Author Archives: SOS

Are we getting movement on planning issues?

Despite Planning Minister Madden’s disregard for community consultation, there are some general signs that the planning approach promoted by SOS is starting to gain more official recognition.

The recent Local Government Policy Review has recommended a stronger role for local policies, and the Melbourne 2030 Audit Review (while it had terms of reference that were too narrow) is also likely to recommend some positive changes. Continue reading

Newsletter: Mitcham Tower

Mitcham Towers – a major M2030 development proposal finally bites the dust!

For 5 years, Melbourne residents have been highlighting flaws with the Melbourne 2030 policy . The Mitcham Towers saga in particular was featured on all television channels; in local, state and national newspapers; and discussed countless times on radio.

But VCAT used the M2030 policy to justify approval for the project. Although the site was not in an activity centre with an approved structure plan, VCAT treated it as such because of its proximity to local shops and a railway station.

VCAT not only overrode a Council decision soundly based on existing local policy, but also created and imposed its own policy! At the time, former VCAT President Stuart Morris and ex-Planning Minister Rob Hulls stated to the media that the decision was not based on M2030, yet M2030 and its activity centre policies were repeatedly cited in the decision.

Now, three years on from that contentious approval, the saga has finally finished with the developer cancelling an appeal at VCAT that sought to extend the original permit.

However, the Mitcham community has still been left with a moon-scaped development site surrounded by temporary fencing. Clearly the proposed towers were not a financial proposition – market forces have exposed the flaws of relying on M2030 as a strategic planning tool to facilitate higher density development of appropriate size in suitable locations.

One can only imagine the true financial and emotional cost of this wasted exercise.

Tony Hogg
SOS Committee

Mitcham Towers – timeline

Sept’03 – Initial Application for 14 storey development. Over 300 objections

Feb’04 – Developer appeals to VCAT because Whitehorse Council failed to decide the application within 60 days

Mar’04 – Whitehorse Council decides that if it still had jurisdiction, it would reject the 14 storey development application

May’04 – Developer amends proposal to two towers of 11 & 17 storeys. Over 900 objections lodged

June’04 – Whitehorse Council rejects 11 & 17 storey development application

Sept’04 – VCAT approves the development after July hearing

May’05 – Matter referred to Supreme Court

Aug’05 – Supreme Court supports legal aspects of VCAT decision

Mar’06 – Mitcham Towers site ‘on the market’. Over the next 12 months, Aldi and Woolworths Supermarkets evaluate and reject the site, which remains barren

Aug’07 – Whitehorse Council rejects the developer’s request for an extension of time for the permit.

Sept’07 – The developer (Golden Ridge Investments P/L) lodges VCAT appeal seeking permit extension but then withdraws the appeal prior to the hearing that was scheduled for late January 2008.

Critics confused over SOS and Melbourne 2030

The following letter appeared in THE AGE on May 9, 2008:

Save our suburbs or save ourselves?

“AT THE heart of Melbourne 2030’s problems is the inability of Save our Suburbs groups and their supporters in councils to grasp the social good in accommodating more people within the existing urban area.

“Masquerading as champions of democracy, this vociferous minority cause havoc for sensitively designed projects by lobbying councillors to act against the wishes of their own officers. Every time they have a development knocked off or scaled back they claim victory. But what victory is there in condemning another family to live further from work than they desire, increasing commuting time at the expense of family time.

“The warm glow of the successful inner city objector contrasts sharply with the struggling suburban parent spending more time behind the wheel than behind their children’s book; spending more money on fuel than on food. Behind their altruistic facade and talk of protecting neighbourhood character, lies an uncharitable desire to prevent outsiders from sharing their suburbs.

“Melbourne’s densities are among the world’s lowest, and attempts to resist a city’s natural densification are selfish, misguided, and, in the era of climate change, dangerous.

“Adam Terrill, Kensington”

SOS Comment:

As an associate planner with a major Melbourne consultancy, Adam Terrill should have checked the SOS website to get his facts right if he wants to be taken seriously.

