Category Archives: M2030

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.

Forum – Melbourne’s Urban Growth Boundary

7pm Thursday 9 Sept, RMIT Bldg 50, Orr St Carlton                                            entry – gold coin donation                                     

The State Government recently announced that Melbourne’s Urban Growth Boundary would be expanded by around four times the size of Phillip Island to accommodate 134,00 new houses (just over 3 dwellings per hectare – very low compared to the 10 dwellings/ha average for suburbs south-east of the CBD).

The decision was supported by the Coalition and applauded by housing and property industry groups which claimed the expansion would make housing more affordable.

But it also caused disbelief and dismay among other parts of the built environment profession – planning groups and the community in general.

Melbourne’s steady outward sprawl has been long criticised for pushing people further from jobs and services, forcing car dependence and subsuming much-needed agricultural land. Now it looks like the sprawl may be here to stay. But:

– is this really the answer to housing affordability?

– how does this expansion impact on social and ecological sustainability?

– what does this mean for Melbourne in general?


Join in this public forum as we explore these issues with a number of leading experts:

Paul Mees, lecturer at RMIT GLobal Studies, Science & Social Planning

Stuart Worn, CEO, Planning Institute of Australia

Ian Wood, President, Save our Suburbs

Tony Di Domenico, executive director, Urban Development Institute of Australia

Carolyn Whitzman, associate professor in Urban Planning, University of Melbourne

Kate Shaw, ARC research fellow, University of Melbourne

Dianne Moy, project coordinator, Victorian Eco Innovation Lab

Maree McPherson, CEO, Victorian Local Governance Association

chaired by Ian Woodcock, research fellow in Urban Design, University of Melbourne

                                                                                                                                                                     words@bld50 – monthly talks in 2010                                                                                                 

SOS Submission to M2030 Audit – Sept. 2007

SOS Submission Melbourne 2030 Audit Committee September 24, 2007 CONTENTS 1 Summary of key issues and themes P 2 2 Population projections and Sustainable Development P 3 3 Strengthening Rescode P 4 4 Activity centres P 5 5 Reform of VCAT (P&E List) P 6 6 Is new development reflecting M2030 policy? P 6 7 Recommendations of M2030 Implementation Reference Group P 7 8 Other Related Issues P 8 9 Conclusion – Moratorium on M2030 P 10

1 Summary

All the critical points made in the SOS submission on M2030 in 2003 remain valid. SOS continues to support the concept of a plan like Melbourne 2030 that can address fundamental issues of demographic change and the provision of adequate infrastructure to guide the sustainable development of Melbourne and its environs over the next few decades. However, our support for such a planning strategy was and still is conditional on the adoption of the following relevant SOS policies: • A detailed public analysis of strategies to accommodate sustainable population growth throughout the state, first directing population growth into Victorian regional centres where feasible and then prioritising provision for increased population densities across the metro area • A more prescriptive approach to RESCODE and local planning policies to provide greater certainty for all stakeholders, maintain basic residential amenity standards, protect against intrusion of inappropriate development into non targeted residential zones and prevent creep of activity centre development • A transparent review of selection techniques for determining the most appropriate areas for higher density development and activity centres, and for their prioritisation. • Immediate development of a plan for the upgrading and implementation of a greatly expanded rail network to service Melbourne’s outer suburbs • Establishment of an independent statutory mass transit authority to drive the implementation of the expanded mass transit network • VicRoads to be brought under the control of the Department of Planning and Community Development and relegated to road construction rather than having responsibility for decisions concerning new roads and freeways (the WA model) • Reform the Planning and Environment List of VCAT to remove its ability to ignore properly constituted local policy and require it instead to provide a Council oversight function to guide improvement in municipal performance. Until these interrelated issues have been transparently and adequately addressed, a moratorium on M2030 should be imposed. Local councils in consultation with their communities must be given adequate resources and time to decide the location and form of new development in their municipalities. The WA model of community consultation on planning issues could also be adopted.

2 Population projections and Sustainable Development

The Melbourne 2030 strategy is based on one future scenario only, i.e. the need to absorb 600,000 new dwellings within 30 years. Instead, a comprehensive transparent strategy should be developed with public consultation that also addresses the wider issues of sustainable development, including water and energy conservation, provision of infrastructure, food production and distribution, and private and public transport. A range of scenarios should be considered along with a corresponding range of guidelines. A timely monitoring program should also be included for any ongoing planning regime. Consequential outcomes must be addressed prior to stimulation of further development e.g. the imminent exhaustion of water reserves and insufficient provision of adequate infrastructure with continued additional housing. SOS believes that a far more detailed analysis of the prioritisation of population growth areas needs to be undertaken. Languishing rural and regional centres should have first allocation of growth kick-started by co-location of government departments, incentives for small business & sunrise industries, employment programs, etc. The market should not be allowed to drive development purely for short-term financial gain, when this may be diametrically opposite to the needs of orderly forward planning. The lack of controlled planning – ie market driven development – has got Melbourne into the position it is in today. The slide can be arrested with direct government (local and state) intervention, such as releasing permits for new housing in the five designated zones in the same way that new land releases are managed. This would ensure that new development doesn’t flood into one zone leaving potentially lower return areas till last. There is a desperate need for more mandatory mechanisms to give planning policies and guidelines more direction and teeth (eg, Rescode, local overlays, Clause 12 of each planning scheme that describes desired planning outcomes, etc). Greenfield sites should be the priority locations for high density housing because • The prospective residents know what they are getting • It makes no sense to visualise how activity centres can be transformed if new developments are not prescribed in this form (eg, “making car-based centres work” M2030 page 32). • Integrated higher density housing with high quality public transport and local work opportunities ought to be prerequisites for new suburbs.

