Business identification and promotional signs are an essential part of any business. While signs themselves are designed to be eye-catching, the required planning approvals and the durations of those approvals are often overlooked. Subject to a small list of exemptions, almost all businesses will need planning permission from local council to develop and display signs most are subject to expiry dates.

Under the particular provisions of the Victorian planning scheme the majority of permits issued for signs expire 15 years from the date that a planning permit is issued. It is now a requirement under the planning scheme that all new permits for signage must stipulate the expiry date and require the removal of the sign and supporting structures; however there are a significant number of signs that pre-date these changes to the scheme. In a recent ‘Red Dot’ matter before Deputy President Helen Gibson in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (the Tribunal)^, the Tribunal confirmed the 15 year expiry applies even if your planning permit pre-dates the amendments to the scheme and does not have an expiry date listed.

The display of signs under an expired permit constitutes a breach of the Planning and Environment Act 1987 (the Act), for which local council may take enforcement action against the owner or the occupier of the land which may include penalties and orders for the removal of any unapproved signs.

This presents an issue for both purchasers of existing businesses, who will want to make sure that the business they are purchasing has requisite approvals to continue trading, and for existing business operators who may not be aware that their approvals to display signs have lapsed. This can equally be an issue for landlords of commercial buildings; who are also be liable under the Act in the event of a breach by a tenant.

Planning considerations for advertising signs can be quite complex and it is not always easy to ascertain what approvals are required for business or promotional signs or what materials you need to provide in order to obtain approval. In order to ‘renew’ any existing signage that may be expiring, you need to apply to local council for a planning permit. Just because you have had signage approved in the past is no guarantee that it will be approved, particularly if there have been changes in local planning policy or changes in the physical site context.

If you are unsure of how to find out when your signage will expire, or if you do not know if your existing signage has been approved by council prior to being installed, please do not hesitate to contact Elizabeth Priddle or Alison Elverd.

^ Fivex Pty Ltd v Melbourne CC (Red Dot) [2019] VCAT 138

This update does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. It is intended only to provide a summary and general overview on matters of interest and it is not intended to be comprehensive. You should seek legal or other professional advice before acting or relying on any of the content.