It is relatively unusual for large development applications to simultaneously seek both planning approval and the modification or removal of a restrictive covenant. This is particularly so for covenants created prior to 25 June 1991 where section 60(5) of the Planning and Environment Act 1987 (PEA) applies. This provision states a responsible authority must not grant a permit that allows the removal or variation of a restrictive covenant unless it is satisfied that:
(a) the owner of any land benefitted by the restriction … will be unlikely to suffer any detriment of any kind (including any perceived detriment) as a consequence of the removal or variation of the restriction.
The orthodox approach is to deal with the modification or removal of a restrictive covenant first, typically by way of an application pursuant to section 84 of the Property Law Act 1958, with a planning application being dealt with subsequently as part of a separate process.
Pulitano Properties Pty Ltd v Yarra Ranges SC  VCAT 32, serves as a reminder as to why an assessment against section 60(5) of the PEA is to be avoided, seemingly at all costs.
In this case, the Tribunal was asked to remove a series of covenants that provided an absolute discretion to a natural person, deemed to be deceased, to accept or refuse plans for development:
[the covenantor] shall not erect on the said lot … any building whether shop or dwelling house except in accordance with a plan thereof which shall first have been submitted to and approved by the said Elizabeth Annie Lipscomb…
Notwithstanding the absence of opposition from beneficiaries or indeed any opposition to the removal of the covenants by the municipal council that was otherwise contesting the development application, the Tribunal still found that the combined operation of section 60(5) and clause 52.02 of the relevant planning scheme meant that it should reject the application to remove the restrictive covenants:
365 The opening words of s. 60(5) of the Act contain a mandatory direction to a responsible authority (and the Tribunal) that a permit to remove or vary a restrictive covenant must not be granted unless the responsible authority (or the Tribunal) is satisfied of the matters that follow.
366 The Tribunal has previously recognised that there is a stringency in the requirements of s. 60(5) of the Act that sets “the bar that is extraordinarily high. The existence of any detriment of any kind (including any perceived detriment) is sufficient to defeat an application to vary a covenant.”
367 I do not accept that the fact that none of the beneficiaries to the restrictive covenants have objected to the proposed development, of itself, supports a finding that the beneficiaries would not suffer any detriment of any kind because of the development. There may be many reasons why a person (including a beneficiary to a restrictive covenant) may not make an objection to a planning permit, however it is for the Tribunal to be ultimately satisfied that beneficiaries will not suffer detriment of any kind.
368 In light of our findings on the merits of the proposal particularly in respect to the impact of the proposal on the surrounding traffic network and the unacceptable visual bulk of the proposed building, I am not satisfied that the beneficiaries of the restrictive covenant will not suffer detriment of any kind.
369 The other reasons given by the applicant for the exercise of discretion cannot overcome the statutory obligation imposed by s. 60(5) of the Act on the Tribunal to be satisfied that the beneficiaries of the restrictive covenant will not suffer any detriment of any kind.
370 In addition, the findings on the matters of concern to the resident respondents, Mr Williams, the League and the ETR Board, as ‘affected persons’ for the purposes of clause 52.02 of the planning scheme supports my finding that the restrictive covenants should not be removed.
In contrast, in an application pursuant to section 84 of the Property Law Act 1958 the Court would be unlikely to give much, if any, weight to injury occasioned on non-beneficiaries, and the absence of objectors might be expected to weigh heavily in favour of the Court’s discretion to remove or modify the restrictive covenants.