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Napthine Government planning legacy: what about Residential Zone reform?

If you were awake on Sunday morning, and on Twitter, you might have noticed there was a bit of a buzz about an op-ed published in the Sunday Age written by Professor Michael Buxton. In his 875 word piece Buxton said "Guy's main legacy is reshaping inner Melbourne as a high-rise city" and then went on to argue "a European model of dense, well-serviced low to medium-rise housing on brownfield and infill sites would make Melbourne a world model for new best-practice housing."

There was not one mention of an equally large legacy that can be attributed to the current planning minister: residential zone reform.

Guy has bequeathed Melbourne one of the world's most deregulated planning systems. This empowers developers, disenfranchises citizens and reduces local government to a cipher. Resident notification and appeal rights are severely reduced.

Professor Michael Buxton, The Sunday Age, 02/11/14.

If you have been following how various councils have gone about applying the reformed residential zones, you might have also noticed there has been a variety of ways councils have been facilitating community engagement. A great example utilsing online mapping tools is Moonee Valley's platform.

It allowed community members to provide direct feedback and if you'd like to see direct evidence of community involvement, zoom over the North Eastern corner of the municipality between Moonee Ponds creek and Essendon airport. There's a huge pocket of comments, all negative, in relation to the proposed General Residential Zoning adjacent to Strathmore North Primary School.

Given it's Cup Day - a day when even the most ardent non-gamblers secretly come out for a flutter on the local sweep - $20 says the response received in this pocket of the LGA was organised at a grassroots level, most likely fed to parents from the school. Is that disenfranchisement or engagement?

Are the new reformed zones perfect? No. How would we rate each council on how well they've implemented each zone? It varies.

Notwithstanding concerns - legitimate or otherwise - with tall building development in central Melbourne, what's going to have a greater impact on all Melburnians and therefore likely be the reference point for the Napthine Government's Planning legacy?

I'd wager another $20 on the reformed residential zones.

Lead image credit: deviantart.

2 comments

Bilby's picture

I think you may have slightly missed the point of Buxton's piece, Alastair. It's not really about the changes to Melbourne's residential zoning, but rather the planning process itself. Buxton comments, "Planning deregulation and key approvals are driven largely from Guy's office with the public service reduced mainly to facilitator. Integrated policy across land use, transport and other sectors does not exist. Governments which facilitate the private sector to a business lobby agenda need no policy in the public interest, including for urban and regional development."
His main point is that planning is now driven by interests other than the public interest and lack cohesive policy that can deliver civic goods prior to the interests of developers and business. Fisherman's Bend is the classic case - rezone a vast area of inner-urban land with no planning strategy or master plan, then approve a slew of city-reshaping proposals while granting massive windfalls to the property owners without considering the provision of public transport, parks or services. This mirrors the redevelopment of the CBD as a high-rise residential precinct with approvals for buildings over 25,000 m2 at the discretion solely on one minister, without first considering a master plan of the grid and developing appropriate policy to guide sunlight penetrate, minimum amenity standards for apartments, effects on heritage and street level activation, etc. Or, where such policy does exist, simply ignore it, or randomly change it ad hoc to allow a one-off tall structure to over shadow the south bank of the Yarra.

The same goes for the residential zone changes - you say that councils have involved the public in consultation, but the Planning Minister hasn't followed the advice of councils in many cases (e.g. Yarra, Moreland to name two), refusing to gazette the new zones and sending them back to the drawing board with respect to the Growth Zone, even though Yarra has vast areas of Commercial Zone where large scale high density residential projects are already taking place and will do so into the foreseeable future. And lastly, I hear that behind the scenes, Guy is talking about removing the 4 storey mandatory height limit on the Growth Zone across all municipalities - after the introduction of the zone! So - watch this space to see how the purported 'certainty' claimed by Matthew Guy in introducing the new zones pans out in reality.

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Riccardo's picture

I fail to see any improvement through removing politicised planning from the Ministers Office and placing instead in politicised councils. Frying pan meet fire. The politicisation is the problem not the scale of the approving body. And you only end up with a less capable bureaucracy and more corruption, as the relativities of developer and regulator swing further toward the developer.

Remember, local politicians are the fish john west rejected.

Less politics in planning, and in government overall, is what is required. Longer terms, less for pollies to do. More statutory authorities and gut the ministries and departments to genuine policy only, no regulatory functions or service delivery.

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