Thumbs up for planning reforms

By Shane Scanlan

A year ago, the new CBD planning regime would have been unthinkable.

Back then, former planning minister “Mr Skyscraper” Matthew Guy was earning the ire of academics, architects, planners, councillors and CBD residents for his apparent unrestrained approach. But that’s all changed now.

No one really knew what changes Labor would make, should it win the November state election. This was especially true when shadow planning minister Brian Tee lost his seat and former Melbourne lord mayor Richard Wynne was hastily thrust into the planning role.

Mr Wynne now appears to be at the start of a journey as a great planning reformer and he is making a lot of new friends along the way.

Of most significance is a new collegiate relationship with the City of Melbourne.

In justifying his sudden introduction of interim planning controls early in September, Mr Wynne tellingly used graphics taken from a private study published last year by ascending City of Melbourne planner Leanne Hodyl.

Such a ministerial endorsement of Ms Hodyl’s exaggerated findings on relative density is evidence that the state and the city are now aligned in their vision for the CBD.

Add to this the fact that the city was included in the secret before the interim controls were announced, and you get to see the full extent of the new relationship.

Another organisation clearly in favour with the State Government is the Office of the Victorian Government Architect, which is to provide subjective advice when asked.

The CBD has been crying out for a planning review for a long time. Apart from the obvious amenity issues that are arising, there has been a need for a consolidated and consistent plan for the whole area.

CBD News planning columnist Laurence Dragomir explains the detail of the interim planning controls in this edition on page 20. Suffice to say, they respond to just about all the criticisms leveled at Mr Guy during his term in office.

The interim controls address building heights, setbacks, separation, over-shadowing, wind effects and introduce a 24:1 plot ratio.

The development industry is unhappy with interim controls, particularly about the way they were announced without warning.

The Property Council says it is deeply concerned about the height limits and plot ratio controls “which will invariably stifle innovation and undermine investor confidence”.

However, it appears that very few have been inconvenienced and there is discretion to deal fairly with disadvantaged applicants.

CBRE real estate CBD specialist Paul Tzamalis says the prospect of planning certainty in the CBD is to be celebrated and will lead to better outcomes for everyone.

“If anything, it will shape the city with a bit of vision,” Mr Tzamalis said. “If developers are given more guidelines, there will be more confidence in the market.”

He said certainty in Sydney was one reason the market there was so valuable.

Mr Tzamalis conceded that the value of some smaller site may drop under the new regime but increasingly-rare larger sites would continue to appreciate.

“It’s the scarcity of good sites which drives the value of the market,” he said.
Melbourne is also unlikely to suffer a slow-down because of the huge number of approvals awaiting construction and also the large numbers of applications already lodged under the old rules. These numbers were artificially inflated by a price rise which came into effect on July 1, which resulted in a stampede of hastily-prepared applications.

While there are been a lot of commentary on the effects of the interim controls, the real focus should be on what comes out the other end of the 12-month review.

It is hoped that whatever controls eventuate, they make the city a better place to live and work and, just as importantly, all the players understands exactly where they stand.

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