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Name it Domain!

Southbank Residents’ Group

18 Feb 2013

Are local councils really being provided with a greater say on planning within their boundary or is the Baillieu Government simply paying lip-service to councils and local residents?

Minister for Planning, Matthew Guy, has regularly stated that his proposed reforms to Victorian planning zones are designed to provide more certainty in planning and give back greater planning control to local councils. (“Vocal minority peddling porkies on planning zone changes,” The Age, September 27, 2012)

While this sounds like a great outcome, is this the reality?

In Southbank this year we have seen a significant development on Clarke St approved by the Minister with no input from council. In fact, the council was only advised of the plans one day prior to planning approval being granted (“Doyle slams approval of mega-tower,” The Age, February 14, 2013).

Of greater planning significance is Australia 108 on the corner of Southbank Blvd and City Rd. A revised proposal for Melbourne’s tallest tower soaring to 388m (a third taller than Eureka) has also not been referred to council by the Minister’s department for consultation and feedback.

In this case, revised plans were submitted to the Department of Planning and Community Development in early December and two months on, still no formal notification to council (Future Melbourne Committee minutes, Meeting Number 5, Tuesday, 5 February, 2013). What is of greatest concern is that the developer is calling for an amendment to the Melbourne Planning Scheme – so surely the council should have a legitimate say on the planning proposal?

Of course it’s not just Southbank facing ministerial interventions on a regular basis. You only need to Google “minister guy council planning” to find a list of other councils from the coast to the inner regional areas of Victoria that are experiencing the same revocation of their powers to determine what developments are in the best long term interests of their local zones.

So what about the Minister’s promise of greater certainty in planning?

Well, one only has to look at the haphazard approval of high rise developments in Southbank to realise that a greater level of uncertainty exists. Most plans are for developments of more than 25,000sqm, which means neighbouring body corporates are not notified of high rise projects being built next door, there is no right to formally object to planning proposals and there is no right of appeal to VCAT. The Minister is judge, jury and executioner.

When you consider that certainty is normally delivered by way of guidelines in relevant planning schemes and structure plans, why does the Minister continue to approve developments that exceed these guidelines in the extreme, by any average person’s standards? Setbacks, tower separations, height recommendations are all set aside. Does this create any certainty at all for existing and prospective residents?

There has also been a case where the Minister sets a new “precedent” and within a matter of months breaks his own new standard – such as the approval of The Falls on Queensbridge St which has a tower separation from the neighbouring Prima Pearl, below what he advised was an acceptable minimum.

If the Minister can’t apply his own planning guidelines with certainty, it’s little wonder that I’m hearing a growing chorus of body corporates and residents voicing their negative opinions on the current planning regime and the uncertainty it’s creating.

I have only had one brief opportunity to meet with the Minister last September to discuss concerns on inadequate tower separations in Southbank. Since that meeting I have made three attempts to arrange a further discussion on holistic planning controls in Southbank – all of which have gone unanswered.

But if the council is no longer being involved on planning decisions affecting our suburb, I probably shouldn’t be surprised that the residents group isn’t either.

It’s time for the Baillieu Government to get serious about real town planning. And it’s high time that the Minister delivers on his words of providing greater certainty and giving back control in planning matters to local councils.

Anything less will be a 2014 election issue. That’s something we can all be certain about.

Michael Smolders
Southbank Residents Group

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