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Interim Central Melbourne planning controls: the detail

While you were sleeping on Friday night, the Victorian Government gazetted new interim planning controls for the CBD and parts of Southbank, chief among them is the re-introduction of site plot ratios. A media release distributed at midday on Saturday states the City of Melbourne has been made a referral authority, after the council signed a memorandum of understanding with the Victorian Government.

The Central City Study Area. Image supplied

All development applications arriving on the Planning Minister's desk before Friday will be assessed under the regime existing prior to the interim controls coming into effect. This means all projects shown in this video distributed by the Victorian Government will not be subject to newly gazetted interim controls.

Setbacks and plot ratios

The Government Gazette from Friday night states that the City of Melbourne Planning Scheme has been amended with the following:

  • A new Schedule 10 to Clause 43.02 has been inserted to the Design and Development Overlay.
    • Buildings up to or equal to 100 metres in height will require a tower setback of minimum five metres to all boundaries or from the centre of a laneway above the podium.
    • Buildings above 100 metres in height will require tower setbacks to be the equivalent of five per cent of the building's overall height, and likewise these tower setbacks will be required to all boundaries or from the centre of a laneway above the podium height.
    • A plot ratio requirement of 24:1 has been added.

A plot ratio - or FAR (Floor area ratio) - is a tool which relates to Gross Floor Area and prescribes the maximum density allowable for a development site. By way of an example, alongside other new controls as outlined in the link section below, a 1,000 square metre site in Melbourne's CBD will now only be permitted to have up to 24,000 square metres of Gross Floor Area.

The following image was distributed by the Victorian Government on Saturday showing the pre-interim control conditions in central Melbourne. No matter which way you look at it, the new plot ratio requirements appear to be very generous when compared to other cities which use them.

Melbourne's central area now has an interim plot ratio of 24:1
  • A schedule to Clause 66.04 has been amended to add the City of Melbourne as a recommending referral authority.
  • Clause 7 in Schedule 1 to the Capital City Zone deals with the prohibition of "overshadowing the northern bank of the Yarra, 15 metres from its edge and any open space at Federation Square, City Square, and the State Library Forecourt between 11am and 2pm from 22nd of March to 22nd September".
    • Clause 7 likewise introduces a wind analysis requirement.
  • Clause 3 in Schedule 2 to the Capital City Zone prohibits the construction of "footbridges, pedestrian ways, vehicle bridges and links across the above ground level of Bourke Street, Collins Street, Swanston Street and Elizabeth Street".
    • Clause 3 likewise states that "a permit is required to construct a building or construct or carry out works which would cast a shadow between 11am and 2pm on 22nd March and 22 September over public space, public parks and gardens, public squares, major pedestrian routes including streets and lanes, and privately owned plazas open to the public. A permit may only be granted if the responsible authority considers the overshadowing will not prejudice the amenity of those areas".
  • Clause 6 in Schedule 3 to the Capital City Zone prohibits "the construction of buildings and works which would cast any additional shadow across the Shrine of Remembrance and its northern forecourt between 11am and 4pm on 22nd September".

Discretionary height limits become mandatory

Schedules 2, 7, 40, 60 and 62 to the Design and Development Overlay deal with previous discretionary height controls now being mandatory.

Ordinance 22.01 (Urban design within the Capital City Zone) is probably where all architects will want to head to straight away and rounding out the mass-linkage of all the amended documents is Ordinance 22.02 (Sunlight to public spaces).

A year of consultation and review

Key topic areas which will be a focus in the upcoming central city planning review. Image supplied

2016 is set to be an even busier year in the planning world for Central Melbourne. Fishermans Bend's review and now the CBD and Southbank's own planning review are set to be completed and published. Likewise, according to details embedded in a referral posted on the Federal Government's Department of Environment website, Melbourne Metro will have its planning and environmental assessment complete.

Based on reports in other media and the Victorian Government-supplied image above, we should expect to hear a lot about equitable development opportunities and density bonuses in the coming review period.

Urban Melbourne is interested to hear reaction from all sectors of the urban development industry, academia, the public sector and other stakeholders. We encourage to send your comments to [email protected]. Received comments will not be attributed to the source should we decide to use them in a future article. If any individual wishes to go on the record, we may invite them to write an op-ed.