3 Strengthening Rescode

The market cannot be allowed to decide how state and local policy will be implemented. Whilst acknowledging the state’s role in establishing broad policy objectives, SOS believes that the detailed planning of local areas should be the responsibility of democratically elected local governments in consultation with their communities. There is an imperative to empower Councils through local variations and neighbourhood zones to give proper effect to the government’s repeated election commitments to protect and enhance residential amenity. Current local variation provisions do not adequately address the protection of neighbourhood character. Neighbourhood character needs to be strengthened to remove the elements of subjective judgement that by their very definition are open to inconsistent interpretation. Neighbourhood zones should ensure the diversity and attractiveness of our suburbs. The zones should incorporate prescribed controls covering building setbacks, scale, footprint, articulation of height lines and other mechanisms to give proper effect to neighbourhood character. For example, some zones may prescribe single storey development. Others may highlight the importance of trees which are now recognised as necessary not only for soil and water conservation but also to reduce air pollution and the heat island effect (preserving optimum micro-climates), as well as their considerable aesthetic and psychological benefits. Key M2030 issues in relation to Rescode that still need to be addressed include: • the interface of activity centres and established residential areas • the consequences of increasing residential density in activity centres – increased vehicle density can exacerbate already inadequate parking capacity • protection for existing residential areas to prevent overflow development These are issues that can best be resolved by strengthening Rescode with prescriptive measures to ensure that the government’s commitment of protecting and enhancing existing residential amenity is delivered. The strategy currently offers no concrete measures to enable protection outside activity centres. Reducing the amount of discretion exercisable in Planning Schemes (eg by making key amenity standards mandatory) will greatly reduce the legal load on the planning system by minimising ambit claims while simplifying development application assessments. This will meet the desires of all parties – developers, objectors and councils – for greater certainty while simultaneously minimising ambit claims, speculative development and appeals to VCAT. It will by definition reduce the operational complexity of planning schemes while providing the improved planning outcomes which should be the key focus of any democratic planning regime.

4 Activity centres

The techniques used to select activity centres best suited to higher density development are seriously deficient and seem to rely on pre-existing retail floor-space and trip generations as though they are capable of attracting even greater development when there is no evidence that they can absorb more. Instead, the key pre-requisite should be location at mass transit public transport nodes and the potential for integrated mixed use development which would facilitate existing and new economic and residential activity. The one size fits all approach is obviously inadequate and individual detailed assessments are essential for any area being considered for significantly increased development. Planning and development of activity centres should be prioritised in consultation with local communities. Our earlier criticisms of the inadequacies of the initial implementation of M2030 have been borne out only 5 years later and we can confidently predict that unless these basic issues are corrected, community dissatisfaction will continue to grow. Councils also require the flexibility to respond to the need for increased housing by directing new higher density development to the most appropriate strategic sites, which may not always be associated with activity centres. The City of Yarra, for example, has identified a number of major re-development sites outside activity centres and attempted to protect existing built form and heritage streetscapes in its activity centres from high-rise development. However, despite the fact that in Yarra these centres are close enough together to overlap, a government panel recently rejected this approach and the use of height controls in activity centres as inimical to the aims of M2030. But the aim of M2030 is to accommodate population increase, not to encourage high-rise development for its own sake. These sorts of predicaments and incompatibilities with the different policies of M2030 that seek to increase housing densities but also preserve neighbourhood character were highlighted in the Stewart Street case in Richmond where the status of M2030 was challenged (O’Connell Street Developments PL v Yarra CC, VCAT 448, 30 April 2003). At paragraph 64, that legal decision stated: “No particular aspect of the Strategy itself necessarily carries greater weight than another…In some situations there may be conflict or tension between the respective policies. In those circumstances it will require the tribunal to balance those conflicting interests” This illustrates one of the fundamental flaws of M2030 (and some other urban consolidation policies) – in most instances there is no way to balance conflicting policies without some detriment, so guidance on priorities is required. For example, heritage streetscapes are incompatible with most modern high-rise development. In such cases, if heritage protection is to have any real meaning, this should have priority over any proposed new development that would potentially conflict with existing built form.

