‘Getting it Done’ …with a surplus

Pragmatically themed and titled ‘Getting it Done’, Tract has put on its reading glasses to investigate what the Victorian Budget 2016/17 seeks to ‘get done’ for city building and regional development.

Set against a discourse of job creation and infrastructure building, big spends include infrastructure investments in the Metropolitan rail network and the Western Distributor Tunnel while smaller but vital reforms include shifting the planning system into the 21st Century through 'e-planning'.  

As already widely reported, the budget predicts a surplus of $2.9 billion for the pending financial year. All things being equal, that surplus is forecast to reach $9.2 billion over the next four years.

Key points for the planning and property industry include:

  • $25m to modernise Victoria’s planning system with a long awaited shift towards online and digital processes. Set in the context of some 57,000 submitted planning permit applications in the last financial year, work will begin on an online permit and planning scheme amendment system including electronic lodgement and full tracking for developers and the community. 
  • $2.9b for the Melbourne Metro Rail which, returning to its original route through Arden, Parkville, Melbourne Central, Flinders Street, and Domain, is to be fully funded by the Victorian Government.
  • $1.46b for the Western Distributer Tunnel, a new tollway hailed as a ‘second crossing’ across the Maribyrnong River which would link the west into Citylink at Docklands and widen part of the Monash Freeway.
  • A total of $1.3b for regional public transport including duplication of the Ballarat Line from Deer Park to Melton, 27 new V/Line trains, and an extra 170 off peak services.
  • Strong investment in Geelong and region including $107m to build the Drysdale Bypass, $5.5m to plan for key projects to revitalise the centre of Geelong, investments into the Geelong Authority, and commencement of studies into providing public transport to Armstrong Creek, extending the Geelong Ring Road, and duplicating the rail line between South Geelong and Waurn Ponds.
  • Major metropolitan rail upgrades including extending the Mernda line to South Morang, duplication of the Hurstbridge Line from Heidelberg to Rosanna, 28 new high capacity trains, city loop safety upgrades, and $10m for new bus services. 
  • Significant investments into road upgrades at Thompsons Road, Yan Yean Road, O’Herns Road, Hoddle Street, Bolton Street, and Plenty Road and road duplications in sections of Dohertys Road, Hallam Road, and Napier Street in Bendigo.
  • $50m to build community facilities in growth areas including community centres, parks and playgrounds in addition to $22m to upgrade and improve libraries.
  • $287m to begin planning for an additional 35 schools and to build or complete 23 new schools including Epping North, Officer, Manor Lakes, Richmond,  South Melbourne (2), Taylors Hill,  Tarneit, and Tarneit West.
  • $9.3m to support cycling as a legitimate transport option, including $4.9m to continue the Melbourne Bike Share initiative and $1m for the Westgate Punt.
  • $20m to a 'Regional Events' tourism fund and $38m to ‘Visit Victoria’ for major interstate campaigns.
  • New ways to engage the community in land use planning, potentially modelled on the MPA’s, with use of publically accessible 3D modelling to visualise the impact of a proposed project within its built form context.

The budget heralds a strong move towards public transport improvements, eradicating the infrastructure backlog in growth areas, and enhancing the appeal of regional Victoria as an alternative to Melbourne.

Whilst the move to an online planning system is welcome, it places innovative Councils who have invested in their own systems in a difficult position as they now potentially face redundant systems when the State portal is introduced. It also raises the prospect of far greater resident involvement – for better or worse – in both Council and VCAT processes. The transparency and efficiency benefits for all participants should be quickly evident however. 

The key question arising from the budget will be its impact on international investment in the Victorian property market, a key driver of the planning and development industry in recent years. It remains to be seen whether the central city planning changes and proposed apartment design guidelines, together with increased land tax and stamp duty for foreign investors, will curtail foreign investment.

This piece was auhoed by Adam Terrill who is Senior Principal Town Planner for Tract Consultants, and a Ben Daly, also a Town Planner for the Melbourne-based planning & design practice.

Lead image source: ABC

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