VCAT determines “lack of need” not relevant in overturning rejected childcare centre proposal
ARR Property has been successful in its appeal to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) to operate a 90-place childcare facility in Grovedale, a suburb of Geelong, defying a cited “lack of need” for childcare services within the area.
The development was originally blocked by the Geelong City Council due to objection from the local community, which included the tabling of a petition with over 700 signatures in state parliament.
The council refused the application in May 2018 based on the proposed build being inconsistent with the neighbourhood and streetscape, and the amount of traffic to be generated by the centre. A lack of need was also cited – with local councillors stating that there are “ample vacancies” within childcare centres in the area, and the ageing population for the area reduced the demand for such facilities.
The council stated that Grovedale is rated as a low priority area within its Municipal Children’s Services Infrastructure Plan, and the area is benefiting from a recently opened council-run Grovedale Child and Family Centre which includes a kindergarten. This reason was refuted on the basis that the services plan provides information to direct the provision of council services, for internal use only, and “does not seek to provide regulation of private facilities”.
VCAT determined that the childcare proposal was in-line with the State and Local Planning Policy Frameworks, and Greater Geelong Planning Scheme, and that a “lack of need will rarely be a ground for refusing to grant a permit”.
VCAT’s statements are particularly interesting to note in the current early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector climate, with peak bodies such as the Australian Childcare Alliance (ACA) warning that oversupply could lead to unnecessary pressures on ECEC providers. In a statement on its website, the ACA says “With few barriers to entry for new or existing providers to set up new centres, the saturation of childcare centres in certain geographic areas has led to many services experiencing lower utilisation or being squeezed out of business.”
“If not addressed, oversupply will lead to increased costs for families and may impact on the quality of services in local communities,” the peak body warns.
“Many Tribunal decisions have considered the relevance of need. Their primary finding is that a demonstrated need for a facility or use may be a relevant factor in a planning decision, but lack of a need will rarely, if ever, be a ground for refusing to grant a permit.”
In handing down VCAT’s decision, VCAT representative Megan Carew said “Many Tribunal decisions have considered the relevance of need. Their primary finding is that a demonstrated need for a facility or use may be a relevant factor in a planning decision, but lack of a need will rarely, if ever, be a ground for refusing to grant a permit.”
She explained “When the word ‘need’ is used in a town planning sense, it must mean community need. It is not necessary to show an element of urgent community necessity for a facility. Rather, need connotes the idea that the well being of a community or some part of it can be better and more conveniently served by the provision of a particular facility.
“Need is a relevant consideration, but not an essential requirement.”
Earlier this month, the City of Greater Geelong announced that it was assessing nine planning permits for childcare centres in the region, which were supported by projected population growth in Geelong and surrounding areas for children 0 to 4 years of age – anticipated to expand by 3,297 between 2016 and 2036.