Monochrome portrait of Richard Wynne

The Planning Minister: on the proposed central city planning controls

Skyscrapers generate a lot of buzz around Melbourne.

We are reviewing the central city planning controls for the first time in 30 years and this has generated more interest than any other planning issue I have been involved in.

Melburnians love their CBD and our city draws residents, tourists and investment from around the world.

Developers want to build here, more people want to live here and businesses base themselves here because of the amenity and character around the Hoddle Grid and Southbank.

This week we began public consultation for proposed controls which would require an 18:1 floor area ratio.

Developers can still build beyond that ratio, and there is no upper limit - but there must be something in it for the city.

Large-scale development cannot suffocate the inner city. Modelling done as part of our review showed the central city would be over-developed and degraded without government intervention.

The inner city needs to be shaped with a clear vision and we cannot allow projects to be rubber-stamped in isolation from their surrounds.

We’ve already had encouraging feedback from the property industry and the public, pleased we are creating certainty and a vision for how we want the city to grow.

It has also been said that the horse has bolted, that the sheer volume and scale of approvals to date will create dark, windy streets.

Which reinforces why new controls were necessary.

I have approved 28 inner-city projects as minister, under the previous rules - more than $7 billion worth of construction.

I have sought the best outcome for the city with every approval, and for some permits I have included conditions such as increased setbacks and improved apartment layouts.

But we need a system which pushes for great design and the best outcome from inception.

Conditions shouldn’t be bolted on at the end of the planning process.

I also reject any notion that developers will shift their focus to Sydney.

In central Sydney plot ratios rarely exceed 15:1, even with bonuses, and the average project has a 12:1 ratio.

Melbourne’s land is more affordable and the permit process in Victoria is considerably faster.

Internationally, New York, Vancouver and Hong Kong have included plot ratios of 5:1 to 10:1 with bonuses for open space, affordable housing and other community infrastructure.

Requiring good community outcomes from major development: it is common sense – and common practice.

The record demand for sites and appetite for investment would not continue if we allowed for more overshadowing and homogenous building design, with no incentive for investing in amenity.

Approvals granted by the former Planning Minister included average plot ratios of 35:1 and up to 63:1.

Rubber-stamping under the previous government meant the bar begin to fall on design quality in favour of maximum yield for profit.

Some applications which have crossed my desk clearly seek to target a high-as-possible yield with little regard to the surrounding streetscape.

That sort of unfettered development does little for innovation.

I believe our generous controls, unrestricted upper limit and the sheer talent of our architectural industry will encourage innovation.

These controls have the flexibility to respond to individual sites.

We will continue to see investment in Melbourne, but it will be coupled with good community outcomes.

I look forward to working through the submissions and ideas which come through the consultation over the next month.

But more than anything, I cannot wait to see what future projects our vision inspires.

Richard Wynne is the member of the legislative assembly for Richmond and Minister for Planning.

Editor's note: Submissions on the Central City Built Form Review close on May 30 and public hearings will be held by Panels Victoria in the coming months, before permanent controls are implemented in September. For more information, visit


3000's picture

I really do understand what he's trying to say BUT then he goes and approves anything Central Equity draws with huge, drab blank walls, lifeless podiums, and tacky heritage facades.
He obviously means well and wants the city to grow. I don't understand the inconsistency. CE have turned Southbank and Spencer Street into a blue-tinged slum. They cannot be touted as good outcomes for Melbourne.
Then he goes and approves Queens Place at full height (fantastic outcome) while so far nothing has been said of the trend of disgusting, blank walls that have spring up in recent years.
What I'm saying is that there needs to be some consistency, you can't be for good design and then only base it off overshadowing or plot ratios. These ideas are great, developers giving back is a must. But why should the focus be narrowed? Dead, lifeless frontages and blank walls are (I would say even moreso than overshadowing or height issues) also issues.
Get these right as well and I'm on board.
I can see the Trillium going up from my house and so far it's just another so-so outcome. Less of these and more great outcomes are what we need.