5 Reform of VCAT

The Planning and Environment List of VCAT has become a major determinant of planning outcomes in Melbourne, often overriding local Council policies and priorities. It is notorious for inconsistent decisions which are usually biased in favour of developers. VCAT should not be able to ignore or override incorporated local provisions in planning schemes by invoking state or metropolitan objectives. Otherwise there is no point in councils wasting scarce resources attempting to implement local controls and variations to democratically reflect local conditions, constraints and priorities. Permits should not be amended without going through the usual notification and advertising process, unless with the consent of all parties concerned. VCAT should be a body of review and not a decision maker not subject to review itself. The only grounds for appeal should be based on the failure of the Council to apply local or state policy in reaching its decision. An appeal to VCAT should not be seen as a chance for a second bite at the cherry. Permit applicants should not be able to benefit from ambit claims to VCAT. For this reason, amended plans should also not be allowed – development applications should be crafted to fully reflect state and local planning priorities and should stand or fall on their merits. Thus Councils must also be able to refuse to consider applications that are not in accord with their policies and objectives. Such decisions ought to be appellable but VCAT’s options should be limited to either upholding the decision or directing Council to accept the application. These last two reforms will remove ambit claims and speculative development from the system and allow Councils to focus on strategic planning issues and permit applications of merit.

6 Is new development reflecting M2030 policy?

The latest ABS figures reveal a surging fringe population more reliant than ever on private cars. M2030 was supposed to control urban sprawl and concentrate development around public transport and services in major centres. Central to the strategy was the upgrading and integration of public transport, which has simply not been budgeted for nor even planned. Instead, more than 50 per cent of recent metropolitan growth has been in fringe municipalities and the rate of car ownership is in line with population increase, showing that the growing outer suburbs are reaching a point of total car dependence because of the lack of adequate public transport. Although it is early days yet for a long-term policy, M2030 is clearly failing in its goals, because its implementation has been severely flawed so that it has not been a strong enough influence to counteract prevailing socio-economic and development pressures. Development in existing and particularly inner suburbs seems to have become more opportunistic judging from the number of ambit claims at VCAT. A number of cases submitted to the Activity Centres Thematic Working Group (see Point 7) as alleged “M2030 best practice” examples were also severely flawed. Some of these have been analysed by SOS, along with several dozen examples of local planning permit and enforcement cases from one municipality alone which exhibit flawed process that seems to derive mostly from the vagaries and pitfalls inherent in the exercise of discretion, which provides the opportunity for inconsistency and the exercise of undue influence. The imposition of M2030 simply adds to the complexity of assessments and exacerbates these already existing problems. In another policy failure, new Victorian homes have been found to be less sustainable than older houses because they use more power and produce more greenhouse emissions than before the five-star rules were introduced. This can only be addressed with further legislation, including updating the Planning & Environment Act.

7 Recommendations of M2030 Implementation Reference Group

The recommendations of the 3 IRG reports must be acted on – most have simply not been met and remain largely unaddressed (see IRG website The IRG identified 12 priority issues critical to the successful implementation of M2030: 1 Ensuring there is whole of government and bipartisan support for M2030 2 Getting community and stakeholder buy-in to M2030 3 Resourcing local government and defining responsibilities 4 Managing outward growth and green wedges 5 Significant investment in public transport is required 6 Integrating and managing infrastructure provision 7 Facilitating investment and development in activity centres 8 Ensuring high quality residential development 9 Increasing supply of well-located affordable housing, ensuring housing affordability 10 Building more equitable, stronger, healthier and safer communities 11 Moving towards more environmentally sustainable design and development 12 Improving planning decision making processes In relation to activity centre policy, the IRG identified 11 key issues to be addressed in the short term if the policy is to be successfully implemented: 1. Community attitudes and expectations 2. Partnership and governance arrangements 3. Resources 4. Planning system 5. Infrastructure planning and provision 6. Access and public transport 7. Economic constraints and drivers 8. Land availability 9. Implementing sustainability principles 10. Incorporating housing into activity centres 11. Demonstration projects The most significant role for state government in implementing Melbourne 2030 is to provide sufficient funding for infrastructure. Relying to any significant extent on developer contributions detracts from the ability of government to direct development to preferred locations and also invites corruption. In relation to the Melbourne Transport Plan, the IRG noted that M2030 stated a vision for change that the MTP does not adequately convey – “no specific details, timing or funding commitments…The current disaggregated approach to transport and land use planning and implementation is not delivering the outcomes it should.” The IRG recommended provision of a substantial increase in the allocation of State Government funding for improvements to the public transport system to ensure targets can be met (e.g. 20% by 2020); and that the integrated transport plan (Metropolitan Transport Plan) must have guaranteed funding for implementation and delivery. Neither of these recommendations have been acted on to any significant degree – some rail network extensions have actually been cancelled or shelved. A subcommittee of the IRG, the Activity Centres Thematic Working Group, investigated a number of cases submitted mostly by industry bodies as “best practice” examples of M2030 in action. While some had considerable merit, others were severely flawed (eg, in terms of not meeting some requirements of local policy, neighbourhood character guidelines, preferred community outcomes and appropriate planning process). As mentioned, SOS was on this Working Group and analysed some of these cases and has presented its submission to the M2030 Audit Committee.

