Prescribed rules and discretionary guidelines: it's the discussion we need to have

Prescribed rules and discretionary guidelines: it's the discussion we need to have
Prescribed rules and discretionary guidelines: it's the discussion we need to have

Discretionary guidelines and prescribed planning rules - it's a discussion we need to have. That's the view I formed after attending the Melbourne Conversations Urban Heritage / New Architect - where to now? event held on Monday night at the Capitol Theatre.

In many more words that what I have used above, an audience member posed that question to the panel toward the end of the 90 minute session. It was prefaced by a discussion on the sheer number of development proposals which were called in for Ministerial approval along with widespread tut-tutting when a graphic produced in Monday's Age was also displayed.

It's fair to say there weren't many Matthew Guy fans in the audience yet conversely I thought it unfair that the audience - judging by the collective groan any time a reference to the current Planning Minister was made - appeared to categorise all development approved by Guy as somewhat sub-standard. Which is quite frankly - to use a fantastic Scottish vulgarity - pish.

In his answer to the discretionary guidelines versus prescribed planning rules question, Rob Moore from the City of Melbourne explained that much like the community, developers want certainty. That certainty wasn't necessarily just planning-related but also financial.

What is the core component a developer requires in order to do what they do? Buyers? Architects? Planning Consultants? Marketers? No, it's land - the acquisition and price of land is key.

Rob Moore told the audience a story of an experience he had in a meeting with a developer where they believed more defined planning controls would have a positive, stabilising impact on land prices and would help cut out wild land speculation which currently occurs.

There were a few awkward moments of disbelief from the audience after that story however as Professor Kate Darian-Smith appealed to the audience shortly thereafter, we should continue this conversation.

If we accept our current planning system won't dramatically change (who wants to go through yet another tear-it-up-and-write-another-strategy process?), how can it change to give both industry and community certainty?

Much criticism was heaped on Plan Melbourne for its lack of any controls to compel the inclusion of affordable housing in new development - is that the only area which needs to have serious debate prior to the first review of Plan Melbourne?

When is the best time to add planning controls so the market players can adjust their business models?

Should we give anti-change organisations like Planning Backlash a voice or treat them like a Sydney radio shock-jock (best ignored)?

Can we have our cake and eat it too?

The floor (and comment thread below) is open.

Lead image credit: Wikipedia.

Alastair Taylor

Alastair Taylor

Alastair Taylor is a co-founder of Urban.com.au. Now a freelance writer, Alastair focuses on the intersection of public transport, public policy and related impacts on medium and high-density development.

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bilby
The comparison between NY and Fitzroy was not intended to be on architectural merit, Squat-Thrust - rather on the value of heritage to New York City versus the value of heritage in a city like Melbourne. In terms of liveability and cultural heritage, it is comparably important. My point was that without its heritage, New York would be just as impoverished as any city not recognised as internationally outstanding in this area. Now, as to whether Fitzroy is an "architectural gemstone" - that depends on whether you think Greenwich Village, the Lower East Side or parts of Brooklyn qualify for this title. I think they do - but then the quality and intactness of Fitzroy's colonial architecture rivals that of Greenwich Village, and is significantly older than almost all of the built heritage in the Lower East Side, East Village and the rest of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, for that matter. Apart from Greenwich Village, name me some areas of New York City that have a significant number of buildings that date from the pre-Civil War period, and the 1850s, '60s and '70s? Maybe a few streets in SOHO like Charlton, King and Vandam? And yes, there are a few elsewhere, but the vast majority of New York's famous Brownstones and historic commercial buildings date from the early 1900s onwards. On the other hand, in terms of 1850s, '60s and 70s buildings - Fitzroy (and other areas like Richmond and Carlton, has them in spades. In addition, how many cities in the world are you aware of with large swathes of intact, small scale Victorian colonial housing? Not New York, that's for sure - almost all of their buildings pre-Civil War were demolished decades ago. And finally, as to Melbourne's important lane ways ... that you would compare them to New York's is actually hilarious. How many can you spot in Manhattan? Give us a few street and cross street references from Google maps for comparison against the heritage qualities of our intact CBD laneways. I'll bet that you'll barely find any at all above Lower Manhattan. Here are a few starters, though: http://forgotten-ny.com/2007/10/creaky-alleys-a-new-look-at-lower-manhattans-centuries-old-alleys/

