What's good about the Coalition's planning policy?
I think some aspects of the Victorian Opposition’s clumsily titled Plan for Planning are doubtful, especially their proposal for ensuring 25 years land supply within Growth Areas and their intention of levying the Growth Areas Infrastructure Charge at the time of development.
But there are also some good ideas that I want to discuss, notably the proposal for a new strategic plan for Melbourne and another for an audit of the infrastructure capacity of the entire metropolitan area.
A new plan for Melbourne would be timely because Melbourne 2030 is misguided, old and tired. It’s been more than ten years since the process of preparing the metropolitan strategy began and eight years since it was published.
A key problem with Melbourne 2030 is that it was misconceived from the get-go. It never worked properly and simply hasn’t delivered on its lofty ambitions.
Its relevance took a serious hit when the projections of future population growth that underpinned its policies were revised upwards. Further, one of its main directions – the primacy of the CBD – was weakened in 2008 when the Government decided to establish six new CBD-type Central Activities Districts in the suburbs.
The objective of locating nearly 70% of all dwelling commencements out to 2030 within the existing suburbs – rising to almost 80% by 2030 – was also abandoned in 2008 and replaced with the much less challenging target of just 53%.
And of course the much vaunted Urban Growth Boundary lasted only a few years before it was breached. The supply of well-located affordable housing that the plan was intended to foster dried up and neither jobs nor housing gravitated to suburban centres on anything like the scale originally envisaged.
The problem with Melbourne 2030 is that it was driven from the outset by ideological posturing rather than logic. Too many of its key directions weren’t supported by data or analysis and the consultation process was largely a sham.
The belated and flimsy update released in October 2008, Melbourne @ 5 Million, did little to correct the inherent problems of the original policies and processes.
Of course I don’t know if the Opposition would do any better than the Government because they haven’t indicated what their strategic direction for Melbourne might be. If the Government is returned next Saturday as the polls predict, the Premier could take a cue from the Opposition.
He could repudiate the mistakes of the past and move immediately to prepare a new strategy for Melbourne that’s grounded in reality and has regard for the aspirations of all Melburnians.
The Opposition’s other initiative that I like is the proposed Metropolitan Liveability Audit. The simplistic idea that there is “spare capacity” in all forms of infrastructure within the inner city and inner suburbs that can be tapped cheaply for redevelopment needs to be shown for the cargo cult thinking it undoubtedly is. This is one of the unreflective strategic assumptions – unsupported by reliable data – that underpinned Melbourne 2030.
The idea of an audit should be extended so that it also analyses the comparative cost of expanding infrastructure capacity in different parts of the city. This would help to evaluate the dubious proposition that it is cheaper to expand infrastructure capacity within established areas than it is on the fringe.
I also like the Opposition’s idea of trialling Code-based assessment of development proposals within activity centres and the move to require Councils to define the boundaries of activity centres.
There’s nothing in the Coalition’s plan however which leads me to think it is any more committed to increasing the supply of affordable housing within the established suburban area than the Government is. Both parties rely on the fiction that a significant proportion of this demand can be met by confining higher density redevelopment (above three storeys) to a very small part of the metropolitan area, primarily activity centres.
This might mollify the Save our Suburbs brigade and it might provide some dwellings for households without dependents, but it doesn’t do much to give families a more accessible alternative to fringe Growth Areas.
P.S. More on what is a family.