- INQUIRY INTO THE PROTECTIONS WITHIN THE VICTORIAN PLANNING FRAMEWORK.
As I previously reported, the Environment and Planning Committee of the Victorian Legislative Council is conducting an Inquiry into the adequacy of the Planning and Environment Act 1987 and the Victorian planning framework, in relation to planning and environment protection.
I have now completed and forwarded a submission to the Inquiry as Convenor of Planning Democracy. It is 10 pages and includes 15 Recommendations. I have attached it for your information. Hopefully it will assist others who are writing submissions, and inspire some of you to lodge submissions as well. You are welcome to use any of the material in the submission that you wish.
The Terms of Reference for the Inquiry were set out in Convenor’s Report No. 2, and they are also included in the advice concerning the Inquiry sent by Bea McNicholas, Director, Walk in St Kilda Rd and Environs, which is also attached.
There is no need to try to cover all the Committee’s Terms of Reference, and I suspect that shorter submissions will be read more carefully by MPs, who are time poor like the rest of us.
Submissions can be made by going on to the parliament.vic.gov.au website, and clicking on “Committees”, where this inquiry shows up as the third of three inquiries currently seeking submissions. Submissions close on 31 January. I have been advised that you can ask for and receive an extension of time. However, my personal view is that deadlines concentrate the mind, and I encourage you to meet the deadline if you can.
A number of resident groups have made the point to me that this Inquiry is an important opportunity for us to get our message across. Good luck!
- QUEEN VICTORIA MARKET HERITAGE SHEDS
I have previously reported on my meeting with Mary-Lou Howie of the Friends of Queen Victoria Market, and market traders, to discuss their concerns about the City of Melbourne’s approach to heritage protection at the Market. As you know, heritage protection is about cultural heritage as well as built heritage, and the Market culture is familiar to and loved by many Melburnians.
Subsequently, there was a strong downpour in the CBD, the recently restored J Shed roof failed to cope, and stock was damaged in the general merchandise section. The restoration of the sheds is a $30 million project, and the City of Melbourne has an obligation to ensure that this expensive work is fit for purpose.
Ian Royall from the Herald-Sun reported on the leaks on 16 January. His report, including my comments, is attached.
- KILMORE LAND DEAL
The Kilmore and District Residents and Ratepayers Association (KDRRA) has now lodged its application to be heard by the Planning Panel considering Mitchell Planning Scheme Amendment C154.
This application is to rezone land from Public Use to Residential, which will enable a large housing development, on the grounds that the land is now privately owned. How the land came to be privately owned is shrouded in mystery. It was owned by the Kilmore Council, who in 1984 transferred it to the Kilmore Recreation Reserve Trustees, apparently for $1. Then in 2004 the Trustees handed it over to the Kilmore Racing Club, also apparently for $1.
Both transactions raise important questions. Can land with a public use zoning be sold? And if it can, don’t both the Council and the Trustees have some obligation to get value for money for their ratepayers, and for the Trust beneficiaries? How can a public asset be simply given away to a private owner, who is free to deal with it as they please?
Furthermore, the East Street land is the community’s Designated Bushfire Place of Last Resort, ie place of last resort in the event of a wildfire. This land should not be rezoned until a replacement “Place of Last Resort” is determined by Council, with community support. Such places are not easy to find. I am advised that Council’s Fire Emergency Group considered the Kilmore Race Track, but rejected it due to its potential proximity to falling embers from Monument Hill, and rejected Clancy Reserve due to the surrounding trees on the Reserve.
- ROYAL EXHIBITION BUILDING, CARLTON GARDENS AND ST. VINCENT’S HOSPITAL
The Protectors of Public Lands (PPL) (Fiona Bell) and the Friends of Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens (FREBCG) (Margaret O’Brien) have both made submissions in response to the referral under the Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act of the plans by St. Vincent’s Hospital for the corner of Victoria Parade and Nicholson Street Fitzroy.
The Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens have World Heritage Listing, which gives the Federal Environment Minister a role. The PPL and the FREBCG have asked the Minister to decide the development is a “controlled action” and cannot proceed as proposed. They have asked the Minister to set conditions on the development, so that it would not impact on the location’s World Heritage values.
