29.11.23|Thought Piece

POPE Permits and the Struggle to Deliver Community Events in Victoria

29.11.23|Thought Piece

For over a decade, The Place Agency has proudly worked with local community groups, traders’ associations, and private businesses to deliver community events that help foster community spirit and bring our local places together.

From small pop-ups, and local markets all the way to major festivals with attendances well into the thousands and tens of thousands, we’ve been fortunate to have delivered events in over a dozen council areas across Victoria.

While there have always been challenges and obstacles to overcome when it comes to navigating the intricate web of local council regulations and processes, recent changes to permitting processes by the Victorian Building Authority to incorporate new requirements for temporary structures have changed the game completely.

Yes – we’re talking about POPE Permits (Place of Public Entertainment Permits)

For those in the industry, POPE permits have moved from being a small line item in our standard permit application process to being the sole topic of meetings, entire binder folders worth of documents, and the source of nightmares for the event managers tasked with meeting these ever-increasing and convoluted requirements.

To give context to the size of this shift and its impact on our industry, we recently delivered a small market event for a community group on private land that was free to enter for the local community. Pop-up market stalls lined the laneway, selling everything from jewellery to handbags and custom bed sheets.

The event had a total budget of just $14,000 and was designed to help reactivate an area of Victoria heavily impacted by COVID.

The cost of achieving the POPE permit alone for this tiny event was $2,600—nearly 20% of the entire budget.

Another example was a significant food festival delivered in a local park, free to entry for the local community, with a budget of $180,000.

The permitting for this event cost our client over $17,000 in fees to the Council, POPE applications, and ongoing engineering inspections.

Pre-COVID, that exact cost was only $6,000, 180% increase.

Until 2019, that money would have been spent on enhancing the experience for the local community.

However, engineering and the introduction of the VBA as an interested party in events, unfortunately, sits at the heart of where things are going so wrong for events in Victoria.

A POPE Permit falls under the Building Act and the Building Regulations 2018 from the Victorian Building Authority. The act, amongst other things, essentially identifies temporary structures used for events to fall within the remit of a Certified Building Surveyor (engineer).

When delivering a POPE Permit, you could expect to provide a;

  • Emergency Management and Evacuation Plans
  • Safety Officer (required to hold a Public Safety Officer Certificate)
  • Toilet Facilities (at a ratio of 1 toilet per 60 patrons)
  • Water Taps/Fountains (at a ratio of 1 water tap per 150 patrons)
  • Emergency Exit widths (minimum width is calculated on event capacity)
  • Accessible Toilets
  • Site Plans that show
    • The boundary of the area proposed as a Place of Public Entertainment
    • Location of all existing buildings and their addresses/names
    • Location of Temporary Structures (both prescribed and non-prescribed)
    • Location of Emergency Exits (inc width in meters)
    • Emergency Vehicle Access Routes
    • Location of Accessible and Non-Accessible Toilets and Facilities
    • Location of Drinking Taps
    • Location of Medical/First Aid Facilities
    • Location of existing fire suppression equipment
    • Location of temporary fire suppression equipment
    • The direction of North
  • Schedule (list) of Prescribed Temporary Structures

These are all pretty straightforward requests and quite typical when delivering an event.

However, it will also ask for;

  • Occupancy Permits for Prescribed Structures
  • Certificate of Compliance Design (Regulation 126) and drawings of all non-prescribed Structures (marquees, screens, towers, etc)

In Victoria, a Certificate of Compliance is a document that is regulated by the Victorian Building Authority and is referred to as “Regulation 126: Certificate of Compliance – Design”. The document is a statement made by the engineer to the Building Surveyor that all structural design works have been carried out in accordance with the Building Act 1993, the Building Regulations 2018, the National Construction Code and the relevant Australian Standards.​

You’d expect this level of compliance when building a new home, office block or skyscraper in CBD Melbourne. In fact, you’d demand it.

The question is, however, is this same level of authority and compliance really necessary for a market stall holder erecting a temporary marquee for an event? Or for a small stage for a busker to perform atop of?

Of course, it is recognised that local councils play a vital role in ensuring the well-being of communities, particularly during public events. For decades, councils have worked collaboratively with event organisers in a proactive manner that ensures aside major conflict – the event will go ahead in a safe and compliant manner.

However, the addition of the VBA as an interested party in event permits has thrown such a spanner in the works that many community organisations and businesses are turning away from events due to the significant costs and time required to achieve a POPE.

Ultimately, this outcome is an enormous loss to our local communities around the State and will see many of the festivals, fetes, and markets we know and love slowly scale back, or shut down completely.

By finding a better balance between regulatory oversight and community empowerment, local councils can once again create environments that allow for thriving, inclusive, and dynamic community events that enrich the social fabric of their jurisdictions.

For more information on POPE Permits, check out the VBA website