How will the Victorian Planning system be impacted by the upcoming State Election?

You have probably noticed that there has been a plethora of political announcements in the past few weeks and with that, realised that a state election is fast approaching. As Melbourne continues to experience fast population growth, planning has increasingly become politicised (as if it wasn’t already) and promises have been made by all sides of politics within this sphere. To assist you in understanding the implications of many of these promises, we have been watching this space closely and provide you with a summary of how these changes (if delivered) may impact on the development potential of your site.

State Government (Labor Party)
In the past four years, the Andrews Government has made several bold changes to the Victorian Planning Scheme that has assisted developers in delivering a range of housing types. Key changes include the abolition of the mandatory two (2) dwelling limit in the Neighbourhood Residential Zone, freeing up land in inner and middle ring suburbs for multi dwelling developments. The Smart Planning Program has also significantly impacted outcomes within the Planning System and has incorporated a simplification of State and Local Planning Policies, an expansion of applications eligible for VicSmart (fast - tracked) whilst also reducing onerous car parking requirements on sites within close proximity to public transport routes, discouraging car dependence and encouraging sustainable transport use.

Several policies have also worked to restrict the development potential of sites in established suburbs. The introduction of a mandatory 12 metre height limit in the General Residential Zone was not consistent with the application of this zone to many activity centres, whilst the government’s recent approval of requests for height limits in established activity centres (such as Ivanhoe and Bentleigh) with no transitional provisions has impacted the bottom line of many developers who bought sites with minimal planning restrictions at a premium. The introduction of the mandatory Garden Area has limited the built form possible on many sites, whilst its questionable and constantly changing definition has caused headaches and cost implications for project teams who are trying to design compliant developments.

The Better Apartment Design Guidelines have generally been seen as a reasonable response to the poor quality of some apartments and building on this policy success, Daniel Andrews has flagged an expansion of these guidelines. Whilst little detail has been provided about the proposed changes, we note that many of the new guidelines appear to move the policy away from its intention to provide better internal amenity and seem to be seeking to restrict the built form possible on sites, through requiring greater setbacks to adjoining properties. Several other changes to planning rules have been proposed, including stricter height and development controls in sensitive regional areas such as the Bass Coast / Phillip Island and Great Ocean Road.

Opposition (Liberal National Coalition)
Whilst sitting on the opposition bench for the past four years, the Coalition has still been able to sway planning decisions through teaming up with the Greens Party. This was a particularly unusual alliance, considering the parties are ideological opposites with little common ground. Nonetheless, they have been successful in reducing the height of the proposed tower over Ormond Railway Station, blocked the redevelopment of Public Housing in Ashburton and delayed the progress of the West Gate Tunnel.

If Victorians elect to change government in November, the core of the Coalition’s mantra is to restrict development within established suburbs (particularly in the eastern suburbs) and allow for less restricted development opportunities in the CBD, whilst releasing land at a faster rate on the Urban Fringe.

To do this, Matthew Guy is promising to re-introduce the two (2) dwelling maximum within the Neighbourhood Residential Zone, again locking up many of Melbourne’s existing suburbs. The coalition has also flagged imposing a two (2) storey height limit along Nepean Highway between Mentone and Frankston, despite several Design and Development Overlays already existing in this corridor limiting the height of buildings. The coalition also proposes to unlock 300,000 lots within the Urban Growth Zone by 2020 to flood the market with housing on the urban fringe and therefore reduce housing cost, whilst also seeking to build a regional high speed railway network so that growth can be decentralised from Melbourne to the regional centres of Victoria.

With the Greens Party now holding 3 seats in the Victorian Parliament (Melbourne, Prahran and Northcote), the party is eying off further inner city seats (such as Brunswick and Richmond) with an aim of holding the balance of power in the next Victorian Parliament. Responding to the planning debate, the Greens have proposed a series of reforms to the Planning System which includes mandatory requirements for affordable housing (or cash in lieu contributions) for all new developments, mandatory height limits and green spaces, minimum apartment sizes and reforming VCAT to better facilitate third party appeal rights. Whilst well intentioned, the Greens planning policies seem sure to create further costs for developers and is likely to limit the level of new housing that can be delivered in metropolitan Melbourne.

Whilst the population of Melbourne continues to boom at unprecedented levels, we are concerned about the populist promises from all parties which seek to restrict development opportunities within existing suburbs. Strong demand continues to exist within Melbourne for a diverse range of housing, including smaller homes (such as duplexes, townhouses and apartments) within areas that have good access to existing services, employment opportunities and transport infrastructure. The indication of an expanded Better Apartment Design Guidelines, the growing desire for mandatory height limits and the re-introduction of a mandatory two (2) dwelling maximum within the Neighbourhood Residential Zone will severely restrict the ability for Melbourne to house its growing population and the demand for multi dwelling developments. Why can’t our politicians see that in a time of substantial growth, we should be looking to facilitate it rather than slamming the doors shut!

On a more positive note, all parties are promising a healthy pipeline of infrastructure building which coupled with better planning policies, will assist in accommodating a more sustainable growth of Melbourne in the future. The ambitious Suburban Rail Loop (Labor) will open up many suburban centres for more intense development and forever change the way in which we travel around our city, whilst the proposed regional fast rail (Coalition) would also create an incentive for many Melbournians to move to and revitalise many struggling regional centres.

Whatever the outcome on November 24, we hope that our elected representatives are able to assist us in ensuring that Melbourne can continue to both grow and remain a highly liveable city.

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