VPELA seminar and the Minister for Planning

Last Tuesday I attended a VPELA seminar where the Minister for Planning (Richard Wynne) was the guest speaker.  The purpose of the evening was for the Minister to provide an update on how the State Government is progressing with reforming the planning system.

The Minister presented well and his enthusiasm on a number of issues, which he was able to back up with practical examples, made his presentation quite engaging.

In response to high rise development that has largely been unregulated in the CBD, the Minister was quite proud of the interim CBD height and setback controls that were introduced recently and believes they will make a significant difference to how people relate to future built form on the ground.  In addition, the Minister has guaranteed that permanent CBD height controls will be subject to a full exhibition and planning panel process to allow reasonable opportunities for community consultation. 

Furthermore, the Minister is a big advocate of high rise development making a positive contribution to the public realm whether this is through its architecture, height and setbacks or providing a public space or a laneway.

In relation to the review of apartment design by the State Government, the Minister was not supportive of mandatory apartment sizes and is of the view that it is not so much size that matters, but the ability to deliver good apartment design.  This view is shared by Collie and others in the industry.  According to the Minister, draft apartment design guidelines are due to be released later this year.

McBride Charles Ryan's Banksia at Newquay; an exemplar of quality design

With the development of apartment dwellings in existing suburbs outstripping the number of dwellings being constructed in greenfield areas, the Minister was adamant that existing suburbs must accommodate the bulk of the growth.  Having recognised a barrier to this was often the ‘not in my backyard’ view, the Minister suggested that improved community engagement was necessary to overcome this barrier, but did not elaborate on how this could be achieved.

Surprisingly in his presentation, the Minister was silent on the residential zone review being conducted by the State Government and did not comment on some of the issues with the application of the new zones.  Some of the more critical issues in our view are the Neighbourhood Residential Zone (NRZ) (the most restrictive zone) providing limited opportunity for re-development and the application of the NRZ in some cases being politicised with no shared commitment across municipalities to accommodate population growth.

The Minister talked about the re-development of ‘grey’ and ‘brownfield’ sites being integral to accommodating residential growth in existing suburbs, but did not mention the role incremental two to four storey townhouse / apartment development, in locations that are well serviced, would play.  This gave the impression that the Minister was taking a cautious approach pending the findings of the residential zone review.

An updated version of Plan Melbourne is to be released in the middle of the year and it was unusual to hear the Minister give credit to the previous State Government for its work in the preparation of the document.  It was also refreshing to see that Melbourne’s key strategic planning document has some bipartisan support with the document to remain largely unchanged.  This is a welcome change from having a new strategic document prepared each time a new State Government is elected.

Following the presentation, a pertinent question was asked in relation to the Metropolitan Planning Levy (MPL).  The question related to the lack of guidance that is available on the MPL in order to determine when it is applicable.  It was also pointed out that there is no consistent approach in its application across municipalities. 

The Minister acknowledged that the MPL has caused some confusion and has promised to provide further clarity on its application shortly.

Michael Collie is Director at Collie Pty Ltd, a Melbourne-based firm specilising in strategic and development planning, urban design and landscape architecture.

Lead image courtesy Skynews

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