To start with, he lays the problems of M2030 at the feet of “SOS groups and their supporters in councils” for failing to appreciate the benefits of accommodating more people within Melbourne’s existing urban area.

Funny, that’s just the concept SOS policy supports! [quote].

But in saying that, we also point out that for these increases in density to be functionally acceptable, they must occur within the effective implementation of the M2030 policy itself. That is, pre-existing infrastructure is required, such as appropriate definition of activity centres (based around public transport nodes, not just on existing retail floor space) and prior establishment of activity centre structure plans in consultation with local communities (since we’re still supposedly living in a democracy).

In particular, there must be a prior financial commitment to a broad increase in the extent, quality, reliability and safety of our mass transit systems to create a city-wide, fully integrated rail system.

It is a matter of history that none of these basic parameters were in place prior to the release of M2030 in August 2002, despite the accompanying ministerial decree that it had to be adhered to by councils and VCAT in deciding development applications.

Now, six years later, these essential foundation stones of an effective metro planning policy are still missing, with the exception of a growing number of activity centre structure plans. But without proper selection of those centres and adequate provision of upgraded and integrated metro-wide mass transit services, the policy was doomed to fail, as described in numerous articles in the Age in May this year and notably by the M2030 Audit itself, which concluded: ”.

Many of the “sensitively-designed projects” Terrill laments are actually ambit claims that failed in various respects to meet local and state planning guidelines. Objectors and residents may be able to influence the decisions of elected councillors (that’s democracy) but they clearly have no control over VCAT members. Yet when these projects proceed to VCAT, invariably amended plans are submitted that to some degree address the grounds of objection to increase the chances of approval. That wouldn’t be necessary if there were no legitimate planning grounds for opposing these proposals.

As to councillors overturning the “wishes of their own officers”, anyone who’s been involved with even a few planning applications will be aware of the sometimes inept or inconsistent and even biased decisions of council planning staff.

Look no further than the 7 May Victorian Auditor-General’s Report into Planning which, among other things, revealed that a staggering 78% of planning permit approvals were seriously flawed in not properly taking statutory provisions into account!

You’d think professional planners might be aware of all this but apparently some believe that council planning staff are unsung heroes who never make mistakes.

By all means provide increased density development at activity centres – just do it according to the policies already in place. Residents and objectors are apparently expected to just accept developers’ ambit claims, but it seems to be ethically ok for developers to push the boundaries, with the real limits being simply what they can get away with – usually by throwing sufficient QCs and expert witnesses behind their case at VCAT.

The real cause of delays in providing higher density accommodation for an increasing population is the failure to provide the necessary infrastructure to make M2030 work, including an extended rail network to serve ALL major suburbs and growth corridors.

As to the crisis in affordable housing, if the Government was serious about providing adequate AH it would buy up suburban tracts of land, consolidate lots and then contract out construction of affordable housing on a non- or low-profit basis.

Instead, it is looking to buy apartments within recently-constructed developments, allowing developers to make further easy profits and ensuring that the “affordable” housing thus provided will be more expensive for tenants and/or the public purse.

Industry is usual happy to live with regulation, as long as it has benefits – ie, it is clearly in the public interest, it represents a level playing field without unfair competitive advantage and it provides certainty in terms of timeframes, legal boundaries, etc (such as the energy rating schemes for whitegoods). The present “performance-based” system achieves none of these – guidelines instead of regulation simply ensures that everything is open to the exercise of discretion and can be argued, and nothing is certain – except that in many cases (especially the ambit claim type) there will be costly delays of indeterminate duration for all parties!

This creates monumental opportunities for incompetence and corruption – such as the Wollongong Council case in May, where a Council Head of Planning overrode the objective decisions of senior officers to corruptly push through approval for a large inappropriate commercial development.

While there are undoubtably some xenophobic or “NIMBY” residents who don’t want to share their suburb with more and more people, SOS is not part of that demographic.

The blame for the failure of M2030 lies not with objectors but with a State Government which has utterly failed to ensure that a proper framework was in place to guide higher density development to the most appropriate locations and backed up with the necessary infrastructure to make the model function in practice.

