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Council almost doubles out-of-hours construction fines

Council almost doubles out-of-hours construction fines
David Schout

A City of Melbourne councillor has been proactive on the issue after the state government had shown “zero interest” in addressing ongoing breaches.

Builders who start or finish work outside permitted hours will face heftier penalties after the City of Melbourne almost doubled out-of-hours construction fines.

Declaring it an “open secret” that some builders were happy to face a $2000 fine for working before 7am or after 7pm on a weekday (or outside the allowed 8am to 3pm hours on a Saturday), one councillor said the former fine had lost its “deterrence effect”.

At a February 27 council meeting, new local laws were endorsed that will force developers to pay $3846.20 for starting work early or finishing late, which impacts on the livelihood of residents particularly in Southbank and the CBD where large-scale construction often takes place within metres of residences.

Greens Cr Rohan Leppert first flagged the issue almost four years ago, and was glad that meaningful change could be enacted at the municipal level.

“I initiated the process to remake our local laws for one reason because Melburnians deserve a decent night’s sleep,” he told Southbank News.

 

It’s an open secret that a handful of builders have been factoring penalties for out-of-hours construction work without a permit into the cost of doing business.

 

“Because the maximum fines under the old local laws were fixed at $2000, they have been reducing in real terms and losing their deterrence effect.”

“The effect of remaking our local laws is to nearly double those building nuisance related fines and ensure they’re indexed annually, while slightly reducing all other fines in real terms.”

Cr Leppert, however, said the move would not completely stamp out disruptive builder behaviour that impacted local amenity.

Since calling on the Victorian Government in 2020 to help the council better enforce rules and deter builders from breaking the law, it was yet to receive a response.

“These changes aren’t a complete fix,” he said.

“Council has persistently requested that the Planning Minister pursue meaningful and enforceable deterrents against unreasonable noise and nuisance through the Building Act and regulations, but to date there has been zero interest from the state government on this issue."

“So, we are doing the best we can with the limited municipal powers available.”

The issue of construction noise and disturbance came to a head in 2020 when, shortly after the onset of COVID-19, the City of Melbourne allowed building activity to take place from 6am to 8pm on weekdays as a way to “fast-track projects, save jobs and help limit the economic impact of COVID-19”.

The special exemption allowed job sites, usually bound by the 7am to 7pm rules, extra time to offset the time lost to social distancing and other safety measures.

Normal 8am to 3pm rules on Saturdays were also extended by three hours (from 7am to 5pm), giving the industry an additional 13 hours on site per week.

With it, the council saw a significant spike in complaints from locals, many of whom were bound to their homes for large periods of the day due to lockdown laws.

The City of Melbourne made the decision “under delegation” without going before councillors, a move criticised at the time by both planning chair and Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece, and Cr Leppert who said it was a “terrible, terrible policy”. •

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