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The Victorian government is engaged in a grand but unreported revision of the planning system to advantage development and subvert local government and resident rights.
The government has almost finalised a suite of new powers to impose by stealth major projects and higher-density development onto large sections of Melbourne.
Victorian Planning Minister Richard Wynne.Credit:AFR
The Planning Minister, Richard Wynne, now exercises extraordinary powers to designate state projects and exempt them from planning scheme requirements.
Wynne often intervenes to amend planning schemes, often overriding the need for permits and review while removing resident rights to object, appeal or be notified of proposals.
Major land use ventures are being, in effect, outsourced to bodies charged with delivering transport and other projects. Legislation gives the Suburban Rail Loop Authority control over all development along the 90-kilometre suburban loop.
This project is a critically important land-use project because it will reorient the city from the CBD to multiple centres. Yet councils and residents will be denied meaningful contributions to the type and scale of development in every activity centre and zone along this route.
The government also bypasses conventional planning processes for level crossing removals and other transport projects. Labor justifies this by claiming that resident involvement would be unlikely to lead to project changes.
Resident groups often contribute ideas to improve projects such as those proposed for Parkdale, Surrey Hills and Mont Albert at lower cost. But Labor dismisses opposition as irrelevant.
Another technique is for standing advisory committees to report to the planning minister, side-stepping councils and communities. The need for permits for many developments below a certain size or for nominated uses also has been removed.
Further deregulation of the planning system will allow many uses and developments without the need for council approval. The government is excluding residents and councils from a secret revision of the entire system. This will likely see a radical reversal of citizen rights, curtailing the need for permits, reducing prohibitions and allowing developers to assess many of their proposals according to codes or conditions.
Even more far-reaching, the metropolitan plan, Plan Melbourne, will lead to massive rebuilding of Melbourne’s fabric through higher density development imposed within 800 metres of many shopping centres served by public transport and on areas in between.
Labor made much of Matthew Guy’s record as planning minister when Guy recently resumed the leadership of the Liberal Party. But Wynne has performed worse than Guy on almost all the areas of criticism.
Under Wynne, inner and middle-ring apartment approvals in the first four years of the Andrews government rose by about 55 per cent compared to approvals under Guy.
Plan Melbourne excludes any policy for high-rise development. But each month, Melbourne grows upward driven by Labor’s refusal to provide mandatory height and other controls. This is a plan to have no plan, leaving residents to fight losing battles against an irresistible development impetus.
The problem is that government is both development regulator and addicted to revenue from development.
The problem is that government is both development regulator and addicted to revenue from development. About 45 per cent of state-based annual revenue comes from development taxes and charges, about $10 billion. This dependency fatally compromises regulatory planning in the public interest.
The first Andrews government quickly doubled Guy’s proportion of “fast tracked” planning approvals not requiring permits to 8 per cent and planned to raise this to 14 per cent. This may rise to over one third of all approvals.
Guy introduced the only strong regulatory residential and commercial controls since the early 1990s, prohibiting multi-unit development in a major residential zone and providing residential height controls. Wynne removed the ban on multi-unit development and weakened height controls.
Guy also began to regulate height controls in some historic suburban shopping centres. Wynne has refused to mandate commercial height controls.
The result is the progressive demolition of one of Melbourne’s most important economic and heritage strengths, its Victorian shopping strips in suburbs such as Collingwood, Essendon, Elsternwick and Prahran.
So much of what Labor is doing to Melbourne contradicts promises made in opposition. Labor vociferously opposed Kennett government deregulation and outsourcing but in government relentlessly pursues both.
In 2010, the Brumby government’s refusal to take note of resident concerns on transport and planning helped lose it government.
Many thousands of residents are struggling to stop Labor handing their neighbourhoods over to the development industry.
The realisation that their plight is caused by a government proceeding by stealth to discard its promises may prove to have major electoral implications in 2022.
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