Saturday morning: coffee in left hand, croissant in right hand, The Age newspaper in front of me. It’s a good Saturday morning so far. What I didn’t expect was the front page and page 5 to contain two articles on separate debacles in the Melbourne planning system. I felt a mixture of frustration and disbelief at what I read, but also some joy in the knowledge that there were two extra side orders of planning farces on the menu at cafes and homes across Melbourne. I hope these articles bring greater awareness of how the future of our beloved city is being decided, and with that eventually bring change.
The front page: “Melbourne City Council could be denied a say on key building projects, with the majority of councillors unable to vote because of developer donations that bankrolled their election campaigns.” Hmmm, did they not realise a conflict of interests? One developer named is Central Equity, who has built the majority of residential towers in Melbourne. The article also stated they have a major project in the planning system every year… This is appalling! I’m going to have a go at how the conversation might have gone:
Cental Equity: We’d love to give you some money for your election campaign, you know us, we’re Central Equity, we deal with your council every year, and feel we should give a little something back.
Councillor: Oh you build those huge towers we get so many objections to.
C.E: They may object, but look how successful Southbank and the docklands has been.
Councillor: <pause> These campaigns are expensive; I could do with your support. What can I do in return?
C.E: Well just remember us when our next planning application comes in. You might also want to remember the money we gave you too…
I’m just lost for words; it makes my blood boil. There is nothing more to say anyway.
Page 5: A proposed new development in Port Melbourne next to Station Pier. The original proposal was for an 11 and 14 storey tower. Due to public backlash, the council set a new height limit of 6 storeys, from the original 3 when the application was lodged. I feel 6 storeys is fair, it represents incremental change. This is a great spot for increased density, the infrastructure is in place to cope with it, and it’s not out of character along this main road.
What happened next and what the article covered is a story I hear happening too often. Developers put in applications that propose significantly less than they want to get approval for. This makes for an easier permit. In this case the council said no, the developer goes to VCAT and I know from experience what happens next: The cashed up developers fight to overturn the refusal with high powered QCs. The council planner and the neighbours don’t stand a chance, and are obliterated at the hearing. The developer has their permit.
Stage two of developer onslaught: They apply to “vary the approved plans”, which is what occurred in the case mentioned in Port Melbourne. When this happens no public notification or consultation is required. The developers now increase their proposal to 19 storeys! The matter is yet to be heard at VCAT, but I am confident without the public/objectors allowed to have their say, now it’s just the QCs of the developers against the council, and soon the papers will be talking about the furore of 19 storeys passed by VCAT in an area with a height restriction of 6. That’s just over three times higher. Even if they aren’t successful, they will then re-apply for 16 storeys. The worst case for these developers: they have to stick to their 14 storeys they already have a permit for.
Do stories such as these regarding the Melbourne planning system upset you? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.
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