A greener, more liveable Melbourne?

By Bill Allan, Residents 3000

Giving more voice to residents and clear responsibilities to developers.

Cr Nicholas Reece, chair of the City of Melbourne’s (CoM’s) planning portfolio and deputy chair for the environment spoke at the Forum 3000 meeting of Residents 3000 and EastEnders on November 2 at the Kelvin Club.

While new to the council and to his portfolio, Cr Reece gave a refreshing view of how the CoM’s vision for future Melbourne could be invigorated. Contacts between the City of Melbourne and residents have improved in recent times because of the increasing willingness of key councillors and officials to discuss Melbourne issues with resident groups.

He referred to the CoM’s Development Activity Model (known as the DAM), that provides a 3D map overview of all CBD buildings (in simplified form) that are either built, under construction, approved for construction, or under application.

These maps are available on the CoM website (developmentactivity.melbourne.vic.gov.au/). Residents groups have previously been involved in the development of the DAM tool.

Whilst it is well known that the CoM does not control all city developments and that the Melbourne Planning Scheme (MPS) rules are determined by the State Government, some residents expressed concerns about the forest of new high-rise developments underway and those planned (as revealed by the DAM). They were concerned as well by the lack of clear vision for the future shape of the city under the present process of building-by-building approval.

Disappointment was expressed regarding the role of the CoM in presenting resident views on some recent developments and its apparent reluctance to establish better mechanisms for consultation on the strategic vision for the city. Cr Reece indicated that he was aware of these problems and expressed a willingness to continue to consider ways forward in the future.

Developer’s responsibilities for green design at the planning stage?

Residents expressed particular concern with the lack of significant developers’ responsibility for achieving the CoM’s goals for greening the city.

The most important statements of the city’s goals in this regard are contained in its annual plan and budget and, in the longer-term, documents outlining the CoM’s plans for greening the city: Urban Forest Strategy 2012-2032, August 2014, and Central City Urban Forest: Precinct Plan 2013-23.

Details of policies, guidelines and rules applying to these plans are provided in notes available to residents and businesses: Tree Protection in the City of Melbourne; Tree Valuations in the City of Melbourne; and Tree Retention and Removal Policy 2012. The latter provide clear guidelines for the City’s arborists to implement a city-wide greening policy and rules that citizens, businesses, and developers are required to follow. These documents were made available to EastEnders members and discussed by city officials at their regular coffee morning held in September.

A major issue under the MPS, however, is that developers are not required to observe these principles and rules when they seek a town planning permit (TPP). They are obliged to comply only after TPP approval.  They are neither obliged to inform the city nor neighbours of the likely impact of the development. Neither are they explicitly required to contribute actively to the green governance of the city.

While community and “non-public” participation is broadly encouraged under the Central City Urban Forest Implementation Framework (p.53), little evidence is provided of voluntary incorporation of green design in residential development planning in the CBD.

Cr Reece agreed that Melbourne’s approach could be and was going to be improved in this regard. He cited Sydney’s emphasis on design quality as being a stimulus for the adoption of a similar approach by the CoM.  It can be added that modern architects are having a major impact on integrating environmental and neighbourhood concerns into individual buildings.

(For example, Bjarke Ingels, whose approach to building design has had a major impact in his native Denmark and in the US, as described well in the movie Big Time, recently screened at ACMI).

Some at the meeting suggested that co-operation on city greening and green design could be transformed if it were to be mandated for all TPP applications. The present system of allowing design to go ahead without consideration of environmental impact is simply ineffectual.

Genuine developer involvement in city greening policy can only be achieved if it becomes a central element of the MPS and is integrated with the TPP approval process. Such an amendment to the MPS could be considered as part of the proposed future emphasis on design quality.

Cr Reece stimulated a vigorous debate and committed to continue in dialogue with residents. His commitment was much appreciated by all present.

Residents 3000 wish to acknowledge the active participation of EastEnders in sponsoring the November 2017 Forum 3000 event.

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