28 February 2013 — While the avalanche of community outrage about NSW’s proposed new planning regime spilled onto our pages in the past two weeks, with accusations that the community was being shut out, the Victorian government released a toolkit to help community and local councils engage with its Metropolitan Strategy.

Sustainable values, including local energy generation and protecting food growing areas, are a strong feature of the Discussion Paper for the strategy released in October last year.

Planning Minister Matthew Guy said metropolitan councils would take “a lead role in driving extensive community consultation about planning for Melbourne’s growth and development over the next 40 years”.

“The Victorian Coalition Government will not make the same mistakes Labor did, failing to engage with the community on the development of Melbourne 2030 resulting in a poorly thought out strategy with zero buy-in from local communities.”

The program has funding available to help, “including access to facilitators, venue hire, or reimbursement for reasonable costs associated with hosting an event,” Mr Guy said.

“Every individual or group that engages in the consultation process could drive a further 10, 20 or more people to be involved.

“Dramatically expanding community consultation will result in the development of long-term plans with community support and secure Melbourne as one of the world’s most liveable cities for generations to come.”

There are online forums, surveys, a YouTube channel and Twitter feeds.

As well as the conversation toolkit, there is a conversation workbook and a register for events.

See: the conversation toolkit https://www.planmelbourne.vic.gov.au/getinvolved/conversation-toolkit

And the discussion paper https://www.planmelbourne.vic.gov.au/discussion-paper

Following are highlights of the Discussion Paper for the Melbourne Metropolitan Strategy.

As a community we need to talk together about the future.

People and cities are constantly changing. Looking out to the next 40 years Melbourne and Victoria face new challenges. Melbourne’s population is growing and this will change the demands on the economy, housing, education, transport, open space, health and community facilities. At the same time, Melburnians are also changing. The types of jobs we do, how we travel, shop, socialise and the types of homes we live in are changing. We need a strategy to manage these changes and build on Melbourne’s strengths and opportunities.

The Strategy’s 40-year timeframe will provide opportunities to create a more productive, prosperous and liveable Melbourne. There is great scope to build attractive and vibrant areas across all of Melbourne while preserving the areas that we value. Moving away from a ‘one-size fits all’ approach to local solutions will enable communities to have greater choice in where they live and work, and unlock local potential.

Natural values around Melbourne [Sustainability]

Question: Would a hard green edge to the city strengthen a sense of arrival and departure from Melbourne and protect our ability to produce food?

Key issues and possible opportunities

The urban heat island effect

Dense urban areas can be up to four degrees warmer than surrounding rural areas. Called the “urban heat island effect”, this means greater cooling costs and an adverse effect on some people’s health. Increased tree canopy coverage throughout Melbourne would reduce the urban heat island effect and improve thermal comfort at street level for pedestrians. Many of the large trees in inner Melbourne are reaching the end of their useful life and will need to be replaced.

Energy efficient urban design

Melbourne could respond to the need to reduce its carbon footprint by building more energy efficient buildings and using more efficient lights and appliances. The City of Melbourne, for example, has an innovative “1200 buildings” retrofitting program. Almost half the greenhouse gas emissions from within the City of Melbourne come from the commercial building sector and this program aims to retrofit two-thirds of the municipality’s commercial building stock.

Innovative design of urban infrastructure is needed to reduce the cost, and increase the sustainability, of urban living and working.

Lower impact transport

The incentive to reduce carbon emissions is expected to promote greater use of more efficient vehicles, electric vehicles and public transport, walking and cycling.

Transport emits about 16 per cent of Victoria’s greenhouse gases, with private cars producing about half of the emissions from road-based transport. Transport modelling shows growth areas have higher carbon intensive transport than other parts of Melbourne, although aspects of higher density development also consume significant energy in other ways. There has been a modest decline in emissions from private cars since 2004. About 40 per cent of this decline is due to a decline in vehicle kilometres.

Local electricity generation

The carbon footprint caused by electricity use can be reduced by generating electricity locally. The use of sophisticated ‘networked’ control systems is now possible, creating the potential for a step change in the way energy is generated and distributed. The take-up of renewable energy and more energy efficient lights and appliances will be part of Melbourne’s energy future. This may also include adopting breakthrough technologies such as electricity generation from fuel cells.

