing, or
  • email us to advise in writing that you will not be attending.

Your written submission will still be considered by the panel.

You may ask to provide a further written submission if you cannot attend the hearing. If the panel agrees, then you are likely to be asked to send the submission to nominated people such as the planning authority by a set date.

The panel will generally inspect a site or area to better understand the evidence and submissions. Its purpose is not to gather new evidence.

If a panel intends to conduct an inspection, it will usually indicate this intention either at the directions hearing or hearing.

The panel may:

  • allocate a specific time in the hearing timetable for an inspection
  • advise if there was an inspection before the hearing
  • re-inspect after a hearing.

Inspections are often not accompanied by parties. If an accompanied inspection is required, arrangements will be made at a hearing or through a Planning Panels Victoria officer. Whether accompanied or unaccompanied, nobody can discuss the merits of the amendment or proposal during the inspection.

If a panel observes something during its inspection which was not referred to by parties, and it intends to rely on this information in reaching its conclusions, the panel informs the parties of its observations and gives them an opportunity to comment. This may be done at the hearing, by letter, or by reconvening the hearing if it has finished.

After the hearing

The panel will review all the submissions and information presented at the hearing and prepare its report.

The panel report:

  • documents issues raised in submissions which responded to the amendment’s public exhibition
  • considers all submissions and information received to independently determine its findings
  • generally recommends changes to the amendment in response to its findings.

The panel report will be forwarded to the planning authority when completed and must be released to the public after 10 business days. The planning authority may release the report earlier if it chooses.

The panel report provides advice and recommendations. The planning authority and the minister are not bound by the panel’s recommendations.

If the council does not adopt a panel recommendation, it must give reasons as to why.

Once available to the public, the panel report is uploaded to Australasian Legal Information Institute and Planning Scheme Amendments where it remains permanently available.

If a planning authority does not make a decision

If the planning authority has not adopted the amendment or been granted an extension of time by the minister, the amendment will lapse two years after the public notice date published in the Government Gazette.

Hearing costs

The planning authority meets the panel's fees. The fees are prescribed by us and relate to the full panel process including the hearing, site visits and report writing.

Submitters do not pay a fee to be heard by the panel or for the submission to be considered.

The award of costs against a party is rare in panel proceedings.

Costs when a hearing is adjourned

Section 165 of the Planning and Environment Act 1987 provides for the adjournment of hearings as follows:

"A Panel may from time to time adjourn a Hearing to any times and places and for any purposes it thinks necessary and on any terms as to costs or otherwise which it thinks just in the circumstances."

The need for an adjournment may arise during the hearing for a variety of reasons. It may occur if a significant change is proposed to an amendment, or a proposal or significant new evidence is introduced, and the involved parties have not been previously informed.

If an adjournment is necessary, the panel may consider if costs should be awarded. Costs are usually only awarded to a party if the costs claimed would not otherwise have been incurred and they are the direct result of another party's actions.

If costs are requested or the panel itself considers an award of costs is appropriate, parties determined by the panel will be given an opportunity to be heard before any direction is made.

Page last updated: 01/07/24