Planning for disaster
Melbourne already has 30 years of land supply but Ted Baillieu and Matthew Guy want more.
HOPES have faded that the Baillieu government would continue the moderate approach to land use of former premier Sir Rupert Hamer. Instead this is government in the Jeff Kennett style.
The Baillieu administration is rushing to change the Victorian planning system, with radical deregulation changing Melbourne irrevocably for the worse.
Planning Minister Matthew Guy has advantaged a select group of landowners by adding their 6000 hectares to the recent 43,000-hectare increase in Melbourne's area. Guy cynically dubbed this process ''Logical Inclusions'' but it is wholly irrational.
A land glut has been created as demand for outer urban housing has crashed. Developers quickly added new home subsidies to the price of housing. Subsidies encouraged new home buyers to borrow heavily in the belief that land prices would always rise. Now they are falling, potentially trapping the most vulnerable in a debt crisis.
Melbourne has 30 years' land supply at world's lowest densities. Yet Guy perseveres, adding land to potentially enrich a few at the expense of the many. Melbourne cannot afford premiers and planning ministers who get land markets so disastrously wrong.
Almost every outer urban council has chronicled a growing catastrophe of inadequate infrastructure and jobs. Governments cannot afford to meet the rising costs of outer urban infrastructure. This failure and
car-dependent urban design levies crippling running costs on to many outer urban householders.
Baillieu and Guy show a single-minded intent to finish the job Kennett and his Planning Minister, Robert Maclellan, started. This is part of a systematic confrontation. Melburnians should get ready for a rough ride - the planning battleground until now will be just a skirmish to this coming war.
New planning zones will protect relatively small areas of historic housing, open up other residential areas to major growth and leave much of Melbourne with little protection against piecemeal redevelopment. The government clearly thinks it is clever to satisfy some influential resident groups while giving the rest of Melbourne and Victoria over to developers.
New commercial zones will lead to a retailing and commercial free-for-all. Much of Melbourne's historic strip shopping centres will be demolished or distorted to facades in front of medium and high-rise development. Struggling centres will feel additional pressure from a broad range of allowed uses and expanded bulky goods complexes.
Another blow is directed at Melbourne's green wedges and rural areas. The government will allow large-scale commercial development through hotel, conference and restaurant complexes in beautiful places such as the Upper Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula. An extended range of accommodation types will be allowed.
Rural subdivision will be encouraged, creating thousands more small rural lots on some of the world's most fire-prone land. Already, well over 50,000 allotments exist in Melbourne's hinterland. Why do we need more?
Matthew Guy's new planning system will also allow the unrestricted expansion of industrialised farming on rural land. There is a need for such massive structures, but the previous farming zones tried to confine them to acceptable areas.
The process this government is following in introducing its changes is also a concern. Guy withheld the details of new zones to sell his message before its full impact is realised hoping that bad news in the fine print will be overlooked when eventually revealed. This is a cynical attempt to manipulate public opinion.
This government revels in its blatant advantaging of vested interests. It provides unrestricted access to property groups and openly panders to them. Many of the new uses and developments will be allowed without the need for planning permits with no right of resident notification, objection or appeal. There are going to be a lot of very unhappy Victorians.
What could have been done instead of assailing the last vestiges of the Hamer legacy? Most people agree the Kennett planning system is a disaster, one of the world's largest, most complex, costly and uncertain. These problems can be fixed by rules that state clearly what is and is not allowed. Prohibitions for inappropriate uses as much as allowing minor uses without the need for permits provide certainty.
Like most of the world's planning deregulators, the Baillieu government says it will provide certainty for ''mums and dads'' and small businesses. But this is a smokescreen for pandering to big business. Rewarding the powerful and connected is the real motivation. Allowing developers to build dysfunctional suburbs, big retailers to destroy small business and big agriculture to ruin landscapes will advantage only them, at massive cost to everyone else. There is nothing rational about this unless you are a recipient of the largesse.
The cities that survive this century will be those that protect their vital resources. Melbourne's greatest long-term assets are its people and its environment. Amenity is almost everything to a city. It is right to intensify mixed-use activity centres near public transport nodes but not at the expense of our built heritage. It is madness to even contemplate the destruction of our Victorian and pre-war strip shopping centres. These are among the city's greatest economic assets, attracting innovators, investors and a broad range of economic drivers.
The natural resources and environment of Melbourne's hinterland similarly are vital to the city's future prosperity and success. We destroy them for the short-term gain of a few at our peril.
Michael Buxton is environment and planning professor at RMIT University.