The PPL and the FREBCG believe the planned development is too large for the location and, at almost 60 metres high, will overshadow the Exhibition Building. The FREBCG submission says the proposed development “unashamedly competes with the REB for prominence and dominance and has been deliberately designed to be an architectural showpiece”. It also argues that Brenan Hall should not be lost, but rather integrated into the new building design. The submission notes that allowing large buffer zone development could threaten World Heritage Listing. It notes that Liverpool lost its World Heritage Listing, and Vienna is currently threatened with delisting, for this reason.
The Protectors of Public Lands Submission says the proposed new building will greatly adversely impact views both towards and away from the Royal Exhibition Building and the Carlton Gardens. It acknowledges that the proposed Aikenhead Centre for Medical Discovery is for the good cause of medical research, treatment and development. This does not, however, require or justify such a heavily glazed, dominating and obtrusive building.
- STEPS FORWARD FOR MORNINGTON PENINSULA GREEN WEDGE
Planning Minister Richard Wynne has authorised Mornington Peninsula Shire Council to commence a proposed rezoning of 10 parcels of land within the Mornington Peninsula Green Wedge. The Council is seeking to protect these sites from inappropriate development. They include 60-70 Kunyung Road, Mount Eliza, which was the subject of Ryman Healthcare’s bid for a large-scale residential aged care facility. This was rejected by both Mornington Peninsula Shire and by VCAT. The sites are proposed to be rezoned from Special Use (SUZ) to either the Green Wedge Zone (GWZ) or Public Conservation and Resource Zone (PCRZ).
Chris Crewther MP and the South Eastern Centre for Sustainability have been advocating that the Ryman site – which was once the Reg Ansett Estate, then the Mount Eliza Business School – become a national park, or protected public park like Werribee Mansion.
Council will now be receiving public submissions concerning the proposed rezoning.
- CONNEX CAPITAL FLINDERS STREET STATION HIGH RISE TOWERS
Clifford Hayes, Southern Metropolitan Region MP, asked Questions on Notice of the Planning Minister concerning the status of the proposed Connex Capital high-rise towers above the train lines between Flinders Street Station and Richmond Station.
The Minister’s reply indicated that the proposal is not being considered by Government. It’s a bit odd that Connex Capital floated the idea publicly but apparently hasn’t given the Government anything. Perhaps they were getting free publicity on a slow news day.
The Minister advised that there are stringent overshadowing controls that protect sunlight access to significant public spaces such as Federation Square, Birrarung Marr and the Yarra River corridor, which is good.
Not so good news was the Minister’s indication that the Government is not doing, or planning to do, any audits of vacant CBD buildings before approving new tower developments in the CBD. One would have thought that the coronavirus pandemic, and the working from home phenomenon, have been such game changers that the Government would be watching the CBD more closely. We can certainly do without the ghost towers that now blight China.
The Minister’s Answer also reaffirmed support for the Market-Led Proposals Guideline. This is the Guideline that has given us the West Gate Tunnel debacle – a cool $2 billion was added to the cost to taxpayers at the end of last year. There seems little justification for allowing particular companies to rock up to Government with their own ideas of what the State needs, which just happen to involve lucrative contracts issued to them without the usual tender process. Whatever the shortcomings of Plan Melbourne and our various infrastructure plans, they are at least Plans, which go through a process which involves a measure of public consultation and transparency.
- WATTLE PARK UPDATE
Heritage Victoria has advised that it will be publicly advertising heritage permit application P34848 at Wattle Park, and receiving public submissions for a 14 day period after that. The date on which the application will be advertised is not yet known. This application concerns plans for an upgraded bike path, night time lighting, and modern “playscape” – these proposals have raised concerns for residents keen to protect the Park’s unique tranquility.
Scaleitdown is a group of Brunswick residents formed in response to two planned (over)developments of 9 and 11 storeys by Stockland and Mirvac on Albert St Brunswick, next to Brunswick Central Parklands. They have been to VCAT concerning the Mirvac development and are awaiting the outcome. Final submissions concerning the Stockland development are due by 2/2/22. You can find out more about their campaign on their website – https://www.scaleitdown.org
- SUBURBAN RAIL LOOP - SURREY HILLS AND MONT ALBERT SUBMISSION
The Surrey Hills and Mont Albert Progress Association did very important work campaigning against the removal of mature trees in the vicinity of the Surrey Hills and Mont Albert Railway Stations, which was a regrettable consequence of the level crossing removal project there. They have now sent me their submission to the Planning Panels Victoria Suburban Rail Loop East Inquiry and Advisory Committee. The Panel is responsible for the Environment Effects Statement of the Suburban Rail Loop East.
