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The recent $23 million settlement between a group of Cranbourne home owners, the City of Casey and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has sparked calls for a dedicated Land and Environment Court in Victoria.
National law firm Slater and Gordon, which represented property owners in the Cranbourne class action, has written to Attorney General Robert Clark this week outlining the need for a new court.
Slater and Gordon litigation lawyer Manisha Blencowe said that her clients in the Cranbourne class action were victims of a system that had not been able to adequately oversee planning and land management in Victoria.
“The establishment of a Land and Environment Court would help to avoid a repeat of the Brookland Greens estate case which has had grave ramifications for Victorians not only because of the immediate risk that it posed to those living there, but because of the compensation costs and length legal dispute that has followed,” Ms Blencowe said.
“It is clear that as the appetite for land in Victoria increase that there will also be increased risks associated with development on sites that are not appropriate for development and on sites that have not undergone enough planning and environmental controls before development.
“Victorians need and deserve better protection against these risks.”
Ms Blencowe said the new court could be modelled on similar courts in New South Wales and Queensland, providing a more appropriate forum for substantial planning and environment disputes than Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) which currently hears all planning disputes.
“Other states have already taken the proactive step of establishing land and environment courts to help shoulder the complex planning and environment matters which arise on a regular basis,” Ms Blencowe said.
“If a court of this type had existed while Brookland Greens was at a planning stage, there could have been a much higher level of scrutiny applied. In fairness to VCAT in the Cranbourne case, significant criticism has been leveled at the developer, the council and the EPA in their presentation of evidence about the appropriateness of development in the buffer zone along the landfill.”
“A dedicated Land and Environment Court would concentrate specialised knowledge and resources in one location enabling proper consideration of the appropriateness of sites for their intended use, and the appropriate environmental controls required. A dedicated court could also give the EPA better enforcement options to ensure environmental standards are maintained before the development of sites complicates the remediation task.
“The Cranbourne example demonstrates that disputes about planning and environmental matters have significant ramifications, and many times these disputes will require technically complex evidence about land sites, their uses, and the environmental management required.