8 Other Related Issues

M2030 Audit Committee Terms of Reference too narrow: To state that “fundamental change to the strategic direction within the first 5 years would be premature” is non-sensical. If M2030 is being seriously reviewed with the genuine intention of making it more effective, the government must be open to changing whatever is necessary about both the fine print and the overall approach if the evidence on the ground so warrants. Any faults should be detected and corrected as soon as possible before too much detriment occurs. This will be far more time and resource efficient in the long run than continual band-aiding of a flawed strategy, as has been occurring with ongoing changes to the Planning & Environment Act and to Planning Schemes (VPPs). “Cutting Red Tape in Planning Progress Report – July 2007” This document is an excellent illustration of the fact that a decade and a half after the dismantling of the previous planning regime, the present system is still in need of ongoing and extensive revision. It is a clear indication that the discretionary system is far too complex, lacks certainty and is not delivering optimum planning outcomes or even realizing Government policy on urban growth and sustainability. The planning regime in general must be operating efficiently before a major development strategy like M2030 can be superimposed. Flawed permit assessments As mentioned, many individual permit application and enforcement cases reveal some aspects of flawed or incompetent process, even without the added impost of M2030, which has exacerbated the lack of sufficient state or local controls to limit and direct development to appropriate locations. SOS has also noted inconsistencies and other evidence of possible corruption in planning matters in general in a number of municipalities, including issues associated with the granting and enforcement of planning permits and with contributions to the election campaigns of candidates for council elections. Consequently, SOS advocates an Independent Crime & Corruption Commission in Victoria that would have the power to investigate reported instances of alleged corruption, conflict of interest and chronic systematic flaws in municipal planning and development matters. The state Ombudsman’s office does not seem to have the ability to investigate such cases properly. Housing choices: Requires serious commitment by the state government in cooperation with local councils. This may require mandatory designation of a percentage of new developments to contain affordable housing to prevent dislocation and “ghetto-isation” of local communities. Public Transport: A detailed plan for a greatly extended and fully integrated PT service must be established as soon as possible to facilitate appropriate development in areas identified by state and local governments in consultation with local communities. Obviously this cannot all be achieved in the short-term so key areas need to be prioritised for immediate funding and implementation. Such a metro-wide plan driven by a new independent authority would allow both councils and developers to plan for ordered growth that can optimise benefits to local communities and build a more functional and sustainable city Local Government Act 1989 and Planning & Environment Act 1987 Both Acts need to be seriously updated or re-written, given the degree of change over the last two decades in communities, in the operation of local government and in the importance and perception of environmental issues. The Local Government Act admirably stresses community benefit and consultation (particularly the Best Value provisions) but without detailing sufficient specific mandatory provisions to actually give these clauses any teeth.

9 Conclusion: Moratorium on M2030 until implementation flaws rectified

SOS believes that the following steps are necessary to regain a balance in forward planning for Melbourne and to protect the residential amenity of the city: • Overhaul the outdated planning Act and stop “band-aiding” present planning controls which only increase the complexity and uncertainty of the planning assessment process • Introduce more prescriptive controls for amenity standards and overlays to simplify council assessment process and provide more certainty and better planning outcomes • Change the role of VCAT to restrict it to reviewing Council planning processes • Completely review M2030 to address its current failings, including (but not limited to) – • revise designated activity centres consistent with M2030 sustainability principles and guidelines, not on the basis of other factors such as retail floor area • allow councils significantly more time and resources to complete the development of Structure Plans with full community consultation and participation • transparently reassess population trends and adopt a range of strategies to accommodate population increases in rural centres as well as metro Melbourne • plan for and allocate funding for a comprehensive fully integrated public transport plan for metro-Melbourne, to be implemented by a specifically-appointed statutory authority Because of the above issues, there should be an immediate moratorium on Melbourne 2030 until it is transparently reviewed. Existing state and local planning controls are adequate to control and guide development until M2030 can be revised (as before M2030 was introduced) but immediate changes that are necessary include tightening Rescode amenity standards and local overlays by making compliance mandatory. It needs to be remembered that the great majority of development proposals already meet state and local guidelines – it is only those that seek to exploit loopholes and push the limits that would be hampered by the reforms suggested here. No developments will be stopped but those that are excessive or otherwise inappropriate will require scaling down or a re-design. Green Wedges and the Urban Growth boundary are protected to some extent by specific separate legislation (Amendments VC 23, VC16) which need to be further tightened, and the scope for the Minister of the day to vary boundaries and controls should be reduced (note that Ministerial Practice Direction No 10 was revoked in June 2003 after being in force for less than a year). The government should establish a timeline for Melbourne 2030 to become the default policy after the deficiencies outlined in this submission have been adequately addressed. The bottom line is that if the State Government is serious about shaping an appropriate sustainable future for Melbourne, it will have to take a much more proactive role in mandating planning mechanisms and providing infrastructure that can direct and attract development identified as desirable by both state and local government in consultation with the community.

