Has the baby been thrown out with the bathwater? Quite possibly.
It has been a week since Planning Minister Richard Wynne introduced significant and immediate changes to central city planning that will inhibit the scope in which much of Southbank and Melbourne's CBD can be developed into the future.
In recent days, various sources have sought to analyse the changes applied to the Planning Scheme for the aforementioned areas. Alan Davies via The Urbanist has provided comment, Ratio Consultants have provided a concise summary of changes implemented, yet perhaps the best indicator has come via Urban Melbourne's forum where the changes have garnered pages of discussion since their implementation.
Of the many forum posts on the topic, one factor has become abundantly clear: a week's discussion has led to contradiction and uncertainty when trying to interpret and notionally apply the new rules. And therein lies the blunder in how the new changes have been implemented.
I have yet to see one person, representative or peak body state that the changes applied to the Melbourne Planning Scheme are unnecessary. The Victorian Government on the face of it does indeed have the best of intentions in mind; essentially promoting quality residential development over poorly conceived, maximum yield-driven developments.
Perhaps the best summary of the main issue surrounding the changes was from the Urban Development Institute of Australia (UDIA):
While the Institute will support the intentions of the Central City Planning Review, it has vigorously opposed the Minister’s action to introduce interim controls of this nature overnight, without any consultation with the urban development industry.
The merits of addressing issues such as amenity and preserving Melbourne’s liveability are very much supported by the urban development industry. However the blunt action by the Minister in introducing interim controls without warning has set the tone for this important and complex discussion.
Swift, uncanvassed action such as that taken overnight by the Planning Minister serves only one purpose – to undermine investor confidence, which can only lead to reduced activity.Danni Addison, Victorian chief executive, UDIA
This is where now the baby is in danger of disappearing down the gurgler entirely.
It is all well and good to implement changes to the Melbourne Planning Scheme, but where was the tact or transparency in the process? By going about it the way they have, the Andrews Government has left the door ajar to stymie investment in central Melbourne. The ambiguity now cast over the approvals process is tantamount to inviting trouble.
I would assert that the method these changes have been implemented may undermine investor confidence, specifically in the short to medium term. And of course I refer to the rivers of investment capital flowing from Asia into Melbourne. This investment and subsequent boom in construction in Melbourne's heart represents a hefty and buoyant portion of the Victorian economy at present, with billions of dollars in play.
If prospective investors (of which there are no shortage) perceive the changes and the heavy-handed manner in which they were implemented to be counter beneficial, they will simply shun Melbourne altogether. Investment capital in this sense relates to the foreign-backed developers and is liquid; it will find the path of least resistance. Whether the capital remains in Melbourne or whether we are shunned in favour of other Australian or international cities remains to be seen, but on the face of it the events of the last week certainly will not help the cause.
This potential to forsake an untold amount of investment in Melbourne would have surely been enough to prompt the current Victorian Government to approach changes to the Melbourne Planning Scheme in a more thoughtful, encompassing manner… apparently not.
Lead image courtesy fastcodesign.com