When applying for a planning permit to develop land in Victoria
within an open, potable water supply catchment, the application
must have regard to the Guidelines for Planning Permit Applications
in Open, Potable Water Supply Catchment Areas (Guidelines). A
potable water supply catchment provides water resources to a
reservoir (or water storage) used primarily for domestic water
In May 2009, new Guidelines were released to replace the Interim
Guidelines dated August 2000.
The key changes include:
Reference to the Precautionary
The Guidelines now make reference to the precautionary principle.
The precautionary principle as applied to planning decisions states
that where uncertainty or ignorance exists as to the nature or
scope of environmental harm, decision makers should be cautious
when considering planning applications. It is directed towards the
prevention of serious or irreversible harm to the environment in
situations of scientific uncertainty.
The Guidelines describe the proper application of the precautionary
principle and make clear that the principle requires the
consideration of the cumulative risk of the adverse impact of
onsite waste water/septic tank systems on water quality in open,
potable water supply catchments resulting from increased dwelling
This is consistent with the Supreme Court decision in Western
Water v Rozen & Anor  VSC 382. In Western
Water, His Honour Justice Osborn held that VCAT had erred in
its decision concerning a planning application by not correctly
applying the precautionary principle, in particular it had not
acknowledged or directly addressed the issue of cumulative risk
resulting from increased dwelling densities.
Changes to Guideline 1: Density of
The revised Guideline 1 states:
'Where a planning permit is required to use land for a dwelling
or to subdivide land:
The density of dwellings should be no greater than one dwelling
per 40 hectares (1:40ha); and
Each lot created in the subdivision should be at least 40
hectares in area.
This does not apply if a catchment management plan, water
catchment policy or similar project addressing land use planning
issues and the cumulative impact of onsite waste water/septic tank
systems has been prepared for the catchment, and the objectives,
strategies and requirements of the plan or project have been
included in the planning scheme.'
The new Guideline 1 no longer requires a land capability
assessment for the onsite management of domestic water for the
exemption to apply. However, for the exemption to apply it requires
that a water catchment plan, water catchment policy or similar
project must address the cumulative impact of onsite waste water/
septic tank systems for the catchment.
There are other minor changes to the Guidelines including to
Guideline 2 Effluent Disposal and Septic Tank System Maintenance.
This includes expanding on the installation and maintenance
requirements for onsite septic tank systems and the introduction of
a new setback distance of 20 metres between onsite systems and
potable or non-potable groundwater bores.
The Guidelines which are now final will hold greater weight in
planning permit applications. Accordingly, developers should be
aware of the changes to the Guidelines when applying for planning
permits to develop land within open, potable water supply catchment
The Guidelines can be found on the Department of Sustainability
and Environment's website.
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This publication is intended as a first point of reference
and should not be relied on as a substitute for professional
advice. Specialist legal advice should always be sought in relation
to any particular circumstances and no liability will be accepted
for any losses incurred by those relying solely on this
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