Lead image credit: GlennWilson

23 comments

Rohan Storey's picture

Wow! Surprising to see all current CBD height limits to be mandatory, and no overshadowing of the State lIbrary, Shrine forecourt etc. and no overshadowing the NORTH bank of the Yarra or even 15m north of that !

Also amazed to see plot ratio on a site basis reintroduced ! 24:1 still high, so quite tall buildings still possible, and its a policy not mandatory max, so can be worked upwards.

Amazed to see that there's a mandatory (but minimal) 10m separation between towers, and 5m setback from streets. This does seem to mean that sites where construction to one (or both) side boundaries is prohibited. Does basically mean that small sites, will be hard to develop at all. What about sites that already have a tall building with a blank wall on one boundary next door ??

Also interesting, or possibly just not thought through, that it only covers CCZ1, which excludes the south half of southbank, and the oddly left out Latrobe / Victoria parade CBD triangle. Don't see why it isnt expanded to rest of southbank, fishbend, docklands etc or indeed all of Melbourne for consistency's sake.

Lookingupatbuildings

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Bilby's picture

There's a loophole to close, Minister Wynne - once these important details are included, this promises to be a legacy that Victorians will celebrate even decades from now.

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johnproctor's picture

This effectively rules out tower development similar to the Phoenix (or makers mark) towers. Even say melbourne star and Sky would have been pretty much zero development potential with 5m setbacks from all boundaries (aside from a laneway)

"Buildings up to or equal to 100 metres in height will require a tower setback of minimum five metres to all boundaries or from the centre of a laneway above the podium"

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Bilby's picture

John, the clause actually states "... tower setbacks to all boundaries excluding streets" - as defined as road reserved of 9m or more.

Makers Mark should never have been allowed - it will largely ruin what was one of Melbourne's finest heritage buildings. So that's a good thing.

And Phoenix is barely more than 24 storeys - at this height, built to the edges of its site, it would have been approved under the new rules - albeit technically with a setback to the rear lane way. But in this case, there would be enough flexibility under the rules to allow more or less the building that we have now.

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Nicholas Harrison's picture

Actually Phoenix would have been limited to 40m high under the new rules as any building over the podium height (40m) has to be setback a minimum of 5m from the side boundaries.

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Melbourne_Fragments's picture

where you get 40m from Nicholas?
"Buildings up to or equal to 100 metres in height will require a tower setback of minimum five metres to all boundaries or from the centre of a laneway above the podium"

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Nicholas Harrison's picture

Podium height is up to 40 metres., that has been the standard podium height in Melbourne for 120 years.

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Nicholas Harrison's picture

The problem is that when the current planning controls in the CBD were drafted they were designed around the construction of office towers and tried to address the problems with office developments in the 1970's and 80's.

These controls did not really consider the development of tall, thin residential towers as most office developments have much larger floorplates.

This trend has been going for at least ten years now and the government really should have put in place updated controls well before now. Matthew Guy had an opportunity to put in place a set of updated performance based controls but just ignored the out of date controls instead of fixing them.

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Nicholas Harrison's picture

I am also not sure why these controls have been extended to Southbank where the planning controls were thoroughly reviewed in 2013.

Here are the 2013 interdependent panel comments in relation to mandatory controls of this type in Southbank:

In many respects it seems to the Panel that the strategic direction in Southbank Structure Plan 2010 is little different from the existing planning scheme.    What is different is the main control feature of a new mandatory height and setback regime.  

The use of such a mechanism seems to the Panel to be an attempt to micro‐manage development and to make urban design a formulaic exercise in Southbank.  Not only does the Panel consider that there is little strategic basis for such an approach, the Panel thinks that the outcome might be an inner urban experience where design excellence and innovation are quashed in pursuit of a pre‐determined outcome.

Southbank is an exciting urban renewal opportunity that is still somewhat embryonic in its stages of development.    As the Panel understands it, there is common ground that in an area such as Southbank, innovation is to be encouraged and celebrated.  In that context, it seems to the Panel that if there is one thing that is guaranteed to stifle innovation, it is slavish adherence to a formulaic control regime where a built form envelope is mandated.  The Panel therefore does not support the proposed mandatory built form controls and has recommended these be discretionary.

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johnproctor's picture

^ great work Nicholas. a very interesting document to have dug up.

also correct Nicholas - re: the side setback requirements killing the phoenix tower above allowable 'podium' height of 40m which is also clearly stated in the link posted in the article.

Bilby - the control includes a Street setback as well of 5m from a street wider than 9m road reserve width.

