Developers take all benefits

By Shane Scanlan

Residents of the CBD and Southbank have missed out on a bonanza of new community facilities and open space because Planning Minister Richard Wynne in 2016 decided to reward developers for building commercial office space instead.

When Planning Scheme Amendment C270 was introduced in December 2016, it contained a floor area uplift (FAU) mechanism whereby developers would be rewarded with extra floors in return for contributing to the community.

The architects of the scheme, SGS Economics and Planning, in early 2016, recommended the benefits of the scheme and nominated a number of inclusions to the list: “Libraries, aquatic centres, art galleries, performance spaces, meeting rooms, kindergartens, social housing, open space, etc.”

But, by the time the amendment became law, the term “community benefit” has been replaced with “public benefit” and the list of benefits contained the provision of commercial office space.

Now, a little over a year later, some 54,248sqm of commercial floor area has been awarded to applicants under FAU mechanisms.

During the same period, no uplift has been awarded under any of the other defined community benefit categories.

A spokesperson for the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning told CBD News: “Following the introduction of C270 an additional 54,248sqm of commercial floor area has been awarded to applicants due to uplifts.”

“No floor area uplift has been awarded under the other defined community benefit categories.”

When defining locally-relevant community assets, SGS said they should be publicly-owned and should “represent a permanent or long-lived enhancement of local community infrastructure”.

But between February and April 2016 the government added to the list of defined benefits provision of commercial office space as well as architecturally-designed buildings.

City of Melbourne planning chair Nick Reece said he was “surprised but not surprised” by the results.

“At the time C270 was introduced there was a genuine need to get more office accommodation into the central city, and there still is,” he said.

“But this evidence suggests developers are going for office development over everything else, and at expense of everything else, and this was clearly not the original intent of the policy.”

“It is still early days in the life of C270 but if this trend continues then the Victorian Government and the City of Melbourne will need to update the policy.”

Deputy chair Rohan Leppert said:  “Floor area uplift regimes are never going to reliably and predictably deliver core community infrastructure, and I would prefer to do what Sydney and Brisbane do and levy all new high-rise residential apartments in order to co-fund new community infrastructure for a growing population.”

“We should recognise, though, that the new central city built form controls are far superior to the free-for-all that came before, particularly in relation to tower setbacks and the fact that uncapped density is no longer just a gift without any requirement to deliver a return to the broader community.”

“There is always room to improve the system of course, and the definition of what constitutes a public benefit should be continuously reviewed.”

“We know that we can’t rely on floor area uplift to deliver community infrastructure, and that’s one of the reasons why Cr Oke and I have been insistent that the Munro building in the Queen Victoria Market precinct include a 120-place childcare centre, 56 affordable housing units, a new maternal and child health centre and large community meeting spaces with a community kitchen.”

“Council has also delivered a new library, boat shed and maternal and child health centre in Docklands, and of course the Boyd Community centre in Southbank, with an attached park on its way.”

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