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Southbank Residents Group

15 Jul 2013

We need more certainty than C171 provides

As reported on page 5, the Minister for Planning, Matthew Guy, has approved the much discussed and debated C171 Southbank Structure Plan.

After years of community, developer and council consultation, Southbank residents (and future residents) should in theory have greater certainty in the planning future of our suburb. But, do we?

With only a small handful of mandatory elements protecting height, predominately in the arts precinct, the structure plan is primarily constructed around “guidelines”, offering the much-used and abused ability for development applicants to talk their way around having to adhere to “restrictive” planning standards that, some argue, stifle the creative planning development of the suburb.

Currently traveling through Europe, I’m in constant awe at how Amsterdam and Paris staunchly protect their architectural heritage, at how Barcelona and Madrid have successfully created vibrant communities and plazas/open spaces around predominately low rise CBD suburbs and how, on my stopover, Singapore continues to create one of the most integrated and liveable high-rise cities in the world.

What do all these cities have in common that is still lacking in Melbourne? Long-term planning vision. These fantastic and vibrant cities haven’t been developed by chance. Nor have they been left in the hands of developers to determine what’s in the best interests of the city. Both local and regional/state governments have established long-term development plans (including many mandatory requirements) that have been implemented over decades of bipartisan agreement and have resulted in positive community outcomes.

You can even visit some of these cities’ planning offices and, on public display, are the scaled models of what the city will look like in 20 years time. Now that’s real planning vision!

And what does Melbourne have? Half-baked guidelines that leave most of the development decisions in the hands of developers who are interested in maximising their return on investment rather than taking into account public needs and infrastructure requirements. And who can blame them for taking this stance anyway? For it’s the role of government to establish the planning vision for a city and to ensure that it has strong planning guidelines in place that deliver to this vision.

I challenge the State Government to show us a scaled model of what Southbank will look like 20 years from now. Or to outline what public infrastructure it will commit to during the same time frame.
Schools, new tram/bus routes, police stations, open spaces, community venues. If Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai can model it all out and have it on permanent public display, why can’t we?

We’re all still left wondering what Fishermans Bend will look like but a lack of town planning vision hasn’t stopped the development applications from already being lodged and approved.

Until the State Government provides the same level of planning foresight and policy frameworks as its overseas counterparts do, we’ll continue to see uncertainty in planning and simply block-by-block development approvals.

That doesn’t create a great suburb or city.

You can’t leave town planning to chance.

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