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Nov 26, 2015

Are councils dealing with the problem of inner suburban parking?

A recent court decision highlights the inability of local and state governments to deal effectively with the problems of parking in inner suburban areas where density is increasing

Florence St Richmond. Site of proposed Nightingale development on right; existing The Commons on left
Florence St Brunswick. Site of proposed Nightingale development on right; existing The Commons on left

Parking is arguably the most contentious issue associated with urban consolidation in inner suburban areas.

Existing residents resent the additional demand for on-road space generated by new housing developments and new or expanded businesses.

Never mind that residents of older housing stock like terraces often don’t have on-site parking themselves. Never mind that some of the extra demand is coming from their second and third cars.

They want to see approval of new developments made contingent on provision of enough additional off-street parking to accommodate the demand they generate.

On the other hand, an increasing proportion of new residents don’t want a car. They feel their transport needs can be met by walking, cycling, car-sharing, taking Uber or a taxi, and especially by the generally high standard of public transport on offer in the inner suburbs.

They don’t want to pay extra for a (usually underground) on-site parking space that adds in the region of $20-$30,000 to the cost of constructing a new apartment. (1)

Then there’re Councils in inner suburbs who’re managing the problem of growing traffic congestion and conflicts over on-road parking associated with increasing density. While some might insist on minimum parking provision in new developments, many are keen to encourage buildings that provide reduced or zero car spaces.

One of the most high-profile examples is The Commons, a five storey 24 apartment “green” development in Brunswick in inner suburban Melbourne. It was approved by the City of Moreland with zero parking.

Council was persuaded that the developer’s Green Travel Plan obviated the need for parking. It accepted that provision of parking spaces for bicycles, as well as body corporate levies for car share fees, public transport fares and bicycle repair costs, were an appropriate alternative.

The myriad problems presented by resident parking were highlighted in a decision last month of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), Chaucer Enterprises vs Moreland City Council.

VCAT over-turned an approval given by the City of Moreland for the proposed 20 apartment Nightingale complex in Florence St Brunswick. The applicant is a commercial rival, Chaucer Enterprises, who is seeking approval to develop the site adjoining Nightingale for apartments.

As was the case with The Commons, Council required no on-site parking. However VCAT took the view that the Florence development would generate some parking and should accommodate it.

That might seem puzzling at first glance because the Nightingale is proposed by the same developer and architect who built the The Commons; in fact the two developments are on opposite sides of Florence St (see exhibit).

VCAT’s decision wasn’t well received. The Age wittily headlined it’s disapproving report, Green building with no parking thrown out for having no parking.

The commenters at Architecture and Design were appalled, one declaring “VCAT, shame, shame, shame”. Another said:

While we know that VCAT and other arbiters of ‘good planning’ are generally conservative, it is still really depressing to see commercially viable, green and affordable innovation thwarted in this way. Trains, trams, bike paths and car shares will do more to ‘future proof’ residential property values AND local vitality than car parks ever could (or ever did). All strength to Breathe, Nightingale and Moreland Council – keep up the great work!

The Decision handed down by VCAT Senior Member, Russell Byard, makes fascinating reading and warrants discussion in more detail another time.

Contrary to much of the misinformation washing around, Mr Byard supports a significant reduction in parking for the Nightingale, but stops short of a complete waiver. VCAT members, including Mr Byard, have approved other apartment proposals with zero parking before and since; it depends on the specific circumstances.

In this particular case, Council didn’t have a valid basis under the Planning Scheme for requiring one development (Chaucer) to provide a minimum of nine car spaces while the immediate neighbour, Nightingale (and The Commons), was given a waiver.

Mr Byard is scathing about the way Council evaluated Nightingale. One of the reasons Council’s planning report gives for its support of the waiver is that “the overall design ethos seeks to achieve leading edge sustainable development.” In response, Mr Byard opines:

It does not strike me that this question of design ethos is actually a relevant consideration, and it does not appear as such in clause 52.06. So far as that clause is concerned it appears that this ‘reason’ is an irrelevant one. It is trite administrative law that an administrative decision maker who takes into account an irrelevant consideration makes an invalid decision.

A particularly telling point for policy is other evidence indicating that residents of The Commons, despite the building’s green credentials, have seven to nine cars.  These vehicles are parked in nearby neighbourhoods where there are no parking restrictions and where they increase demand for the limited number of spaces.

Whatever the commitment of the developer and architect, they can’t control the behaviour of every buyer or tenant, especially in the future as occupancy turns over.

The Nightingale decision highlights a number of important points for policy.

First, councils need to get serious about encouraging developments with zero or significantly reduced parking. You can’t increase car use at the same time as you increase density (and in the inner suburbs you don’t have to).