Melbourne 2030 ‘review’

The State Government has announced a ‘review’ of Melbourne 2030. Submissions are due by Sept 24th, 2007 – See the DSE web site.

The process states that ‘all submissions will be treated as public documents and may be placed on the Internet for public access’. Be aware that most of the ‘consultation’ on M2030 has been to gauge the responses in order to appropriately spin to the concepts, and to hide ‘public’ submissions… So demand that your submission IS placed on the DSE website for public viewing! .

Read our submission, and view all the other submissions.

For our critical review of Melbourne 2030, see Ian Woods paper.

Planning Minister Justin Madden dumps M2030 Implementation group

12 June 2007:      Without any prior consultation or notice, Planning Minister Justin Madden is about to summarily terminate the State Government’s Melbourne 2030 advisory group. The M2030 Implementation Reference Group (IRG) was originally set up to provide feedback on how the new planning guidelines were working in practice. The IRG has been critical of the way the government introduced the policy before much of the necessary council structure plans and upgraded public transport services had been put in place. Residential amenity protection lobby group Save Our Suburbs had two seats on the IRG. SOS president Ian Quick said, “This unilateral action by the Minister leaves the community with no input into the continuing problems caused by Melbourne 2030, a policy that desperately needs removal or serious improvement”. SOS has recommended a moratorium on M2030 until many of the key issues are addressed, including –

  • A Ministerial directive and/or Planning Act amendments so that Rescode amenity standards as well as zone and overlay controls become mandatory.
  • Municipal structure plans completed, and allowed to contain mandatory provisions.
  • Develop a strategic public transport plan with parliamentary funding commitment and begin implementation under the control of a new statutory mass transit authority
  • All Activity Centres locations to be revised to ensure they are located at mass transit nodes and at locations that can support higher density development.
  • Reform VCAT to improve municipal performance by overseeing council development assessment procedures rather than taking over the role of the Responsible Authority.

The Implementation and Performance of Melbourne 2030 – A Critical Review

“Melbourne 2030 – Planning for Sustainable Growth” is a 30-year plan to manage change across metropolitan Melbourne, introduced in October 2002 after three years of extensive community consultation (DOI 2002). However, this feedback, along with some of the department’s own technical reports, was largely ignored in the final draft. Age columnist Kenneth Davidson savaged the strategy as “simply a restatement of the main elements of the Kennett government’s 1995 planning document ( Living Suburbs )… with phoney consultative processes and documents in warm, earthy colours, subliminally evocative of a sustainable environment…” (Mees 2004). No options or alternative futures were ever discussed, identified or evaluated. Most of the final proposals on major issues like activity centres and freeways were opposite to those recommended by the technical consultants and the final draft strategy was released without further public review (Mees 2004). Accompanying the Draft Strategy were six “draft implementation reports” and a Ministerial directive requiring local municipalities to include in all planning scheme amendments a statement that the municipality has “had regard to the Metropolitan Strategy” (Delahunty 2002). M2030 offers no indication of how its integrated implementation is to be achieved by whole-of-government objectives, strategies and responsibilities and it is not linked to budgetary processes (Mees 2004). In particular, the promised “integrated transport strategy” to emphasise upgrading city-wide public transport to underpin higher density activity centre development was just a series of suggestions for various agencies to prepare plans! Even the launch last year of the state government’s long-awaited Metropolitan Transport Plan was criticised by the Minister’s own advisory group as “a plan without specific details, timing or funding commitments …. The current disaggregated approach to transport and land use planning and implementation is not delivering the outcomes it should.” The M2030 transport chapter discusses public transport proposals first and roads last, but does not list any freeway proposals. Instead, these are buried in chapter 4 (“prosperous city”) – without costing – but the total estimated cost of these freeways is $3 billion, about 15 times the cost of the proposed rail extensions, so public transport receives only 6% of transport funding (Mees 2004). The State Government provided a mere $5.6 million ($100,000 per council) for strategic planning work to implement M2030. The Priority Development Panel has cited lack of structure planning for activity centres as a reason to reject some large proposals (although not consistently). These include the Glenroy Activity Centre case, refused partly because there was no Structure Plan nor a timeline for meeting development objectives (PDP 2004b), and the Peak proposal at Wheelers Hill, rejected because the site was within a neighbourhood activity centre but with no final structure plan, fixed rail or suitable bus services (PDP 2004a). These decisions underline the fact that the introduction of M2030 was premature and compliance should not have been required until upgraded public transport services and structure planning for activity centres were complete.


