RESIDENT objectors could be prevented from voicing their opposition to controversial planning decisions because of a proposed fee hike at the planning tribunal, critics say.
Appropriate Development for Boronia Group member Anthony Searle said price rises at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal would slash the number of resident-led appeals.
"It's hard when you have a family . . . the expenses, power bills — it's a lot of money ," he said
From March, the cost of filing an objection with the tribunal could rise four-fold, from $322 to $1462 for projects between $1 million and $5 million. By 2015 that fee could rise to $2014.
Planning reform group Save Our Suburbs, and Tecoma Village Action Group president Nicole Gale echoed Mr Searle's criticisms of the fee hike.
SOS said the move would effectively silence locals, who would face difficulty in affording the steep costs.
President Ian Wood said groups with the fewest objectors would be hardest hit.
"VCAT was supposed to be the cheap avenue of appeal for ordinary lay people without having recourse to legal assistance. [It] is a further dampener on people trying to oppose inappropriate development," Mr Wood said.
TVAG's Nicole Gale said the price rises mocked democracy. She said hearings at VCAT were often a David and Goliath battle — like the group's bid to stop McDonald's intrusion into Tecoma.
"On one side you have families and individuals and on the other you have big international corporations. It just adds insult to injury by raising the fees."
ADBG president Karin Kaufmann, however, was confident residents would continue to support the group's efforts.
"I can't see Boronia residents not continuing the fight even if it's tiring and exhausting — it would be saying to the developers and council to do what you want and we don't want to give that message."
Speaking in favour of the move, Save the Glenfern Green Wedge member David Mutch said it may discourage frivolous objections.
The VCAT's case backlog has delayed an appeal over a green wedge site in Upper Ferntree Gully — which Mr Mutch's group is opposing.
"I always thought it was too cheap. It's too easy to appeal and it's clogging up the tribunal," Mr Mutch said.
A spokesman for the Baillieu government said the proposed fee changes aimed "to reduce the burden on taxpayers and reinstate a reasonable balance between taxpayer and user funding".
Low-fee arrangements and waiver provisions would continue to apply in cases of hardship.
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