SOS comment on draft Metro Planning Strategy

Here’s what one veteran planner recently said about the draft MPS and its “20 minute city – living locally” motherhood objective:

“The idea that a key mission of planning in a city of 4-6 million people is to promote “living locally” as the headline objective is to misunderstand what a city is about”.

We agree.  Check out our submission on the draft MPS here. Continue reading

How a Council can undermine community consultation on planning – case study

The following case study reveals how Yarra City Council consistently subverted attempts by residents to persuade the council to address repeated flaws in the assessment of development applications.  Residents who were members of the Community Advisory Committee on Planning were not seeking to revise previous permit decisions but simply to persuade the council to at least learn from past mistakes by initiating procedures to improve future DA assessments.

There are lessons here for anyone dealing with council bureaucracies over contentious issues such as flawed permit application assessments.

This case study was undertaken as part of a Masters course in Planning at RMIT.  Further information is available from the author, who can be contacted at

NB 1:   The case analyses mentioned in the study that were referred to the DN Planning Audit can be found on this website under the Flawed Cases File.  There is also a link below to Council’s legal opinion admitting that there was no legal reason to prevent access to all documents in closed planning files.

NB 2:   On p.16 of the Study, Yarra Council is quoted as saying that all records of the 2003-2004 Community Advisory Committee meetings and all Council meeting records prior to 2003 were removed from the Yarra website in 2005.   However, as of Feb.2016, online records of council meetings are available dating back to 2007, confirming that Council’s real reason for deleting the 2003-2004 records only one year later was to remove information critical of the council, not because (as claimed) there was “not enough space on Council’s computer system”.

Open Case study Report here

Open References for the Report here

Public Access to Planning Files at Yarra – policy

Public Access to Council’s planning files – email letter from Maddocks Lawyers to Yarra CEO, 22.4.04  (note in particular pages 9 – 12 re access to closed files and relevant internal council memos)

Minister not even sure of own planning reforms

Planning Minister Guy has revealed that he or his department don't understand how some of the New Zone changes are actually going to work if they're brought into effect.

The minister has strongly attacked criticism of his recent planning Zone reforms ("Vocal minority peddling porkies on planning zones changes"), in particular by Prof. Michael Buxton, as we have mentioned before ("Planning for Disaster" – see earlier story below).

But, as professional planner Steven Rowley explained in The Age on Oct.6 ("Minister's zone chaos made manifest"), the minister seems to think that as-of-right incursions of shops and medical centres into residential areas would still need permits issued by councils and that residents could object "at that stage".

In fact, under the new zone provisions, these buildings would only need building permits which are issued by private building surveyors, not councils. Being commercial buildings instead of residential, they would not need to meet Rescode standards.  No amenity protection, no third party notice or appeal rights for residents…..

The only likely planning permit trigger would be for parking but if this is the only reason a permit is required, there would again be no notice or appeal rights for objectors.

There also appears to be nothing to prevent the owners of such a commercial building, once built, deciding that they'd prefer to transform the existing building shell into apartments.  With minor internal changes (kitchens, WCs, etc), such a non-conforming building would then have a right to be used as a residential building, even under existing planning controls.

It is significant that not only the majority of community submissions but most councils and even the Planning Institute have concerns about the strategic justification of the new reforms and the problems they're likely to cause.  Even federal Liberal Greg Hunt is worried ("Senior Lib admits Green Wedge fears")

All this just serves to illustrate that the present planning reforms are poorly thought through measures following a simplistic deregulation agenda.  Where is the pre-draft consultation with parties other than industry (behind closed doors)?  The independent expert input and peer review?  The publicly-released strategic research that should underpin any major planning reforms?  And where is the informed community consultation process?

All the new planning reforms will modify the new Metropolitan Planning Strategy, yet they all put the cart before the horse.  The small lot housing code, VicSmart, New Zones, etc have all been made public (some even gazetted) BEFORE the still-awaited release of the Metro Strategy  – in fact, the discussion paper on the MPS was only released on Friday Oct.26.