The submission draws particular attention to the Government’s plan to have “State led planning” – ie take over control from local Councils – for a 1.6 km radius from the new Suburban Rail Loop stations, which the Progress Association describes as “vast precincts”. It notes the lack of Environment Effects Statement analysis of any of the impact of this.
For example, Box Hill is identified as hosting a new Suburban Rail Loop Interchange station. A 1.6 km radius circle has been drawn around this Station to define an “Area expected for high levels of growth and change”.
The Progress Association makes the point that the justification for the State takeover of these areas is unclear, and that the idea of “high levels of growth and change” contradicts present planning controls and policies in Mont Albert and Surrey Hills, with regard to heritage, landscape, and neighbourhood character.
The Progress Association also is concerned about the proposal to remove the central median reserve in Whitehorse Road. They point out that it dates back to the 1890s, and say that “Many would find it astonishing that such a magnificent landscaped median and garden focus of Box Hill, providing great relief from the increasing densities of commercial and residential development, is actually to be removed in favour of an urban design treatment that converts the main road through Box Hill to a standard four lane highway”.
They note that “Most of the landscaped frontages to the previous buildings at the western end of the Box Hill Metropolitan Activity Centre have now been stripped away for high-rise buildings that present a hard and soulless interface at street level”.
The traffic assessment says that without the project, the local road network would need to cater for an additional 70,000 local car trips per day in future. However, there is no “strategic transport modelling” for how many car trips there will be in 2041 WITH the project. There is no assessment of the impact of the North East Link. The legacy reluctance of many people to return to public transport post the coronavirus pandemic has gone unremarked.
As you can see. It is a very strong submission. Professor Michael Buxton has also expressed great concern that the Suburban Rail Loop Authority is to become a planning authority, as well as a transport one. It is a major issue for Bayside, Kingston, Monash and Whitehorse Councils.
- PROTECT THE FERNTREE GULLY FOOTHILLS
Bronwyn Stephen is part of a group, Protect the Ferntree Gully Foothills, fighting a proposed 12 metre high aged care facility planned for a quiet no through road, at 2-8 St Elmo Avenue Ferntree Gully.
Residents are concerned the development will destroy their privacy and amenity. They say it is bulky and visually intrusive, will add to traffic and parking issues, and is totally out of character with the rest of the street. Over 700 people signed their original objection forms.
A mediation session is planned at VCAT in early February, to be followed by a hearing in April.
- HAYS PADDOCK CYCLE-WAY
I have written to Boroondara Council, at the request of local residents, to express concern about plans to construct a bicycle-way in Hays Paddock, Kew East. I recently visited the site with local resident Ian Hundley. The land was given as a park to Kew Council in the late 1970s as compensation for land lost to the construction of the Eastern Freeway.
In 2010 and 2011 Boroondara Council engaged in a very detailed public consultation process leading to the adoption of the Hays Paddock Plan in 2011. The Plan has as its objective “To create an area of urban retreat, offering a relaxing ambience of a “village green” within an integrated blend of rural and natural landscapes, and to provide a balanced mix of informal leisure activities and organised sporting activity on a modest scale, for the whole community”.
The Plan has been highly successful, and the park is a great local asset. However, residents fear that construction of a sealed 3-metre-wide bicycle way would lead to a large number of cyclists, destroying the peace and quiet presently enjoyed by local residents, and the “village green” ambience of the 2011 Plan.
- CONSUMER PROTECTION FOR APARTMENT OWNERS
Nerrida Pohl owns an apartment in the large high-rise development in South Yarra on the corner of Chapel St and Malcolm St, often referred to as 670 Chapel St. There are over 500 apartments in this 30-storey development.
Nerrida purchased a home with a pedestrian foyer, and a private, secure and undercover goods lift to her storage cage. She has an onsite loading dock with a common property goods lift for residents to use. However, she is being locked out of accessing that lift. The building owner has given a 300- year lease of the site to the retail plaza downstairs!
