There are calls for the state government to speed up Victorian Civil Administrative Tribunal hearings to clear the backlog that is holding up a multi-million-dollar development in Warrnambool.
The delay could push up the cost of the Heatherlie Homes housing project for older people by up to $1 million or even higher as building cost skyrocket.
The unit development on the former St John's Bowls Club site off Princess Street was scheduled to open in September, providing 13 new homes to address the housing shortage, but a VCAT appeal is not scheduled to be heard until October.
Member of the Heatherlie Homes stage six development project Vern Robson said with the rapid rise in housing costs, they had been advised the cost of building the $4.17 million project would increase by 20 per cent every two months.
Mr Robson said it meant having to add an extra fifth on the cost of the project - that's about $800,000. If costs continued to rise at the same rate, it could potentially push the cost of the project up by millions.
He said other developers in Warrnambool also had projects that were being held up for "a considerable time" because of VCAT objections.
"In the meantime costs are going up daily which doesn't help," he said.
"Our architect has indicated that costs are really going up at the rate of 20 per cent every two months in the building industry.
"It's one of those frustrating things, you know you are in the hands of government bureaucracy.
"I'm surprised the government hasn't taken greater attention to the number of people who are waiting on VCAT hearings.
"It's just disappointing that we have to wait such a length of time."
Mr Robson said if the government scheduled additional hearings, it would overcome some of those complications.
"In the meantime you have to live with the costs that are incurred," he said.
"And that's going to have to go onto the cost of the people who are desperately wanting this form of accommodation. It's just so hard. They're people who are the most in need."
A 30-minute practice hearing has been scheduled for April 29, a three-hour compulsory conference on August 23 and the actual VCAT hearing doesn't take place until October 26 and 27.
Heatherlie will then have to have wait for the decision to be handed down.
"We were expecting it to be opened in September this year and we're not even going to have the VCAT hearing over by then," Mr Robson said.
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He said objectors did have their rights but it added a huge cost to community-type projects like Heatherlie Homes.
"It's a good example if only the state government was able to speed up hearings," he said.
A permit for the project was issued by the city council in December last year, but two objections are appealing to VCAT the use of a public road connecting Manifold Street to the proposed development.
The plans include eight units on the former bowling site and five units on the adjacent parcel of land on Manifold Street.
It's the sixth development Heatherlie Homes has undertaken since its first development on Koroit Street was officially opened in 1979, and there are plans in the pipeline for further developments on land opposite the railway station on Merri Street.
A Victorian government spokesperson said it was aware of the "significant delays" and increased waiting times for some VCAT matters and the impact it was having.
"We are doing everything we can to ensure Victorians can resolve their cases quickly and effectively," the spokesperson said.
"The sheer scale of the ongoing impact of COVID-19 and the high volume of cases VCAT deals with means that it will take some time for things to get back to normal.
"VCAT continues to hear urgent matters, such as applications for injunction and certain residential tenancy matters, on a priority basis."
A spokesperson for VCAT said it was experiencing a backlog of issues relating to restrictions imposed by the pandemic, but this had not affected the Planning and Environment Division which presides over the Heatherlie Homes case.
"There are preliminary legal issues that need to be resolved prior to hearing the substantive aspects of the case," the spokesperson said.
"The application therefore requires a practice day hearing which has been scheduled in late April, three months after the objectors initiated the appeal within the tribunal."
The government opened two new standalone, purpose-built VCAT facilities in Frankston and Bundoora earlier this year with increased hearing capacity and the latest remote hearing facilities.
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