Mattthew Guy

25 September 2012 – The Baillieu government in Victoria is taking thousands of hectares of green wedge and farmland, and turning it into housing on the metropolitan fringe. In effect, it’s a strategy that’s many say will create a glut of Melbourne housing lots ready for development and some, say will cause a property crash and bankruptcy.

Planning Minister Matthew Guy has unveiled plans that extend Melbourne’s urban boundary in growth areas, taking in the cities of Casey, Whittlesea, Hume, Melton and Wyndham. Under government policies known as “logical inclusions”, about 7000 hectares are being incorporated into the urban area.

The Baillieu government has also been holding a separate review of green wedge ”anomalies”.

It has announced a streamlined process for some planning applications called VicSmart.

The proposed overhaul of Victoria’s planning zones is nothing short of extensive. In farming areas, subdivisions and new rural stores would become easier. A purpose of the farming zone, ”to protect and enhance natural resources and the biodiversity of the area”, would be scrapped. In its place, the provision of ”to retain population to support rural communities” would be inserted.

While these changes have been welcomed by development groups seeking more land releases, the addition to Melbourne’s suburban land supply comes at a time when the property industry is having difficulty selling lots.

Tax reform lobby group and think tank Prosper Australia has warned, https://www.prosper.org.au/2012/06/13/broadacre-land-prices-to-fall-hard/, that Guy has ensured property prices will crash. “This new supply will help drive down the market price of finished residential lots by a forecast 30 per cent over the next two years,’’ Prosper Australia campaign manager David Collyer said.

“The value of undeveloped land zoned residential will fall much further. Landbankers and their financiers are looking at very big losses. Many face bankruptcy as their leveraging works in reverse.”

Collyer pointed out that finished lot sales are down 42 per cent from 12,630 in the year ending March 2011 to 7340 lots in the year ending March 2012.  At the same time, property researchers Oliver Hume says outer Melbourne already faces a land supply glut, with a record high of up to 200,000 lots to be ready for development in 2013/2014.

The Baillieu Government is going flat out opening up green wedge and farmland for developers. According to the Property Observer, https://www.propertyobserver.com.au/residential/oversupply-figures-paint-distorted-housing-picture-of-outer-melbourne-suburb-of-clyde-amid-melbournes-55000-listings/2012070955476 , the number of residential listings in postcode 3978 (Clyde, Clyde North and Cardinia) have risen a whopping 316 per cent to 1270 over the year to June. Cardinia takes in areas like Pakenham, Sherbrooke and Cranbourne.

We’re talking here about prime farming territory https://www.cardinia.vic.gov.au/files/Strategic_planning/SP_GWMP_Westernport_DP_2011-10_Sec02.pdf. It accounts for more than 2000 jobs and has an economic value of nearly $400 million to the local economy.

But the concern is not just about property prices and the loss of farmland. There is also a big concern about the erosion of green wedges, the non-urban areas of metropolitan Melbourne often referred to as Melbourne’s lungs.

Green wedges were established more than 30 years ago to conserve rural activities and significant natural features. They are distributed outside the urban growth boundary in a broad arc around metropolitan Melbourne. As indicated here, https://www.nre.vic.gov.au/melbourne2030online/content/implementation_plans/06a_about.html, green wedges are in Werribee South, Western Plains South, Western Plains North, Sunbury, Whittlesea, Yarra Valley and Yarra and Dandenong Ranges, Nillumbik, Manningham, Southern Ranges, South East, Westernport and Mornington Penisinula.

They have always had bi-partisan political support. Victoria has always been that kind of place. Until now.

Councils angry

Councils on Melbourne’s fringe, including Casey, Whittlesea, Melton, Mornington Peninsula, Cardinia and Nillumbik, have attacked the proposed changes in a submission to the government.

As reported in the Frankston Leader, https://frankston-leader.whereilive.com.au/news/story/council-wary-on-reforms/, Frankston Council has come out against the changes, saying that a number of activities that were previously prohibited in the green wedge will now be allowed – nightclubs, markets, medical centres, schools and service stations.

Another local paper https://mordialloc-chelsea-leader.whereilive.com.au/news/story/green-wedge-is-here-to-stay/ reports that Kingston Council, which takes in Mordialloc and Chelsea, is now fighting to keep its green wedges intact.

The Diamond Valley Leader https://diamond-valley-leader.whereilive.com.au/news/story/fears-reforms-will-result-in-improper-projects-in-green-wedge/ reports that Green Wedge protection group president Kahn Franke says the changes would “open the floodgates” to inappropriate development.

The Green Wedges Coalition https://gwc.org.au/node/140 has condemned the land grab on the grounds that it’s not based on any demonstrated need for more development land.

“The Growth Areas Authority recently estimated that the Growth Corridor Plans (for the 43,600 ha of land rezoned in 2010) would provide 20 to 50 years’ land supply for the continued urban sprawl which most of us don’t want. Every representative survey conducted, from Manningham’s in 2002 to Kingston’s in 2011, finds overwhelming majorities want green wedges protected for environmental conservation, agriculture, parklands, landscape value and recreation.”

There is now even some suggestion, https://www.pigswillfly.com.au/2012/09/non-consultative-vic-green-wedge-changes-risk-legal-challenge/, that there could be a legal challenge, similar to the 1994 community-based High Court action to stop legislation allowing a Japanese downhill ski development on Mt Stirling, linking it via chairlift to Mt Buller.

That said, none of the councils or green groups have talked about any sort of legal challenge. It might be a case of wishful thinking.

Still, Matthew Guy’s planning changes have galvanised massive opposition. Whether it results in a legal challenge, or widespread community campaigns, it is certain to damage the Baillieu government’s chances of being re-elected with polls, https://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/state-politics/newspoll-findings-show-liberal-premiers-on-the-slide/story-e6frgczx-1226459381618, showing more and more voters are dissatisfied with its performance.

To avoid becoming a one-term government, Baillieu might have to pull Matthew Guy in.