On Thursday 14th March, our office attended the annual Interview with the Planning Minister hosted by the Victorian Planning and Environmental Law Association (VPELA). Like every year, the event was sold out, with industry professionals eager to hear what’s on the Minister’s agenda!

The Housing, Multicultural and Planning Minister begun the event by outlining some of his key priorities for the coming term in office, followed by an interview by Professor John Thwaites, who you may remember as a former Victorian Planning Minister in the Bracks Government (if you are a planning nerd like us).

The main topics of Minister Wynne’s discussions centred on the following themes:

Greening the City

Greenery and open space is always a feel good thing to open a planning discussion with, right? The Minister certainly agrees, and begun his speech highlighting how strongly he feels about good, publicly accessible and green open spaces within Melbourne.

He noted the ‘Pantscraper’ development (otherwise known as Collins Arch) is a development that will change the face of the CBD, given it will provide a high quality parkland within a part of the CBD which has little open space. Stressing how important it is to ensure people within densely populated metropolises can still be in touch with soil and greenery, he noted that his department would be exploring other ways to develop more open space within the city, although he did concede that the Planning Scheme can only do so much to achieve this.

Climate Change

There is no doubt that dealing with Climate Change is the hottest topic within the industry at the moment. The Minister firstly noted his government’s commitment to Climate Change, implementing a target for 50 percent renewable energy by 2030, including climate as a key feature within Plan Melbourne and moving towards net zero emissions.

Interestingly, the Minister also discussed the immense challenges that these policies would bring. For instance, how would Victoria balance the desire for farmers, who want to use their land to make profits through producing renewable energy on land that the government has protected for decades to ensure there is a good supply of well located, well irrigated agricultural land? Likewise, how will electrical charging stations for vehicles be delivered and who will pay for this infrastructure? Melbourne and Yarra City Councils also received special mentions for their leadership in announcing carbon emission reduction / carbon neutral policies.

The 20 minute city

If you have been taking an interest in planning discourse at a state and federal government level, you will have heard the buzzword – the 20 minute city. It’s a term that has been used to discuss decentralising our cities and creating employment hubs within key suburban centres, such as Parramatta in Sydney or Monash in Melbourne. Its overarching aim is to ensure that city dwellers can access an array of employment, services and entertainment / cultural facilities within a 20 minute commute from their suburban home.

Professor John Thwaites asked the Minister how the government can deliver on this goal within Metropolitan Melbourne. In particular, he noted that previous governments have found it difficult to attract private investment in suburban clusters and the Minister was asked how their policy would be different to the failures of previous planning policy.

The Minister hinted towards strong public investment as being the key to attract investment in what is now called National Employment and Innovation Clusters (NEICs). He argued that successive years of public investment in hospitals and research centres, as well as private investment from Melbourne University, has created a very successful suburban cluster of employment within Parkville, whilst strong public investment and revitalisation programs in Dandenong, Clayton and Geelong has also led to increasing private investment. He noted that Sunshine was the next evolving suburban cluster, given it will be a central node in key pieces of proposed rail infrastructure (Airport Rail, Suburban Rail Loop, Regional Rail and Melbourne Metro) creating a highly accessible and therefore attractive centre to invest in.

Social Housing push

One item that the Minister kept reiterating throughout the discussion was that the delivery of affordable social and public housing was his passion. Given this, the policy he seemed most confident and excited about was the government’s Inclusionary Housing Pilot scheme, which will see the construction of 100 Social Houses on 6 surplus State Government sites. Following this, he hinted that his Department is looking into this area of policy and how it may be incorporated into the Victorian Planning Provisions (VPPs).

Aside from government investment, the Minister discussed how he felt that there was an increasing opportunity for the government to become a broker between developers and the increasingly well resourced social housing providers, which will result in a growth in affordable and social housing.

Professor John Thwaites also recited a recent trip to The Netherlands, where he saw the large levels of mixed social housing developments / opportunities. The Minister explained that whilst The Netherlands is fundamentally different to Australia (having a progressive tax regime, larger public acknowledgement of the benefits of social housing and differences in the cultural attitudes towards home ownership), they demonstrated an ideal example to look towards in this area of policy.

Other Matters

Some other interesting points of discussion raised by the Minister include:

  • The Minister clarified that he is looking to tweak rather than ease / water down Planning Scheme Amendment C270 (as has been widely reported in the media). This amendment introduced new rules to the Planning Scheme in late 2016 which has allowed developers discretion to exceed Floor Area Ratios in the central city, provided the development includes some form of public benefit (such as public space).
  • Unprovoked, the Minister stated there will be no attack on third party appeal rights in Victoria under an Andrews government. We are interested to know why the Minister felt the need to make this so clear (has someone been pressuring the Minister to look into this)?
  • Stay tuned for an update to the Better Apartment Design Standards (BADS), as the government is looking to expand these to include design related provisions. One idea floated in this discussion was to mandate larger front setbacks, to provide improved open space and planting at the front of buildings.
  • Rarely will you hear the Minister speak without spruiking the changes his government made to Fishermans Bend. This time however, he floated that in future, this urban renewal precinct will be served by the Melbourne Metro 2 (a rail tunnel connecting Clifton Hill to Newport via the CBD and Fishermans Bend). Is this a hint that the Andrew’s government will one day fund the project?
  • The Minister also re-iterated that his government did not scrap the former Coalition government’s key strategic planning policy (Plan Melbourne) as it included a good basis but needed a refresh so that it would cover key issues (like Climate Change). This was surely a jab at the former Coalition government for scrapping the former Labor Government’s Melbourne 2030 policy?

After this interview, Catherine Heggan (Director of Message Consultants) and Noelene Duff (CEO of Whitehorse City Council) also spoke about some of their ideas to improve the planning system. One of the re-occurring themes of their discussions was the expansion of Planning Panels in Victoria to also assess planning applications (rather than only planning scheme amendments) of regional significance. This would reduce the political nature of large planning decisions and give the decision making power for these applications to a range of industry experts. It is noted that such powers have been given to panels in various other states in Australia (such as New South Wales) and we will be looking into the detail of this in our article next month.

We hope that the Planning Minister remains committed to the positive agenda outlined above and if you have any questions about how these matters may influence the development potential of your site, don’t hesitate to give Keen Planning a call on 9596 9000.

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