Last year the superannuation fund which now owns the site, backed by the original developer, asked VCAT to annexe the loading dock on behalf of the retail plaza, thereby overturning the original 2008 planning permit. This would have denied Nerrida and other owners property they paid for when they bought their apartments. VCAT, to its credit, refused. But the superannuation fund continues to deny residents access to the loading dock, through a set of totally unreasonable conditions. Furthermore, the Owners Corporation has now applied to Stonnington Council to try to get references to residential property removed from the strata plans.
There is also no sign of the 50 car parking spaces for visitors that owners were supposed to get.
Nerrida says that she and other owners have bought and paid for property from the developer, only to find that the developer has leased part of the asset to someone else, who then seeks to change the original permit and plans to their detriment.
The issue highlights a major problem concerning consumer protection in large apartment complexes. It was said at the time of the flammable cladding debacle that consumers have more protection when they buy a toaster than when they buy an apartment.
- WARBURTON MOUNTAIN BIKE TRAILS
The Victorian National Parks Association (VNPA), Warburton Environment Group, and FriendsNET have expressed opposition to the proposal by Yarra Ranges Council to construct 44 mountain bike trails, many of which will criss-cross the Yarra Ranges national Park. The proposed Warburton Mountain Bike Destination Project spans 177 kilometres.
The VNPA says that to create the “northern section” of the trail, 10 hectares (5 MCGs) of native vegetation in the National Park will be destroyed. They say the trails are not consistent with the core purpose of a National Park – to protect nature.
The Warburton Environment Group says the project as planned will exacerbate biodiversity loss, and increase bushfire risk, and that the proposed trails in the National Park should go elsewhere.
Submissions concerning this issue can be made by accessing the Engage Victoria page. They close on Tuesday 25 January.
- POPULATION PONZI WRECKS VICTORIA’S MEDICAL SYSTEM
When people think about the need for infrastructure to keep up with population growth, they typically think about transport infrastructure. But that is far from all we need to think about. The coronavirus pandemic has brought into sharp focus the failure of Governments to match population growth with increased hospital beds.
A few days ago, Victoria’s hospital system was declared a “Code Brown”. You had probably never heard of it either, and were as astonished as I was. But in fact, our hospital beds per 1000 ratio has been declining for years. We have enjoyed a world leading health system. It is now under threat.
The excellent publication Macrobusiness reported the Australian Medical Association’s Roderick McRae saying Victoria’s hospital crisis has been years in the making. “The population of Melbourne has roughly doubled in the past 15 years, but bed capacity absolutely has not”. He referred to decades of “magnificent underfunding”.
The Federal Treasury says high migration is good for the Budget. That’s because they don’t pay the costs – the States do. If the Federal Government had to pay every State Treasurer $100,000 for every new arrival in their State, to enable them to meet the infrastructure costs, they probably wouldn’t be so keen.
- ACADEMICS CHALLENGE POPULATION PONZI
There is some very sensible academic commentary on the real time experiment the pandemic has been into the economic consequences of Australia’s rapid population growth.
Professor Judith Sloan has emerged – somewhat to my surprise, I confess - as a friend of workers against employer exploitation. She points out that claims by KPMG and the Financial Review that migrant worker programs lead to higher productivity are not borne out by the evidence. Until the pandemic, productivity in Australia during the high migration years to 2019 was very sluggish. She also notes that Big Australia advocates typically fail to account for the economic impact of the family members of “skilled primary migrants”. Of course, it is not possible or reasonable to bring in skilled primary migrants without including their families, and it is the total impact which is relevant.
She notes that one profession that no doubt does make a positive economic contribution is foreign doctors, but asks, “why are young Australians denied the opportunity to be doctors due to limited university places, but bringing in doctors from overseas is acceptable?” Surely, we should train more of our own. Indeed.
Macrobusiness also reported Professor Bill Mitchell at the University of Newcastle saying that the Federal Government’s plan to bring in at least 200,000 migrant workers by July will unwind the recent labour market gains enjoyed by Australian workers – less unemployment, less underemployment, more job vacancies, and the prospect, for the first time in a long time, of higher incomes.
That’s all folks, till next time. Keep up the good work!