Sunday 2 June, 2019.
It takes a village to raise a planning fuss.
Your home, as they say, is your castle. That’s why for most of us, our suburb is a bit like our local village – it’s where we shop, bank, and catch up with friends for a quick coffee.
Although it has received little media attention, we villagers are getting restless as we see more and more yellow planning notices being strung up around our neighbourhoods. Our villages are getting more cramped, they are getting taller, and finding parking has become a daily chore.
In most leafy suburbs across Melbourne, communities are banding together to fight a wave of proposed development that is totally out of character with the local community.
In recent weeks – with little fanfare – the Andrews government slipped through a so-called ‘‘refresh’’ of planning laws, which encourages increased densification. Under the changes there will be less new housing built in Melbourne’s outer growth areas, and more built within 20 minutes of the city.
The densification strategy is Andrews’ solution to Victoria’s population doubling over the next 30 years. To cope with the strain of that intense population growth, the government intends to allow more development on each piece of land, by scrapping the two residences on a neighbourhood block rule. So, don’t be fooled by the name. The new planning laws aren’t ‘‘fresh’’, they are ‘‘sneaky’’, and will lead to increasingly cramped neighbourhoods.
Unfortunately, these changes remove some of the height protections put in place by the former government. Previously, many suburban developments could only be built to an appropriate height. In places like Mentone, Labor has ripped away the four-storey building restrictions.
Under the current planning arrangements, local councils can only recommend ‘‘preferred’’ nonbinding height limits in busy areas. In recognition that non-binding height limits don’t work, the Liberal Party has announced it will mandate height limits in places like Hampton. The only place where Labor has put in place a temporary limit is in the very marginal electorate of Bentleigh; I’ll let you work out why.
But it doesn’t stop there. Andrews has also come up with a backward thinking plan for some of the most prime land in Melbourne. The state government is going to give nine public housing estates around Melbourne – like the public housing estate behind Chapel Street – to developers. That’s right, developers are being given some of the best publicly-owned land in Melbourne. Under the arrangement, developers will be required to rebuild slightly larger public housing estates. But, they can use less land for the rebuild. And the sweetener is that the developers can then do whatever they want with the rest of the vacant land.
Instead of rebuilding the public housing estates, which only ingrain intergenerational inequity, the government should break them up, sell the land and sporadically integrate public houses across Melbourne. It might go some way to reduce the 35,000-person waiting list for a public house. Even the local councils see the policy as a dog and their peak body recently supported a motion calling on the government to go back to the drawing board.
The only way to keep the character of our suburbs, preserve our neighbourhoods, and cater for intense population growth, is to expand Melbourne, develop satellite hubs, and attract people towards regional centres.