Comment: Amendment C262 will stifle design innovation in Central Melbourne

Comment: Amendment C262 will stifle design innovation in Central Melbourne
Craig YellandSeptember 16, 2015

The recent, and very quiet, amendment to the C262 planning amendment by the Minister for Planning, Richard Wynne, which has placed new plot ratio restrictions and increased setbacks for Melbourne CBD buildings, spells disaster for our industry and simply cannot be ignored.

This amendment has far-reaching implications including:

Innovation is now stifled.

If you own a narrow site that is say 15m wide in the CBD, under the new planning amendment your planned development will now be restricted to a 10-storey office building or a 12-storey apartment building, making the project almost certainly unviable to redevelop.

These slim-line sites are difficult to develop but innovation is – or was – possible. Just look at the design-led Phoenix building at 82 Flinders Lane.

This building took an incredibly tight 6.7m frontage and created a refreshing and innovative design-response to the site which has made a positive contribution to the environment in which it sits. The reason this was made possible was due to the ability to utilise most of the tiny site. With the new increased set-back amendment, design responses such as the Phoenix building will become impossible to deliver.

I’m not saying there should be no restrictions on mandatory setbacks as we as architects are seeing the issues caused by the many CBD buildings that were built up to the boundaries in the more lax days of planning in bygone eras. However, I believe that each project should be considered on its own merit, to consider the pros and cons of each individual site and design application.

Only then can we encourage true innovation while still respecting the limitations of each individual site.

This amendment will dramatically reduce development in Melbourne’s CBD. The result will be massive job losses in the construction industry.

In real terms, this amendment removes the opportunity to redevelop a host of C-class office buildings in the city.

Before this amendment, Plus Architecture completed a site analysis for a 13 metre wide site in the CBD. On one side sat a tall office building built right up to the site boundary, the other side was an open space containing a heritage building. Under the previous planning scheme we could have built a 25 storey office building, however because of mandatory setbacks, the site is now limited to 10 storeys.

To a developer, this means the site is worth more as the existing four storey office block and will continue to stand as-is, taking up precious space in our CBD but without any feasible development potential.

Now imagine this scenario across the entire CBD – pretty soon we are going to see a pattern of stagnant urban renewal sites and a stalled development rate. This in turn starts to stifle the economic growth of our city while pushing up prices as supply is literally cut off at the knees.

This new design objective will be the death of affordable apartments and offices.

To provide a high level of internal amenity for building occupants.

C262 Planning Amendment

The term “high level of internal amenity” is not defined in the planning scheme. It goes above and beyond what is acceptable to the majority of occupants.

What does this statement even mean? Luxury apartments? A corner office for every staff member? Maybe a requirement for a pool and gym in every building? The interpretation of this clause lies in the personal opinion of the planning officer. It gives council authority to reject affordable apartments based on the merit of prejudice alone.

This will result in the sole delivery of large, luxury apartments that only the rich can afford, as large luxury apartments will be the only viable product developers will be able to deliver in order to make their money back on the site.

This therefore restricts future diversity of product which will have a vast and long-reaching impact on the future of our commercial and residential real estate industry.

The approval process just got slower and more expensive.

Before this amendment, buildings over 25000sqm were fast-tracked to the Minister’s office for assessment.

Now each applicant needs to liaise with the Minister’s Office, the Victorian Design Review Panel and Melbourne City Council. Each entity has a different agenda. Each requires different presentations and each work to a different timeframe.

Now, under the new planning amendment, once a developer receives a permit from the Minister they are then faced with the risk that Melbourne City Council could take the Minister to VCAT. This is just ridiculous. If the Minister doesn’t want to be the responsible authority he should just hand over all approval rights to council.

This current situation is at risk of creating a real shortage of development opportunities in the CBD which in turn will hinder our economic growth across multiple industries.

If this government is serious about implementing change for the long term, economic viability of this great state, it should consult with the developers and architects whom must work within these guidelines to deliver Melbourne’s future.

With the dollar falling and foreign investment pushing affordability out of reach for many, now is not the time to be further stifling Melbourne’s development opportunities and therefore the delivery of affordable product to the marketplace.

Craig Yelland is a Director of Plus Architecture.

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