Local energy production through solar panels on roofs or trigeneration schemes in urban renewal areas could reduce Melbourne’s environmental impact.

Did you know: In Dandenong, Places Victoria has built a trigeneration facility – a facility that produces electricity, heat and cooling – the first precinct level facility of its kind in Australia.

Capturing, recycling and reusing water

Melbourne is a recognised world leader in the application of water sensitive urban design – a planning approach to reduce drinking water demand and put stormwater to good use in the urban landscape. This can include rain gardens, roof gardens and rainwater tanks, bio-retention swales, mini wetlands, and broadscale schemes such as collection and re-use of stormwater run-off from a whole suburb.

Increased water sensitive urban design will also play an important role in managing flood inundation and providing essential soil moisture for healthy vegetation growth.

The Victorian Coalition Government has established the Office of Living Victoria to drive water reform by coordinating urban and water planning to achieve an integrated, resilient water system planned and managed to:

  • support liveable and sustainable communities
  • protect the environmental health of urban waterways and bays
  • provide secure water supplies efficiently
  • protect public health
  • deliver affordable essential water services.

In 2010, water consumption in the Melbourne Region was 412 gigalitres. During the same year, 463 gigalitres of run-off and 315 gigalitres of wastewater was generated.

Conserving areas we value

Conservation of green spaces and native vegetation was raised with the Committee by many people and organisations. The Committee believes that managing Melbourne’s green wedges must be an integral part of any urban open space strategy.

Planning controls where “net gain” has been introduced – the requirement that if native vegetation is removed an equivalent or larger area of vegetation must be preserved elsewhere – have assisted biodiversity conservation.

The Victorian Coalition Government is currently reviewing native vegetation approaches. Melbourne’s green wedges contain much of the native vegetation still present in the Melbourne region. There are opportunities for net gain offsets to be better integrated with open space planning.

Protecting biodiversity requires strategies to: protect areas from development; maintain and extend ecological connectivity across the city on public and private land; implement local biodiversity action programs; and integrate greening programs at suburban and municipal levels.

Question: How can we provide more space for trees in new suburbs, particularly on private properties?

Creating a green edge to the city

While Melbourne has a “hard edge” planning boundary between urban and rural areas – the Urban Growth Boundary – this boundary is not always reflected in the character of non-urban areas. A more holistic approach to managing the “green edge” around Melbourne could strengthen its natural and landscape character and help manage these areas – which extend beyond the green wedge – as a cohesive unit.

Not all rural areas around Melbourne are identified for landscape values and these areas serve important roles such as supplying stone, managing waste, hosting infrastructure and producing food. Some of these areas are “brown wedges”, which are home to a range of uses such as boarding kennels, sporting clubs, quarries and waste management and recycling operations.

Food production

Some areas around Melbourne contain highly productive agricultural land. The Port Phillip and Western Port regions are the second highest producers of agricultural products in Victoria, with agricultural output per hectare approximately four times the state average.

Agriculture around Melbourne is a declining proportion of local economic activity and employment, however the quantity of agricultural production remains significant.

Many types of agriculture occurring in peri-urban areas (such as aquaculture, poultry and egg farming and some types of horticulture) can be undertaken in areas without high quality soils.

Waste and resource use

While Victorians have made great progress in recycling and reducing waste, more can be done. Landfills take up large areas of land and can pose significant environmental risks. We need to maximise the economic opportunities offered by increasing the recovery of our resources. This will help to lessen our reliance on landfill and reduce the negative impacts of existing landfills. Planning needs to accommodate:

  • recovery facilities close to either the origin of waste or to markets for end products to help make recovery commercially viable
  • the potential impact on transport links
  • landfills in locations where residents are protected and environmental impacts can be minimised.

Recycling or reusing our resources not only minimises waste but reduces the environmental impact. A key part of this approach is ‘whole-of-life-cycle thinking’ whereby dismantling or recycling of components is part of manufacturing or construction.

Did you know: On average, each Victorian accounts for about two tonnes of waste each year – the weight of an average elephant.