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Rohan Storey's picture

Just to be pedantic, the 40m height limit was first introduced in 1916 (so that nearly 100 years) and that became a preferred podium maximum in the first suite of built form controls in the CBD in 1982.

Lookingupatbuildings

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Rohan Storey's picture

Hmm I wonder who was on that Panel ! What emotive words ! Stifle, slavish, formulaic !

Requiring a podium and setback tower form is hardly going to stifle architectural innovation,except for disallowing straight up from the street, which is not ideal for the pedestrian experience, especially if there's effectively a wall of towers. Its a form that in fact has been applied to most southbank and city towers anyway.

Lookingupatbuildings

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Nicholas Harrison's picture

The issue the panel has was related to the use of mandatory planning controls across all of Southbank rather than performance based controls.

The panel still recommended that there be podium and setback controls, just that there be some leeway for alternative and innovative designs that may not meet the mandatory requirements.

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johnproctor's picture

an example where these mandatory controls would not work with an existing tower is Collins Place - now you can argue whether you like the design of hte towers or not and with hindsight I'm sure we'd all love to have done a better job of maintaining the heritage buildings that were there before the towers but...

my point is that both of the towers full height abut the street. the western tower touches both Collins and Exhibition at 2 points of its square shape and the eastern tower fronting Collins above the retail probably has 10-15m frontage effecitvely abutting hte street in its conjoined square shape.

These would need to be cut back 5m from the street above 40m in height. not a major impost you might say but equally a reasonably pointless prohibition in the context of the whole site and the other setbacks, plazas, atriums that have been provided wihtin it.

I'm not sure what height would be allowable on the Collins Place site with the 24:1 ratio.

I'm sure the permanent controls will pick up on issues like this and allow some discretion but...

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Rohan Storey's picture

Oh OK, that sounds acceptable - wouldnt have thought they would make that recommendation from that wording !

Lookingupatbuildings

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Alastair Taylor's picture

Ratio Consultants have just posted a summary (I missed a few tidbits - namely Minister has discretionary power to vary plot ratio and CoM having a right to appeal Minister's decisions at VCAT) on their blog: http://www.ratio.com.au/changes-to-central-city-planning

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Adrian's picture

So a 300m tower with roughly 100,000sqm of GFA will require a site of around 4000sqm.

Not many single sites that big left in the CBD. The Balston St site in Southbank is probably the only place left in Melbourne a supertall could still be built. Be very interesting to see what happens with Crown Tower at QBT now and whether the minister uses his discretionary powers.

Meanwhile Aurora is not even on that video !! Are they trying to tell us something ?

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Bilby's picture

In New York, developers simply buy up properties and airspace around where they want to build their tower, in order to create enough FAR. Why does it have to be a stand alone site?

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Riddlz's picture

Buying up air-rights and surrounding plots isn't exactly possible for sites like 477 Collins st and 93-119 Kavanagh street.

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Bilby's picture

Very true. And that is a problem, because ...

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Adrian's picture

I'm still unclear if the 24:1 plot ratio is discretionary or mandatory, as are the new setback requirements ?

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Adrian's picture

And the setback rule ..

Buildings above 100 metres in height will require tower setbacks to be the equivalent of five per cent of the building's overall height, and likewise these tower setbacks will be required to all boundaries or from the centre of a laneway above the podium height.

So the way I read that is that if the boundary is a main road or a wall of another site then it must be 5% from edge of site boundary, but if it's a laneway then the distance is taken from centre of laneway to above the podium.

So in other words for a site that buts up against another site (eg. Lighthouse, Vic One) the podium is OK to but up immediately against the neighbor (the 'concrete wall' we see on so many new ones eg. EQ) but the setback must be 5% from the edge of boundary for the main tower body itself - or in case of Vic One to the middle of laneway at rear.

Sound right ?

Also that plot ratio for New York - how the hell are those new super thin supertall towers being built with that supposed rule in place ?

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Rohan Storey's picture

Just read an article in curbed NY about the super talls (actually super tall and thin, none over 100 floors) - they buy up air rights from surrounding low rise often older properties, even from heritage listed buildings not adjacent in some cases - the value of transferable air rights for old buildings- this sysyem also ensures quite some separation between towers. In some cases took many years to buy all the rights. No wonder they are full of condos starting at like $5mill. Also the allowable plot ratio varies in different districts,idtown being quite high.

Lookingupatbuildings

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