In The University of Melbourne v Minister for the Planning  VCAT 469 the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) considered an application to demolish an existing heritage building and to permit the construction of a scientific research institute.
The case was decided early in late March 2011 and resulted in immediate media interest and criticism of the planning process.
It is interesting to consider cases such as this away from the media glare and investigate the issues at the heart of the Tribunal’s decision.
This case is a prime example of the types of matters the Tribunal must weigh up when determining whether to grant a permit to a large public project.
The University commenced this application because it wants to construct a scientific research institute that will conduct research into infectious disease. The benefit that such an institute will bring to the wider community must be weighed against the detriment caused to the community by the demolition of a heritage building.
In this case the Tribunal determined that the community would suffer greater detriment if the scientific institute were not constructed.
What some commentators appeared to miss at the time that this issue was discussed in the media is that the Tribunal did give weight to the heritage value of Ampol House. However, the Tribunal determined that its heritage value was not sufficient to warrant retention of the building.
This case also confirmed the concept that town planning is not about achieving ideal outcomes. Land particularly close to the CBD is a scarce resource. As a result town planning is about achieving acceptable outcomes that will generate the greatest benefit to the community as a whole. Identifying that benefit and how to achieve it is ultimately what keeps practitioners in the jurisdiction occupied.