Victoria has moved to stop excessive densities in the Melbourne CBD through interim planning controls, ahead of a full central city planning review.

The Andrews government said the move would protect Melbourne’s character and liveability, but the Urban Development Institute has slammed the move, saying the interim controls introduced on Friday night were imposed without consultation.

Planning minster Richard Wynne, who launched the review with City of Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle, said Melburnians would be surprised to knowthat  the CBD lacked planning controls for density and amenity, and that current densities would be illegal in New York, Tokyo or Hong Kong.

The last years of the former Liberal government saw then planning minister Matthew Guy rubber stamp a profusion of high-rise residential towers, earning him the nickname “Mr Skyscraper”, but also led to concern regarding shadowing, wind tunnels and reduced open space.

Under the new interim rules, discretionary height controls have been changed to mandatory height controls, and a site plot ratio (the ratio of a building’s total floor area to the size of the piece of land upon which it is built) of 24:1 is to be enforced.

Other changes include mandatory controls to limit overshadowing, the introduction of wind analysis application requirements, and making the City of Melbourne a recommending referral authority for planning applications for developments with a gross floor area exceeding 25,000 square metres.

An explanatory report for the interim changes said that the average site plot ratio for Melbourne and Southbank applications for the last four years had been 35:1, with the latest applications received going up to 38:1.

In comparison New York, Vancouver and Hong Kong require plot ratios of 10:1, 5:1 and 10:1, respectively, with bonuses for open space, affordable housing and other community infrastructure. Sydney City has a maximum plot ratio of 11:1.

“Melbourne’s planning scheme needs to balance scale and density occurring in our city, protecting heritage and character while preparing the city for more growth,” Mr Wynne said.

“We want a system that delivers for the people of Melbourne and Victoria. This review will deliver certainty and consistency of outcomes and ensure our fantastic city remains a world beater.”

He said the government would work closely with the City of Melbourne, CBD businesses, residents and the development industry to introduce strategic plans during the review period over the next 12 months.

“There hasn’t been a significant update of the central city planning rules since 1999, and it is our duty and obligation to bring plans in line with our evolving CBD.”

UDIA criticises lack of consultation

The Urban Development Institute of Australia Victorian chief executive Danni Addison said she “vigorously opposed” the interim measures being introduced without notice.

“The merits of addressing issues such as amenity and preserving Melbourne’s liveability are very much supported by the urban development industry,” she said. “However the blunt action by the Minister in introducing interim controls without warning has set the tone for this important and complex discussion.

“Now is not the time to be undermining investor confidence nor is it the time to be sending messages to the business community that Melbourne is closed for business.”

Proposed changes will be available for consultation next year and the Melbourne Planning Scheme is expected to be updated in the second half of 2016.

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