According to the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE), in the next 30 years Melbourne is expected to grow by around one million people and 620,000 extra households. M2030 seeks to protect the liveability of the established areas and concentrate major change in strategic redevelopment sites, such as activity centres and underdeveloped land. While supply of land for development is to be maintained in growth areas, over time the strategy assumes that there will be a shift away from growth on the city fringe and that the trend towards smaller households will continue to support demand for well-located apartment lifestyles around activity centres, “supported by an expanded and more attractive public transport system.” (DOI 2002). However, these trends are not being borne out, nor is the strategy yet being supported by any significantly upgraded public transport services. The spatial distribution of the recent increase in multi-unit housing across Melbourne has been very uneven, from 90% in the inner city ( usually as infill development ) to only 10% in Outer Melbourne. Fewer detached houses were constructed in Melbourne in 2002-3 than 15 yrs earlier, while multi-dwelling developments increased over four times. Medium density housing accounted for the entire increase in annual approvals over the same period. Higher rise & larger developments have been concentrated in inner city urban activity centres, with little industry interest in outer activity centres (Buxton 2005). But despite this, over 80 of Melbourne ‘s pop growth is still occurring in outer Melbourne where 60% of new housing is being approved. Redeveloping more of the inner suburbs will be difficult – these are already the most compact areas with high heritage values and allowing unregulated higher rise outside activity centres would undermine the M2030 strategy of concentrating denser development in mixed use areas near public transport. Thousands of medium density units are also going into suburban infill sites, but these are typically dual occupancies which represent low efficiency population accommodation and have a greater potential to cause community backlash through their impact on neighbourhood character (Buxton 2005). Rail travel is the fastest form of public transport but the lowest number of developments occur close to train stations. Buxton concludes that increased medium density development in the outer suburbs is unlikely unless the government at least doubles the current residential lot density. And this would further increase the already-desperate need for an improved public transport system in the outer suburbs serving commuters to central Melbourne to improve the quality of life for people living in the road “transport corridors” that run through the inner city (City of Yarra [CoY] 2003) These inconsistencies are further compounded by a recent study funded by the municipalities of Yarra, Melbourne and Port Phillip to assess the population capacity of the Inner City. The study considered it unlikely that the inner city will receive enough demand to require 90,000 dwellings over the next 30 years (its share of projected population growth under M2030) and that, in any case, accommodating Yarra’s share of this projected need would not require any change to current zoning and local policies (CoY 2003). Clearly, the population projections underpinning the growth strategies of M2030 require a transparent re-appraisal.


M2030 lists 105 Major Activity Centres, the 25 largest being designated Principal Activity Centres, and there are more than 900 local neighbourhood activity centres, but there is no explanation of the basis for selection of activity centres, even in the accompanying Draft Implementation Plan. The list simply appears to be based on retail floor-space – no distinction is made between private car-based malls and traditional centres near mass transit nodes, thus favouring existing centres and car-based malls. So Chadstone is a Principal Activity Centre, East Burwood K-Mart is a Major Centre but Glenferrie is not listed at all, despite being a traditional strip centre with tram and rail access and a large university campus (Mees 2004) . Most shopping malls in Melbourne were located in fortuitously acquired stand-alone sites, beginning with Chadstone in 1960. By contrast, in Sydney stronger adherence to policy and pro-active land assembly by some councils ensured that most major sub-centres are in rail-based locations. The major stand-alone shopping centres in Melbourne have all been designated as activity centres. The charitable view is that maybe this was to at least make them subject to structure plans which could reduce car dependence. However, any plans for upgraded mass transit for these centres is yet to emerge. DSE came up with performance indicators for activity centres in 2005 which included allowing out of centre proposals if there was a nett benefit, a very subjective approach open to wide interpretation. These stand-alone centres are mostly car-based, have a negative economic impact on traditional shopping centres and, being mostly controlled by large financial interests, continue to seek to expand. Yet there is no recognition of this in M2030, let alone any strategies to reverse or control this trend in order to implement activity centre policy (Goodman 2004). There are also no substantive measures to direct higher-density housing into the preferred activity centre locations – for example, by restricting it in other places. M2030 is still “performance-based”, allowing higher-density development anywhere provided certain design requirements are met or considered, a completely ineffective approach to channelling development to preferred locations (Mees 2004). This reluctance to regulate the retail market contrasts with current practice in Europe, where there has been a revival in interventionist strategic policy in many countries in the 1990s to locate new retail development to protect traditional centres (Goodman 2004). There are further distinctions that M2030 fails to adequately address. I nner city retail/business strips are very different to activity centres in the middle and outer suburbs, as illustrated in Yarra where there are 5 major activity centers – Brunswick St , Smith St , Swan St , Bridge Rd and Victoria St . These are already densely developed and surrounded by medium and higher density housing. Yet under M2030, their number and location will open up almost all of Yarra for increased development and high-density housing. The social and engineering infrastructure in these areas is already operating at saturation levels so any extra capacity for growth must be first identified through the Structure Planning process for each centre, which is not yet complete. These centres also have their own distinct low rise Victorian character and lie within established Heritage Overlay areas. Higher density residential development is not compatible with the existing established residential and commercial development. Protecting local heritage is a key policy objective of M 2030 so there is conflict between the development objectives and the character protection objectives of the strategy (CoY 2003). And a high degree of activity centre investment may diminish the very attributes that attract investment in the first place. Rescode allows unrestricted infill development across most of suburban Melbourne , which is cheaper, offers more living space and is more appealing than a high cost, dense, noisy activity centre apartment, or the lower cost suburban perimeter. Businesses too are unlikely to concentrate in such centres because of the way the contemporary urban economy functions and the lack of planning tools to encourage such concentrations. Instead, under the current Rescode rules, a lot of the growth in Melbourne ‘s dwelling stock is in the form of infill, with its localised perceived negative impact (Birrell 2005). With modern communications, business services concentrated in the CBD no longer need to be close to the diverse industrial and commercial enterprises which use their services. According to Birrell, the OECD has confirmed that low density outer and middle suburban industrial and commercial development is common in advanced economies, and that the suburbanisation of population and jobs is one of the major features of settlement patterns in the OECD. Market forces rather than planning strategies appear to be dictating how Melbourne is growing. The Government is aware of this – Bracks’ “Growing Victoria Together policy” launched in November 2001 emphasised that economic growth and jobs were the government’s top priority – for example, in acknowledging the significance of decentralised manufacturing in the SE and the need to provide land for this sector (DOI 2002 p14-15).