Opportunities and challenges

Melbourne, as Victoria’s capital city, is the gateway between regional cities and rural Victoria, Australia and the world. Victoria’s competitiveness and success depends on Melbourne’s success.

Melbourne’s attractiveness and liveability contribute to the wellbeing of residents and the enjoyment of visitors. Improvements will help draw talented and skilled workers to the city to support its role as an education and knowledge centre.

Asia is becoming more affluent and more important, and global economic patterns are changing. Melbourne’s economic structure is changing and we are seeing a change in traditional employment patterns.

Globalisation will bring challenges and opportunities for Victoria’s competitive strengths in freight and logistics, education, science and research, health and aged services, tourism, manufacturing, high-end business services, creative industries and agriculture. New policies will need to drive productivity and competitiveness.

By 2050, Melbourne’s population is likely to reach between 5.6 and 6.4 million. Being a larger city also brings challenges – a city of over 5 million people functions differently to a city of 4 million people.

The demographic changes that Melbourne will face in the years ahead are profound: the percentage of the population over 65 years of age will increase from 14 per cent today to 22 per cent by 2050, and there will be a greater proportion of lone-person and couple only households.

Melbourne is becoming geographically larger. Over the life of the Strategy we expect to see a significant shift in growth from the south-east of Melbourne to the north and west of the city. This growth provides an opportunity to consider development in the north and west in a new light.

With a growing population will come the need to boost employment and build new facilities, shops, schools and housing. The demand for new housing will grow faster than the population as the population ages and household sizes get smaller.

Jobs will shift in location as old industrial uses continue to leave inner Melbourne and employment locations change.

Transport systems in Melbourne have benefitted from far-sighted past plans that have set aside reserves for new connections. The Metropolitan Planning Strategy will include a vision for Melbourne’s transport system.

Commuting times and distances are in danger of blowing out due to disconnection between housing and jobs and there is growing congestion on roads and public transport. Strategies are needed to make sure residents of new housing areas have access to jobs and, where possible, more people can live where job densities are increasing.

Development and urban renewal in an expanded Central City will be at a scale not previously contemplated. This cannot succeed without careful attention to good design and an integrated approach to land use and transport. New solutions need to be developed – focused on trains, trams, walking, cycling, buses and optimising road space.

Affordable living will become a critical factor, requiring better integration of jobs and housing.

A number of financial challenges will have an impact on resources available for infrastructure and services to support growing and changing communities, attract more investment and reinforce our city’s globally competitive status.

An ideas list

Idea 1:     Growing the Central City as the anchor of a world city

The Central City is the core location of the “knowledge economy”. Building an expanded Central City can attract new jobs to Melbourne and reinforce Melbourne as a world city and tourism hub.

Idea 2:     Building national employment and innovation clusters

A number of suburban job clusters are nationally significant places of economic activity and innovation. Reinforcing the role of these clusters can boost productivity, support economic growth, make the most of infrastructure, and promote urban renewal.

Idea 3:     Unlocking capacity in established suburbs

As Melbourne grows the role of its middle suburbs is expected to change. With an increasing population in outer suburbs and growth areas, parts of Melbourne’s established suburbs are well-placed to play a greater economic and housing role.

Idea 4:     Providing a transport system for Melbourne’s future

There is a clear desire for a comprehensive vision for a sustainable transport system in Melbourne that moves beyond specific projects.

Idea 5:     Strengthening the green edge to Melbourne

Melbourne should consider strengthening its “green wedge” planning approach with a “green belt”. It should be obvious where Melbourne stops and rural areas begin.

Idea 6:     Building a state of cities

Victoria has the opportunity to better integrate Melbourne with a network of regional cities. Increasing economic and social links between these regional cities could better integrate labour forces, create choice for fast-growing sectors such as remote and mobile workers, and result in better use of existing infrastructure. This will not only include the major regional cities such as Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo, but may include towns closer to Melbourne such as Warragul.

Idea 7:     Extending Melbourne’s boulevards – a civic legacy

It is time to extend Melbourne’s urban design skills to “suburban design” – to translate the lessons learned in creating vibrant, attractive inner urban areas into improving the legibility, connectivity and grandeur of the suburbs.