Melbourne’s reputation for being the world’s most liveable city took a blow in 2018 when the Global Liveability Index downgraded the city to number 2, behind Vienna, Austria. At the time, the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) blamed poor urban design for the downward nudge, pointing out that there is currently limited design accountability built into the planning and building system, providing too much scope for developers to ‘minimise’ good design to maximise yield.

No doubt the City of Melbourne took a good, hard look at the feedback and how the issue could be addressed. As a result, the Council is launching a trial 12 month Design Excellence Review panel populated by experts (Architects, Landscape Architects and Urban Designers). The Panel would be involved in proposals that meet the following criteria (amongst others).

  • Significant in terms of location, complexity or impact.
  • Demolish/are adjacent to Heritage places.
  • Challenge City of Melbourne planning policy.
  • Public realm/Community/Architecture/public art projects.
  • Proposed Planning Scheme Amendments related to the public realm.

The Design Excellence Review Panel is modelled on a similar service that has been provided by the State Government since 2012 for significant projects and the panel will adhere to the Design Council (UK based public body) best practice design guidance standards.

The intention is that the Panel will be involved in projects meeting the above criteria at pre-application stage and beyond so that they head in the right design direction from the outset. There will also be an Advisory Committee that will comment more broadly on design issues.

Submissions have recently closed for expressions of interest for design experts to be a part of the Panel and Advisory Committee. Our initial concern and based on experiences we have had is that the Panel could create friction between panel and applicant designers as well as introducing another significant step for applicants in the planning approval process that involves more time and money. Upon a review of the proposed terms of reference, however, we believe the City of Melbourne has a robust framework for the Panel to work within and we look forward to this initiative contributing to improved urban design/planning results.

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