Our summary of that discussion paper and the comments of speakers at the launch will be uploaded to our website shortly.

You can view the Discussion Paper here and join the discussion through online forums, submissions and on Twitter with the username @planmelbourne and hashtag #talkmelbourne.  Feedback received from the community and industry groups are supposed to help shape the final Metropolitan Planning Strategy, which will act as a blueprint for Melbourne’s future for the next 40 years. Comments will be accepted until Friday March 1 2013.

Over the next few months a series of community and industry forums, information sessions and roundtable discussions will be held regarding the Discussion Paper.  The draft Metropolitan Planning Strategy is expected to be completed by Autumn 2013, with the final completed in Spring 2013.


PS:  For interesting and incisive comment on current planning issues, see the website of professional planner Steven Rowley –

Notice of 2012 SOS AGM – Ross House (city), Sunday Nov.25, 2.30-4.30pm

     with GUEST SPEAKER  Dr Crystal Legacy: 

     “Community consultation for democratic planning

      – how they did it in Vancouver and Perth”


     Save Our Suburbs Inc (Vic) will hold its 2012 Annual General Meeting on

     Sunday 25th November 2012 at 2:30pm

     Ross House – Ground floor meeting room, 247-251 Flinders Lane Melbourne 3000

     Followed at 3pm by

    GUEST SPEAKER –  Dr Crystal Legacy

Research Associate, City Futures Research Centre, University of NSW

“Democratic Urban Planning Strategies – why we need deliberative community consultation, and how they did it in Vancouver and Perth”

Dr Legacy is a former researcher at the University of Melbourne, where she completed her PhD on how metropolitan strategic plans were developed in Vancouver and Perth and how the feedback from deliberative community consultation can be translated into planning policy.  She has wide practical and research experience in Canada and Australia on planning and governance,  sustainable cities and urban renewal.

   Refreshments will be served after the meeting

   The room will be opened by 2.15pm if you would like to talk to candidates or committee members       informally before the meeting, and proxies will also be available for inspection.

    At this AGM, SOS will

–  Confirm the minutes of the last preceding annual general meeting;

–  Receive reports from the Committee on transactions of SOS during the last financial year

–  Consider the statement submitted by the Association under section 30(3) of the Act.

–  Elect officers of the Association and the ordinary members of the Committee

      NB: At this AGM, the President, Treasurer and three ordinary committee members will be elected.

    SOS members financial until 30 June 2012 or later are eligible to vote

   ProxiesIf you are a financial member unable to attend the AGM and wish another financial    member to act on your behalf at the meeting, please complete a proxy form  here and return it to the Secretary at the address below by 3pm, Thursday November 22th, 2012.

  Nominations for the committee must:

(  a) be made in writing by a current financial member, signed by two other financial members of the Association and accompanied by the written consent of the candidate (which may be endorsed on the form of nomination); and

(  b) be delivered to the Secretary of the Association not less than seven days before the date fixed for the holding of the annual general meeting (ie before November 18th, 2012).

  You can download a nomination form here, but any format is acceptable as long as it contains the required information. Any candidate statements will be posted unedited on the SOS web site (email well beforehand to  If you would like a mailed statement or nomination form, contact us on 9513 9674 and we’ll post you a copy.

  Candidates should send nominations directly to:      

  The Secretary,

  Save our Suburbs

  PO Box 739, Richmond 3121

  David Rayson

  Secretary, Save Our Suburbs

Disaster! What the New Planning Zones will mean for Melbourne – Prof. Michael Buxton

"The Victorian government’s proposed new planning zones are the most radical review of planning schemes in the history of Victorian planning. They will lead to fundamental changes in the way Melbourne operates, change the fabric of the city and its hinterland, and remove an extensive range of existing citizen rights. Everyone will be affected".

Download this disturbing 5-page analysis here.  You can lodge a submission with the planning department until 5pm Friday Sept. 28 – but also send your comments to Minister Guy AND Premier Baillieu, even if it's after the official deadline for submissions – they need to know how opposed to these changes you are!