M2030 was unsuccessfully challenged by the City of Yarra in the Stewart St case at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), which established legally that no particular aspect of the Strategy carries greater weight than another. However, tension between policies will require a balance of conflicting interests to ensure a result consistent with the policies within the plan (VCAT 2003b). Thus, since the predominant theme of M2030 is consolidation, VCAT judgments have tended to favour most contentious proposals, no matter what local policies indicate. A proposal for a 19.4m high apartment block in Domain Rd South Yarra was approved in 2003 despite a DDO height limit of 12m near the Botanical Gardens. VCAT considered that the “high standard of design…would justify any additional height above that recommended in the DDO” ( VCAT 2003a ). But the worst example remains the Mitcham Towers case where Justice Morris inferred that most designated activity centres within Whitehorse were not really adequate as activity centres and that since the area surrounding the 14-storey Columbo St proposal was better suited, it should therefore be unofficially accorded that status! Yet the M2030 description of neighbourhood centres, like the Mitcham Towers site, specifies only three or four storey buildings (VCAT 1706, 2004) ). This decision was a dangerous precedent for all suburban areas anywhere near a public transport route and highlighted the fact that the Government should have allowed councils both the time and resources to put structure plans and other controls in place first to regulate M2030 before the strategy ever became operational. Contrary to the public assertions of Planning Minister Hulls, it is clear that M2030 was the driving force behind the Mitcham approval since a large proportion of the decision discusses activity centres and the requirements of M2030. Yet both Morris and Hulls publicly claimed that the development was simply in line with the Whitehorse Planning Scheme, and that the Council was to blame for not protecting the area by not submitting interim structure plans or requesting interim mandatory height controls (Quick 2005). But the development application was lodged a year before these controls were even made available to councils in late 2004 (Delahunty 2004), after pressure from residents’ lobby group Save Our Suburbs and the Minister’s own M2030 advisory group. The new controls consisted of mandatory height limits for neighbourhood activity centres and a new residential R3 Zone with a mandatory maximum 9m height limit, plus the implementation of interim structure plans for activity centres as protection against over-development while full structure plans were being developed. The practice guidance note for preparation of structure plans for activity centres wasn’t even published by DSE until December 2003 – full structure plans involve community consultation and take several years to produce. And the departmental guidelines for developments of more than three storeys weren’t formally adopted until November 2004. At the same time, the Government has been taking a piece-meal approach to planning reform by continually “band-aiding” planning legislation, allowing further exercise of discretion, more avenues for appeals to VCAT and less certainty. This is turn adds to the complexity of planning assessments and makes it harder for council planners to meet statutory deadlines (Wood 2005). And this is despite the fact that all parties — councils, residents and developers — want more certainty (M2030 IRG 2003). The Planning Act of 1987 is now way out of date and needs to be re written with more mandatory provisions, not just continually patched up with layer after layer of discretionary guidelines (Budge 2005). The Mitcham decision also highlights the need for the role of VCAT to be amended to one of overseeing the integrity of council procedures, instead of acting as a central duplicating planning authority. Local policies can only become law after community consultation, appraisal by a panel and Ministerial approval and are thus unlikely to conflict with State policies. VCAT’s role should thus be to oversee and strengthen council processes to ensure that properly established local policies are followed, rather than usurping council powers and overturning local policy in favour of state urban consolidation guidelines, which makes a mockery of Hulls’ claim that councils and their communities must work to develop local policies if they want to have more control over their own neighbourhoods (Quick 2005). Finally, it could be expected that the alleged focus of M2030 on sustainable growth would see legislative emphasis on sustainable practices like passive solar design, energy conservation construction and appliances, and waste water and reticulated water conservation measures. And indeed there are some recent general guidelines in planning schemes that specify that new development should be sited and oriented to maximise solar energy use, for example. However, VCAT president Stuart Morris has undermined this practical approach to sustainable design at the planning stage, stating in Taras Nominees v Yarra CC [2003] VCAT 1952 that this issue should be tackled at the building permit stage because all dwellings require building permits but not all require planning permits. This simplistic approach totally ignores the major gains in building performance that can only be made by optimising the incorporation of passive solar design – the orientation and layout of building envelopes, including floor plans, elevations, location of open space, window placement and orientation, etc. By definition, these factors cannot be properly addressed at the building stage (Wood 2006). The extra resources involved in requiring all development applications to undergo an ESD assessment could be provided by simply making Rescode amenity standards and planning scheme zone and overlay provisions mandatory, cutting out most of the time-consuming exercise of discretion involved in all development applications and reducing the number of VCAT appeals by providing much of the greater degree of certainty that councils, residents and most developers have already said they want.


