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A "State of Cities" for Victoria

Premier Denis Napthine and Planning Minister Matthew Guy, on Wednesday 9th October, launched the much anticipated planning and transport blueprint, Plan Melbourne, which according to the press release, will shape how Melbournians live and work over the next 40 years.

Despite many worthy motherhood statements of intent in the document, the blueprint will largely be determined by the development industry and property interests, rather than residents. It ignores the fact that hospitals, schools, public transport, roads are already stretched to the limit. The "jobs" is about ramping up opportunities for property developers, and the mortgage industries.

As part of the strategy to be announced by Premier Denis Napthine and Minister for Planning Matthew Guy, the towns of Bacchus Marsh, Ballan, Broadford, Kilmore, Warragul-Drouin and Wonthaggi are designated as new major population and employment towns for growth.

Any balanced sense of professional and holistic planning is being discarded to fast-track high density suburbs, to promote growth.

"With Victoria?s population projected to rise to 8.4 million by 2050, regional cities and towns are well-placed to take a greater share of population growth. A key initiative of Plan Melbourne is to unlock the growth potential of these cities – so they can accommodate a
greater proportion of the state?s future growth – and provide good transport connections between them and Melbourne. This will create a 'State of Cities' where there are greater choices for people about where to live, work or start a business,”
Mr Guy said.

The more houses and apartments are built, the more the growth will continue. It's self-fulfilling prophesy! Residents in growth areas will be denied the right to object to multi-storey developments in their area. This is about "streamlining" permits for property developers, and fast-tracking growth!

"Victoria's population has increased by 15 per cent in the last decade, but 86 per cent of this growth has occurred in Melbourne. Under Plan Melbourne, by providing opportunities for decentralized population and employment growth in regional cities, we can increase their size and ability to function independently. We're providing Victorians with more choices about where they live and work.”

One million additional homes will be needed in Melbourne by 2050 when the population is expected to reach 6.5 million.

Several key infrastructure projects also form part of the plan, including East West Link, the Melbourne Metro Rail project and the north east link, which will connect the Metropolitan Ring Road and Eastlink.

Planning academic Michael Buxton, professor of Planning at RMIT, commented that the document fails to deliver on major issues facing a rapidly growing Melbourne including, with no allocated spending on necessary public transport infrastructure to deal with outer urban growth corridors. He also notes urban growth boundaries have already been expanded by 43,000 ha.

This 40 year plan is not a grass-roots one, with democratic input, created with long-term considerations of costs, of jobs growth failing to keep abreast with population growth, the loss of soils and biodiversity, entrenched debts, the multiplying demand on natural resources such our forests, and the cost of utilities such as water and power. The 13 year drought Victoria suffered is lost in political memory! There's no concession to climate change, and the fact that more people will need to rely on air-conditioning and power, as inevitable in high density housing.

The "new" Plan Melbourne strategy aims to curb the city’s suburban sprawl by establishing a permanent metropolitan urban boundary and distributing future population growth to other regions. How many times have we heard this? The urban boundary is nothing more than an imaginary, fictional line that keeps expanding with Melbourne's population obesity!

Shifting population growth to regional towns is simply diverting Melbourne's growth problems, but not solving it. It will mean they share more of our woes, including infrastructure overload, increasing costs of living and spreading unaffordable housing.

Since the beginning of 2000, the city’s population grew by a whopping 27%, or more than 900,000 people. If growth continues at that pace – 2% per annum – then Melbourne’s population would surpass 5 million by 2025, overtake Sydney by 2037, and hit 8 million by 2049.

Why should Melbourne's population, hurtling towards more than 8.5 million by 2050, be considered inevitable? As a consequence, we must deregulate and streamline planning to accommodate it!

Other State and Federal government policies are criticized, dissected, evaluated, supported or rejected - as is our democratic right. When it comes to our politically-engineered population growth, why is it a taboo subject?

The ABS reveals that natural increase and net overseas migration contributed 40% and 60% respectively to Australia's total population growth for the year ended 31 March 2013. It's politically-engineered growth, and assumed as natural, inevitable, desirable, achievable, affordable or sustainable. Nothing about the environment is mentioned, or the native vegetation and agricultural land that will be buried under housing!

With little innovation, imagination, strengthening of education and skills-training, and research into future-proofing our energy sources and mitigating against climate change, "growth" has become an economic industry itself! It's one that must keep being perpetuated. despite the fact that we are hurdling towards the multiple "challenges" of mid-21st century. This is head-in-the-sand mentality of "growth is good" and "business as usual".

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Matthew Guy has a BA, from Latrobe University. He is not a professional town planner, only the Minister for Planning in the Victorian government. He was the shadow Minister of Planning from 2006 to December 2010. His understanding of planning is shallow, self serving and monetary in nature - to serve the well-being of property developers and business investors. True and professional planning principles are being dismissed and over-ridden, and in reality are much more profound and multi-disciplinary than accommodating population growth by streamlining building permits, and overlaying Melbourne with high rise towers and high density living!
Planning must take into consideration energy sources, environmental aspects such as sunlight, shadows, weather patterns, and amenities, quality, costs, public expectations, open parklands, natural resources, access, long-term issues and sustainability. Matthew Guy's agenda is about actively encouraging rampant population growth, even against the wishes and well-being of the public. He's taking away democratic rights of citizens, so they can't obstruct developments - which includes rational debate and logical consequences of all the developments threatening to destroy Melbourne's livability.
Any profession must take into consideration scope, constraints, and limitations. For Matthew Guy, there aren't any - they are simply dismissed! Planning is synonymous with GROWTH, GROWTH!
His idea of planning is to create zones, of different degrees of protection of neighbourhoods. It concerns him little that people might want some determination in how their areas are managed, and people in regional and peri-urban areas might actually like them the way they are, and live there by choice to avoid the financial and density pressures of Melbourne! Guy's invasive policies are a threat, undemocratic and even corrupt!