Being passionate about Melbourne and our family-friendly suburbs, I applaud the State Government’s move to introduce better planning controls (final reforms to be introduced in October pending feedback). The planning reform will see the introduction of new zones that set stricter controls on where new developments will be permitted. The reforms will see many of our suburban backyards off-limits to developers to protect those areas of Melbourne that have a strong neighbourhood character.
It is clear that the Baillieu government is keen to finish the job Mr Kennett started, although critics are coming out of the woodwork saying the reform is simply for the ‘privileged’ as it will preserve the more up-market areas of Melbourne and diminish the values of others. I strongly disagree with this sentiment, and I believe that the general idea is to simplify processes thereby reducing costs and to preserve what is already in existence. You cannot please everyone but, if executed well, the reforms should not disadvantage people although it remains to be seen which areas will benefit from the zones as it appears that local municipalities will be accountable for this.
What are the reforms?
As I understand it, the proposition is 3 new zones, and improvements to current zones (Mixed Use, Township) to further protect us from haphazard development. The new Residential Growth Zone is concentrated in areas supported by infrastructure such as transport and shops and encourages underground carparks, high density townhouses and flats; the new, strictest Neighbourhood Zone limits how many homes are built as well as their height, size, backyard, etc.; and the third, General Residential Zone, gives councils flexibility for a mix of modest new units/townhouse among existing homes. The existing Activity Centre, and Comprehensive Development Zones do not change.
A comprehensive explanation of zones from the Department of Planning and Community Development is available online.
A focus on preserving neighbourhood character
For those who live in our beautiful, historical areas who fight to maintain the character and ambiance that attracted them to their home in the first place this is an emotional topic. It is devastating to see an ‘eyesore’ or a multi-dwelling development built next door that you are forced to live with every day, aside from the fact that you cannot quantify the potential damage to the value of your property.
Over the years I have supported several people, in various ways, in maintaining the old “single dwelling covenant”, originally added to titles when a subdivision was first created. The very reason for this covenant was to prevent over-development and to preserve neighbourhood character but, over the last few years, several developers successfully removed a few of these covenants to the detriment of some streets.
I have nothing against appropriate development (see article). Some subdivisions work well; it is just that the preservation of an area’s inherent qualities is paramount in all of this.
Infrastructure a key consideration
With sensible planning, inappropriate developments can be curtailed and more efficient use of infrastructure should be instrumental in keeping rates and taxes from rising quickly. It also encourages growth in the right areas that includes employment and business opportunities and generally a better standard of living for all.
Infrastructure is a very important consideration and, compared to other countries, there is a lot to be said for how Australia has handled this. In some countries, like the US, services and retail facilities are spread far and wide and transport is scarce or non-existent. At least our suburban developments have had some thought put into them.
I believe these reforms should have a positive impact on both home-owners and developers: the benefits to home owners are obvious, and though the changes will disappoint some developers, there is less ambiguity in what they can and cannot do. A significant benefit to developers is that with these changes there is potentially less time from the drawing board to the finished product. What many people do not understand is at the time of planning developers need to predict what the market wants and lengthy delays in approval processes can result in a changed marketplace and considerable loss of profits.
I guess what is important in all of this is where these zones will be applied as suburbs have not been identified and councils may be left to make their own decisions; I will be waiting with bated breath!