Not only M2030 but the whole Victorian planning regime is a policy-based system that encourages innovation and flexibility, so that nearly anything is possible with practically everything left to the discretion of the decision maker. As the Victorian president of the Planning Institute of Australia wrote recently to Premier Bracks, “coupled with the lack of experienced staff in local government and a sustained period of heightened development activity, this has created many of the problems the planning system now faces. A more prescriptive approach on a whole host of matters is required.” (Budge 2005) In a democracy, government must also take note of the community’s wishes. This author was a participant in the comprehensive community consultation process for both Rescode and M2030 – which in both cases was largely ignored, either because of external pressure from the development industry, internal high-level bureaucratic and political interference, or both. A number of the key factors M2030 was predicated on were not in place when it was introduced in 2002 and are still nowhere near being fully implemented four years later, particularly any significant upgrading and integration of public transport services or requirements for activity centre development to comply with structure plans and to locate near mass transit nodes. Despite this, M2030 was introduced as legislation to be complied with for all development applications (although it was not gazetted until January.2006) and now community, industry and professional concern continues to grow as the negative impact of the laissez-faire nature of the strategy in practice makes itself felt. But at least the M2030 consultation process demonstrated that Melbourne ‘s residents want more sensitive location and scale of higher density development and the prior provision of an upgraded and integrated public transport system, open space, social facilities and other services. They want more clarity, simplicity and certainty in planning generally and in the development assessment process in particular. M2030 was also introduced 18 months late without the promised final public review and, in a political sense, strategically released just a few months before the state election on 30 November, allowing the government time to sell the strategy but not enough time for any adverse effects from its implementation to be apparent before polling day. As outlined above, the record of M2030 so far indicates that a major revision of the strategy and many of its underlying assumptions and processes is long overdue. Perhaps in this election year those wheels will be put into motion. by Ian Wood, Vice President , Save Our Suburbs (June 2006)


Birrell B, O’Connor K, Rapson V & Healy E, 2005 Melbourne 2030 – Planning Rhetoric versus Urban Reality , Monash University epress, March 2005 Budge T, 2005, “ Stronger Leadership in Planning is Essential”, in Residents Voice – Save Our Suburbs Inc. newsletter No.20, January 2005 Buxton M & Tieman G, 2005 ‘Patterns of Urban Consolidation in Melbourne : Planning Policy and the Growth of Medium Density Housing’ in Urban Policy and Research , Vol 23 (2) pp 137-157 City of Yarra 2003 Submission on Melbourne 2030, 28 February 2003 Delahunty M (Minister for Planning), 2002 Direction No. 9 Metropolitan Strategy, 8 October 2002 Delahunty M (Minister for Planning), 2004 Interim Planning Controls Offered to Councils , Media Release, 8 September 2004 Department of Infrastructure (Vic), 2002 Metropolitan Strategy: Melbourne 2030 – Planning for Sustainable Growth, October 2002 Goodman R & Moloney S 2004 ‘Activity Centre Planning In Melbourne Revisited’ Australian Planner Vol 41 (2), pp 47-54 Mees P 2004 ‘ Paterson ‘s Curse: the Attempt to Revive Metropolitan Planning in Melbourne ‘, Urban Policy and Research, Vol 21 (3) pp 287-299 Melbourne 2030 Implementation Reference Group, 2003 Priority Implementation Issues (recommendations to Planning Minister Hulls) Priority Development Panel – Report of the Advisory Committee, 2005a, VCAT Application for Review P2333/2004 , ‘The Peak’ Wheeler’s Hill , 25 January 2005   Priority Development Panel – Report of the Advisory Committee, 2005b, VCAT Application for Review P2076/2004, Glenroy Major Activity Centre, 28 February 2005 Quick I & Wood I, 2005 “ Mitcham Towers decision highlights need for reform of VCAT and the Planning Act” in Residents Voice – Save Our Suburbs Inc. newsletter No.22, October 2005 Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal 2003a, VCAT 349 – Application for Review no. P2710/2002, 31 March 2003 Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal 2003b, VCAT 448 Application for Review no. P2678/2002 , 30 April 2003 Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal 2004, VCAT 1706 – Application for Review no. P359/2004, 7 September 2004 Wood 1 2005 “The Implications for Residents of new Planning Legislation” in Residents Voice – Save Our Suburbs Inc. newsletter No.21, May 2005 Wood I 2006 “ VCAT undermining state ESD policy ” in Residents Voice – Save Our Suburbs Inc. newsletter No.23, May 2006


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