25,000sqm threshold: yes it is time to review it

Nothing should ever be set in stone.

In the context of Australia's three levels of government, planning or more to the point, the Planning Minister has no direct Federal level equivalent. It's a powerful role in a state context which is (not presently) threatened with being overridden by a Canberra-based superior and therefore I'd argue the role of the Planning Minister is the most powerful state ministerial position after the role of Premier.

Regardless of the context in which the original 25,000 square metre threshold and more broadly the Capital City Zone was conceived, central Melbourne has clearly changed and the city has affirmed its global reputation as a destination for foreign capital.

Like all strategies, checks and balances on power and government are required, therefore there's always scope for review.

My instinct tells me there's room for more regulation and included in that could be the review of the 25,000 square metre threshold which triggers when the Planning Minister becomes the responsible authority for planning applications in the Capital City Zone. My instincts also tell me lower levels of government need oversight from tiers above.

Much of the palava you read about in other media outlets focuses almost exclusively on the City of Melbourne, with the same media outlets paying very little attention to what's happening outside the central core (and they ignore it at their own peril). Each week as I'm preparing our weekly digest I make a point of utilising projects located outside the central core for the Spotlight section.

20+ volumes later I'd hope our 1100+ newsletter subscribers have as clearer picture as the editors and database maintainers do with regard to what's really going on in Melbourne. All of Melbourne.

If you listen to a range of planning academics and practitioners you will find no-one holds the same weltanschauung. Skyscrapers or 'European' density are best for Central Melbourne? The answer will generally be: both and everything in between as long as it is designed well.

As the City of Melbourne is the local government area where sharp focus would return should any major changes to the threshold rule be altered (or abolished), it's prudent to look at what they have done, and what they say about proposals which get sent to the Planning Minister.

In late October the Planning Minister released departmental officer reports on planning applications the Minister and DTPLI had reviewed. In the associated press release, the Minister stated that City of Melbourne had supported 46 out of the 70 (65%) planning applications which the Minister was responsible for.

Likewise back in early August at IMPA's 'City in Crisis?' forum, the City of Melbourne panelist declared the City of Melbourne generally supports towers, just well-designed towers.

We get really obsessed with height - we can have great towers and bad towers, we need to shift the discussion more toward the quality of development.

Leanne Hodyl, IMPA's 'City in Crisis?' forum

Granted past performance and context does not necessarily provide an accurate forecast of future prospects, but I don't think anyone can legitimately argue central Melbourne development would dry up significantly should there be any major changes, with or without a change of government. In fact, is abolishing the threshold a major change given that the powers that be in Council House 2 have supported so many large proposals?

Even if the threshold was doubled to 50,000 square metres, there'd still be a lot of proposals hitting the Planning Minister's desk.

I say yes to a review and yes to tweaks - such as doubling the threshold or abolishing it thus handing full power back to the lower level of government - because I'm not convinced City of Melbourne would make drastic changes which would shut off development entirely as, thankfully, the council is not dominated by any single political worldview.

Lead image courtesy Pixabay.

You can read co-editor Mark Baljak's view on the same topic.

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