Luke Chamberlain

28 January 2014 — According to recently released reports by the Victorian Department of Planning’s Urban Development Program, there is no shortage of land for residential and industrial development to cater for Victoria’s future population and economic growth. Having plenty of land is not, however, the same thing as ensuring sustainable development.

The UDP reports cover Victoria’s 19 regional centres, including Melbourne’s outer suburbs, and assesses how much land is available for potential residential and industrial development.

According to Victorian Minister for Planning Matthew Guy, Melbourne is in an enviable position because it has large tracts of land marked for urban renewal and new suburbs, and the largest amount of industrial land of any Australian capital city.

“Right across the state, there are plans in place to ensure we can gradually open up residential and industrial land for at least the next 20 years, while protecting agricultural employment land,” Mr Guy said in a press release.

“Unlocking the growth potential of our regional cities is a key initiative of Plan Melbourne, the Victorian Government’s new planning blueprint to 2050. Each region is also partnering with government to create a Regional Growth Plan.”

The UPD figures show:

  • five of Melbourne’s six growth areas have 25 years or more of residential land supply – the sixth, Whittlesea, has around 22 years’ supply
  • there are 412,600 potential house lots in these growth areas with more than a third already zoned for residential development or approved in a precinct structure plan
  • the number of potential apartments within activity centres has more than doubled since 2008-09
  • most of Melbourne’s state significant industrial precincts have 20 years’ supply or more of industrial land

“In the past year, five new precinct structure plans were approved, adding around 19,000 potential house blocks in Melbourne’s newest suburbs, while we had a record 179,400 potential dwellings coming from major apartment developments,” Mr Guy said.

While these are positive figures in terms of showing strong residential market activity, these new developments and the bigger picture painted by Plan Melbourne may not be fully delivering on the sustainability front.

Is the plan really going to deliver sustainable growth and development?

Planning and design consultancy Tract Consultants made formal comments on site and precinct specific aspects of Plan Melbourne during the consultation phase. Luke Chamberlain, Tract senior principal town planner, says the final plan appears to adequately address environmental sustainability, however there are concerns about social sustainability.

“Plan Melbourne makes legitimate efforts to address sustainability in what is a particularly complex and difficult endeavour; to plan for and provide policy direction for the growth of Melbourne to 2050. Planning has and will always be about balancing competing objectives, and in that regard there is a clear nexus between planning and sustainability,” Chamberlain says.

“The notion of employment clusters within the metropolitan context is a positive. Continued decentralisation of the traditional employment base is vital in reducing car dependency and travel time.

“The notion of a State of Cities [is also positive], but this won’t work in what could be termed satellite towns such as Warragul, Kilmore and Bacchus Marsh; it is more likely that these towns would be used as dormitory towns with a large commuter population that travel to Melbourne for employment.”

Chamberlain believes there is a need for significant emphasis on directing employment to more self-sustaining regional towns.

He also says the impending application of the Neighbourhood Residential Zone means the plan falls short in terms of social sustainability, as infrastructure-rich suburbs cannot be fully taken advantage of under this planning model.

“This zone, which will be more widely applied in the inner municipalities, places significant development and infill constraints on those areas that are best placed to support and contain growth. Ultimately, growth pressure will transfer to middle and outer suburbs and will do nothing to resolve Melbourne’s housing affordability crisis,” he says.

“This will likely be further compounded by a fixed Urban Growth Boundary leading to a squeeze on outer areas that are not well serviced or connected. Broad aims to reduce car dependency will then be at risk and social connectivity will be stymied.

“Inner suburbs need to pull their weight in a metropolitan sense and while policy settings might imply that they should, the advent of the Neighbourhood Residential Zone is thwarting good planning.

“The plan directs the focus for residential growth to the Capital City Zone, Urban Renewal Areas and Strategic Redevelopment Sites. This is a great notion but such areas will primarily supply apartment stock, which does not necessarily cater for the housing choices and diversity that the market demands.

“Finally, rail is critically important to the future prosperity of Melbourne’s liveability. Priority needs to be given to rail projects as well as road projects such as the east-west link, otherwise the fundamental vision for Plan Melbourne will be at risk.”

To address the issue of infrastructure deficiencies in outer areas, which is one of the plan’s weaker points, existing infrastructure and the augmentation of existing infrastructure is extremely important. The industry awaits the release of findings from reviewing standard Development Contribution Plans for urban development.

“There are question marks on how new infrastructure will be funded,” Chamberlain says. “Developers and purchasers cannot be ultimately left to carry the can. Government needs to be responsible for how it is directing growth, and that includes ensuring the affordability of new areas. Plan Melbourne is unconvincing in this regard.”

Read or download Plan Melbourne.

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