Tough planning rules to target contamination

Children's playgrounds, old petrol stations, factories and industrial land will be audited for contamination and hazards under strict new rules to determine risks to health and the environment.

Planning Minister Matthew Guy has announced the new rules – designed to introduce clarity as residential development encroaches into old industrial areas – after an independent panel delivered recommendations to tackle a lack of accountability for dealing with contaminated land.

It follows a December 2011 Audit Office report that found an estimated 10,000 contaminated sites across Victoria were not being properly managed, despite imminent or long-term risk to health and the environment.

The report said the Department of Planning, the Environment Protection Authority and local councils were "not effectively" managing contaminated sites, partly because of an "undue emphasis" on avoiding legal and financial liabilities rather than tackling health and environmental risks.

Under the new rules, all new playgrounds will be audited for potential hazards. Presently many playgrounds require no assessment.

The guidelines will also mean old petrol stations sites will require a formal environmental audit before any houses, childcare centres or schools can be built.

But households in areas with potentially contaminated land wanting to renovate will no longer be required to undertake a comprehensive environmental audit if there is a low risk of disturbing contaminants.

Large shopping developments will also no longer require complex separate assessment for individual businesses, with a new "precinct approach" involving overarching assessments for particular areas.

Land previously used for industrial purposes that is being developed for residential uses, such as Fishermans Bend or the former Wodonga railway station, will also face clearer rules about when an environmental audit is required.

Mr Guy said a more rigorous approach to managing contaminated land was needed as residential areas extended into old industrial areas.

"Victoria needs a sensible balance between land management and building and works to ensure appropriate protections are put in place to protect human health and the environment," he said.

The story Tough planning rules to target contamination first appeared on The Age.

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