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Bilby's picture

Plot ratios do discourage blank walls, if for no other reason than for encouraging greater site boundary set backs.

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johnproctor's picture

^ I would say its the reverse.

plot ratios are likely to see developers try to squeeze every last bit of yeild they can out of a site. With smaller floorplates (from larger set backs) its likely that side not central cores will be the best outcome for more developments potentially increasing the number of applications taking this approach.

what is interesting is the new rules allow no setbacks on site boundaries 'if the context allows' for me this is code for allowing existing blank walls to be built to from the adjoining property.

As 3000 says - will the controls provide enough ammunition for the Minister to refuse the inevitable applications with blank walls not on site boundaries?

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Steve Raider's picture

The record demand for sites and appetite for investment would not continue if we allowed for more overshadowing and homogeneous building design ...

Mr Wynne, you ARE allowing homogeneous building design (much of CE's stuff). These buildings will be around for 50+ years. Such outcomes are hurting the city just as much as poor plot ratios.

We all know great design when we see it. It's not rocket science.

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3000's picture

Like rocket science, only a few seem to know how to get it right.

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Bilby's picture

The minister has no powers with respect to architectural design quality per se - the planning scheme doesn't define this very well. What would be good is for certain requirements for architectural merit to find their way into the planning scheme ...

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Melbourne_Fragments's picture

how many CE towers has Wynne approved vs Guy and Madden Steve?

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Michael Berquez's picture

But he can approve or not approve a proposal taking into account it's design merit.

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Rohan Storey's picture

I think there is something in the (large amount) of docs for the amendment about limited architectural competitions going towards extra plot ratio, so that would leave CE (and others) to stick with lower yield, or dump their in house designer / standard design approaches. But there will always be blank or part blank wall here adn there, doesn't mean they have to be plain and domineering, there's many examples of textured and coloured walls without windows around.

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Craig Yelland's picture

Blank walls above podium are not allowed under the new C270 amendment.

Director of Plus Architecture

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Nicholas Harrison's picture

Buildings up to 80 metres in height may be constructed up to one side or rear boundary if a minimum setback of 5 meters is met to to all other side and rear boundaries.

Also there is nothing stopping developers from building blank walls setback 5m or more from the boundary up to any height.

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Vince Squillace's picture

I think it's time that there is a proper comparison made between Sydney and Melbourne in respect to Plot Ratios. Firstly, In Sydney its called Floor Space Ratio and in calculating the Gross Floor Area there is a specific definition. Please focus on how it is measured and what it excludes because it may be the case that the actual Plot ratio of Sydney if it were defined by the Victorian definition would be greater that 18:1

Gross floor area means the sum of the floor area of each floor of a building measured from the internal face of external walls, or from the internal face of walls separating the building from any other building, measured at a height of 1.4 metres above the floor, and includes:

(a) the area of a mezzanine, and

(b) habitable rooms in a basement or an attic, and

(c) any shop, auditorium, cinema, and the like, in a basement or attic,
but excludes:
(d) any area for common vertical circulation, such as lifts and stairs, and

(e) any basement:
(i) storage, and

(ii) vehicular access, loading areas, garbage and services, and

(f) plant rooms, lift towers and other areas used exclusively for mechanical services or ducting, and

(g) car parking to meet any requirements of the consent authority (including access to that car parking), and

(h) any space used for the loading or unloading of goods (including access to it), and

(i) terraces and balconies with outer walls less than 1.4 metres high, and

(j) voids above a floor at the level of a storey or storey above.

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johnproctor's picture

I don't understand why basements aren't just exlcuded from Plot Ratio.

It would be a great way to encourage more underground parking, services and even building amenities (gym/pool/cinema room) below ground instead of filling up valuable space above ground.

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Nicholas Harrison's picture

The floor area ratio does not include basements.

Vince has picked up on an important issue that has been glossed over in the reports comparing how floor area ratios are used in other cities. This is deliberately misleading.

Most cities, such as Sydney, do not include service areas such as lifts, balconies and car parking and loading areas.

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