14 Oct 2021

Suburban Rail Loop Bill delivers for major Victorian Government transport projects

By Peter Holcombe Henley, Simon Bailey, Jessica Lee and William Deng

Government project delivery agencies should initiate reviews of their Major Transport Projects Facilitation Act processes currently underway to ensure they are ready for any impact the changes may have on their projects.

The Victorian Suburban Rail Loop Bill 2021, which was passed by the Parliament on 7 October 2021:

  • establishes a new statutory authority to develop and deliver the Suburban Rail Loop Project; and
  • makes a number of significant changes to the Major Transport Projects Facilitation Act 2009 (Vic) (MTPFA) and the Planning and Environment Act 1987 (Vic) which are designed to enhance and streamline the planning and delivery of current and future Victorian Government transport projects.

This article focuses on the MTPFA changes, which are likely to impact on all aspects of major transport project delivery, including:

  • project planning;
  • land acquisition and compensation;
  • temporary occupation and land access;
  • early works;
  • utilities;
  • road management; and
  • property completions.

The changes enable some investigations, land assembly activities and early works to be progressed before a project area is designated, and reduce the number of processes and instruments required to complete various project-related transactions.

In the second reading of the Bill, Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan stated that these changes are intended to "eliminate the red tape that Government imposes on its own activities, reduce administration costs and provide time savings that will enable project benefits to be brought forward."

Government project delivery agencies and lead contractors should be aware of the changes so they can ensure their processes are in place to comply with and take advantage of the new provisions when they come into force.

The Bill must come into operation no later than 1 September 2022, but may be proclaimed to commence sooner.

Changes to the Major Transport Projects Facilitation Act

The changes to the MTPFA are extensive, and cover a number of different areas. In making these amendments, the Victorian Government has sought to make it easier for projects to get going earlier, to more effectively progress the planning and delivery stages, and to remove hurdles which have been encountered in previous projects delivered under the MTPFA framework.

Land teams should be aware of the following key changes to the MTPFA:

  • Project proponents and project authorities will have increased powers for project authorities to access and deal with land prior to project area designation, which will "enable better planning, better cost estimation, better impact assessment, mitigation and infrastructure design".
  • There will be updated compensation positions with respect to tunnelling projects and tenanted land to reflect the Government's updated understanding about the impact of below-surface acquisitions on the value of land, and to address duplication in compensation claims.
  • Improved interfaces with utilities, with the ability of project authorities to transfer established or acquired easements to utilities or other transport bodies for operation reasons or asset management purposes.

Delivery teams should be aware of the following key changes to the MTPFA:

  • Land assembly and early works will be able to commence in certain circumstances, while planning and environmental assessments are being undertaken and land acquisition or divestment is taking place.
  • The State, in addition to project authorities, will now be able to designate a project contractor under the section 7 of the MTPFA.
  • Project authorities will have:
    • clearer powers regarding conducting works, discontinuing or realigning roads, temporary roadways, deviations and traffic diversions, closing and opening roads to traffic;
    • powers to alter parking conditions; and
    • the power to manage and move vehicles and other things causing obstructions to project works.
  • Project authorities will also have broader powers to carry out temporary works to reinstate access, and to implement temporary traffic management measures for projects.

Next steps for Government project delivery agencies

The changes to the MTPFA are wide-ranging and have the potential to impact a number of projects currently being delivered under the MTPFA.

Government project delivery agencies should initiate reviews of their MTPFA processes that are currently underway to ensure that, if the changes are proclaimed sooner rather than later, they are ready for any impact the changes may have on their projects.

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Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this communication. Persons listed may not be admitted in all States and Territories.