Most hardly qualify as laneways at all in the Melbourne sense, and those that do are hardly intact heritage streetscapes compared with ours, are they?
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squat-thrust's picture
That you would compare NYC's boroughs to Fitzroy is hilarious. I love Melbourne but it is not an architectural gemstone. Important laneways? *cackling*

Bless this mess

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bilby
So, your concern is with rich people having to pay more than they otherwise would to maintain the heritage buildings that they themselves made the decision to buy? Hmm, crocodile tears, indeed, Riccardo! This is beginning to read like a passage from 'Atlas Shrugged'. In any case, it's a little unfair to call people hypocrites when they wish to retain the remaining heritage buildings in their city - I was born post-demolition of the Federal Coffee Palace, but I don't see how that means I am a hypocrite because I would like to see what remnants of the streetscape that still exist retained - I don't regard them as 'incompatible' at all. Something about this discussion seems a little odd to me, though. You seem to believe that some of the values you espouse (e.g. proximity to the heart of the 'historic centre' of the city) are objective, and yet where heritage values are concerned, you claim that they are props for the wealthy to maintain their dominant position. What makes proximity (which is in itself a function of history, as you say - a kind of spatial nostalgia, perhaps?) an absolute value and cultural heritage merely a foil for the exercise of power? I'm just not convinced that the argument is as neutral as you make out - indeed, why couldn't we build our 'La Defense' in Docklands, Fisherman's Bend or wherever, and leave the 'historic heart' alone as regards certain towers and block-busting developments like Melbourne Central or QV? Would it really have been such a loss to have to build new quality transport infrastructure to these inner-city zones, whilst retaining the qualities that Melbourne had before the CBD apartment boom? We could have had high-end infill and rooftop additions, whilst building high and dense next to the city on land not already occupied by the heritage city, but instead, we've collectively made the decision to cook the golden goose.
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bilby
You know, your comment about the rich 'locking up prime inner blocks' makes some sense, Riccardo, but the link to the (interesting) article about heritage preservation causing high rents doesn't stack up. Yes, Greenwich Village is expensive, but it hasn't always been that way. In the '50s it was dirt cheap - as was nearby SOHO with all its cast-iron loft buildings. New York is now so expensive because it is so liveable and yes, also because it is home to so many wealthy people. The various neighbourhoods in New York are not priced according to the scarcity of housing stock or the fact that they have landmark designation, though. Take West Harlem as a prime example - it's been designated as a landmark district for years, but it's only now starting to become in any way desirable as a residential area for wealthy individuals - likewise most of Brooklyn. And if Greenwich Village were allowed to build high and flatten its stock of federal townhouses tomorrow, would it become less expensive or more? All the recent multi-storey condo building in the LES would seem to suggest that more rich people would come to purchase, not fewer. Take a look at once 'gritty' Willamsburg these days - you'll see what I mean.
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Riccardo's picture
Why would I be worried if Manhattan is full of rich people? In a world, and for a species, that has spent most of its existence on the edge of starvation and even when civilised on the edge of poverty, surely that so many people have grown wealthy is a sign of success?

Curious outlook. Anyway rich people, if they pine for the symbols of old, will happily pay the extra cost of heritage as they enjoy the benefits themselves.

Heritage does the following wrong things:

-incentivises lack of maintenance, in the hope a building beyond repair can be demolished
-privatises, by force, the social costs of retaining heritage. The opposite of the waste dump issue, instead of forcing society to bear a private individuals costs, we force a private individual to bear society's costs
-forces people out a long way from the historic centres if cities, raising everyone's costs
-results in too many buildings being kept, failing to realise environmental benefits like greater energy efficiency in new buildings

I would argue if there was any classic streetscapes, like Paris Haussmann districts or whatever, why did earlier Victorian governments pay them so little regard. Suck it up and tell people that if they want new development, the 1950s and 60s skyscraper boom, then build your La Defense or whatever. In
Sunshine. But no, clearly Victorians, hypocrites all, happily accommodate some quite incompatible buildings in classic streetscapes, but complain when the damage is done and too far gone to fix.

So no, I believe heritage is just crocodile tears from the advantaged few.
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