In this report, Ernest Healy, spokesperson for the Moreland Planning Action Group, concludes that VCAT, together with the MCC, have created a precedent which overrides the intended meaning of government policy. He argues that the meaning of the Victorian government’s Policy on Commercial 1 zone can be interpreted to mean that, if the commercial potential of a commercial 1 site is poor, then its suitability for medium density residential development should also be deemed poor.
Moreland City Council – Density at all costs
On April 7th and 8th, 2014, the Moreland City Council opposed an application for the development of 14 three-storey townhouses on a Commercial 1 site in Xavier St Oak Park at VCAT. It did so on the grounds that the commercial site included a public road, for which the City claimed responsibility.
Despite this objection relating to the road, the MCC submission to VCAT made it clear that Council had no serious objections to the project proceeding on planning grounds.
In fact, the Council submission went to some lengths to discredit local resident objections to VCAT, which largely addressed planning criteria – parking, congestion, visual bulk, out-of character development.
Part of Council’s argument for the suitability of this development related to the site’s proximity to the Oak Park shopping centre and railway station.
However, Council’s argument to VCAT, that the townhouse development was suitable because of the close proximity to the Oak Park shops, flatly contradicted its own previous assessment of access to the Oak Park shops from the western side, published a month earlier, when Council staff assessed the Oak Park shopping centre’s suitability for inclusion as a Neighbourhood Activity Centre. The Oak Park shopping centre was rejected by Council officers as unsuitable for inclusion as a NAC because of poor accessibility from the western side of the shopping centre.
Because the proposed townhouse development was to the western side of the Oak Park shops, where access had been deemed to be poor, one would expect that Council would advise VCAT that the development did not have good access to the Oak Park shops and railway station. But, they did not. Consider the following two sets of statements
Again, the relevant statements relate to the question of ease of access to the Oak Park shopping centre from the proposed development site in Xavier St to the West.
Moreland City Council submission to VCAT, March 18, 2014- including response to objectors (residents) grounds:
“The proposal is an appropriate renewal of land that is currently underutilised given its commercial zoning and reasonable access to transport and shops.” (my emphasis)
“The subject land is located in an established urban area with good access to a range of infrastructure and services.” (my emphasis)
“The site is approximately 300 meters walking distance from Oak Park Railway Station. The Oak Park Village shopping strip is located just east of the station, providing good access to local shops.” (my emphasis)
Moreland City Council assessment of access to the Oak Park Shopping Centre, Published February, 2014:
“Access to the centre is provided via Snell Grove and Waterloo Road on the eastern side of the railway which is considered the catchment for this centre. The railway and topography to the west makes pedestrian and vehicle access to the centre from the west challenging. (my emphasis)
… the steep topography of western side of the railway results in poor pedestrian and vehicles access to the centre (i.e. steep, concealed underpass and no vehicle crossing point) from the west. The catchment would principally be east of railway line given this.” (my emphasis)
(MCC, MORELAND ACTIVITY CENTRE FRAMEWORK, REPORT 1 - FEBRUARY 2014, p. 53)
1. The MCC undertook to undermine resident objections to this development when a plausible case on planning grounds could have been made against it, in support of resident concerns.
2. In its submission to VCAT, the Moreland City Councils’ assessment of access to the Oak Park shopping centre from the Western side of the Oak Park Station flatly contradicted its recent, detailed assessment which deemed access from the west to be poor.
The Bigger Picture:
This instance raises serious doubts as to how the Victorian government’s Commercial 1 zone will be treated in cases where the commercial potential of the site is deemed to be poor – as is the case with many dilapidated shopping strips.
Having decided that the Xavier St site had little or no commercial potential, VCAT simply decided that, by default, the site could be treated almost solely as a residential development.
VCAT was simply not interested in discussing the meaning of the Victorian government’s
Policy on Commercial 1 zone, which can be interpreted to mean that, if the commercial potential of a commercial 1 site is poor, then its suitability for medium density residential development should also be deemed poor.
Commercial 1 zone:
To create vibrant mixed use commercial centres for retail, office, business, entertainment
and community uses.
To provide for residential uses at densities complementary to the role and scale of the
One reading of this is that where the role and scale of the commercial centre is low, the potential for medium-density housing development will also be low. Here, ‘Complementarity’ relates to the creation of mixed-use centres, and does not mean that one use can be simply substituted for another where the other use is deficient.
VCAT, together with the MCC, have created a precedent which overrides the intended meaning of government policy.