Second, councils should prepare and enforce ancillary policies to ensure residents of developments with zero or reduced parking can’t “free-ride”.

Third, councils need to review the effectiveness of green travel plans. In too many cases appearances seem to matter more than substance.

Fourth, councils need to be alert to the seductiveness of greenwashing; they should be pursuing real outcomes, not waving flags.

Fifth, councils and state governments need to take a bigger view of parking; one that begins with understanding that residents don’t own on-street parking. It’s more usefully thought of, as parking expert Paul Barter suggests, as a “commons”. (2)

Finally, planners and the media in Victoria should accept that VCAT did what Council was supposed to have done in the first place; apply the law. It’s the job of councils and state governments to get the policy and implementation right.


  1. As an aside, I note that many of the same observers who argue that higher minimum amenity standards for apartments won’t increase construction costs or selling prices are nevertheless quite happy to argue that minimum parking standards will
  2. This is a big issue worth discussing separately another time. There are some politically difficult issues e.g. how new residents should be dealt with vis a vis existing residents; how demand for parking can be capped/reduced.

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7 thoughts on “Are councils dealing with the problem of inner suburban parking?

  1. Dylan Nicholson

    Tom@4 “People without cars are more able to spend on housing because cars are a significant expense.”

    Even as someone who doesn’t own a car and benefits from that, I suspect that statement doesn’t have the numbers to back it up. Realistically households that can afford inner city property can also afford to own multiple cars. Some of us choose not to, and enjoy the benefits in various ways (more travel, eating out etc.), but I doubt it seriously affects how much we spend on property. However it definitely increases the range of properties that are attractive to us, with no need to have space to accommodate said vehicles.

  2. Smith John

    The idea that the council is responsible for solving a parking problem arises only because the historically free kerbside parking creates the opportunity to freeload.

    Contrast (to take a random example) the Ishikawadai district of suburban Tokyo (sorry, don’t know how to link to google maps). Most residential streets are about 6 metres wide between opposite property boundaries. On-street parking is out of the question (it would immediately block the whole street) – clearly, if you want to have a car YOU are responsible for finding somewhere to store it. No chance of freeloading – everyone’s in the same boat. If the neighbour redevelops to a higher density, that has no effect at all on your parking options, so there’s no need for the council to be involved in regulating parking to protect your rights.

    In the Melbourne situation, the venerable tradition of allowing people to unofficially appropriate public land to store their vehicles muddies the picture. People who’ve been doing it for years think they have a right to it and get grumpy when newcomers compete for the space. But really, the oldtimers are freeloaders just as much as the newcomers.

    The tough answer is: ‘You don’t own the street. If you want to live in a Victorian cottage in a desirable area with no off-street parking, AND you want to own a car, YOU are responsible for finding somewhere to store it. If you’ve been able to use the kerb up to now, count yourself lucky. Older residents have no more right to monopolise the kerb than newer ones.’

    A politically realistic approach would take advantage of the psychological trait that people are more like to accept possibly inconvenient change if it’s not just yet. A person who won’t sign up to make a payroll deduction to charity now may well promise to do so in a year’s time; and when the year comes round they may well keep their promise.

    Make the neighbourhood residents’ parking only (or free for residents and pay parking for others). At date zero, give all existing residents a permit. So far, so normal. But then, permanently cap the number of permits at the number originally issued, and make them tradeable. From then on newcomers, if they want to park on the street, have to find someone to sell them a permit (the council could run the exchange).

    There’s little inconvenience to start with, which is the psychological plus. Existing residents have got something for nothing (the security that kerbside parking won’t become harder in future), and even the opportunity to make a profit if they don’t want to use the permit themselves. The price in trade would start low and gradually increase over time as the car-owning population of your gentrifying inner suburb increases.

    And incidentally, the price in trade will tell you when it becomes worthwhile for someone to build a commercial parking station to handle excess demand.

    The more bolshie among us might complain, ‘Why should we give someone a right to use public land, which they can immediately sell for a profit? That profit should belong to the community.’

    It’s a fair concern (similar issues arise with trade in water rights). I would answer that it’s probably worth giving a bit to make such a system politically palatable. Remember, the whole purpose of the exercise is to provide an alternative to minimum parking in new development regulations, which we want get rid of because of their bad effects of preventing efficient land-use and promoting car-dependent patterns of development. It’s worth giving something to achieve that.

  3. Norman Hanscombe

    memeweaver, you say “The Council has made it clear that there is no appeals process on this matter when it approves newer developments, and it obviously has no interaction with the NSW state government on planning extra piublic transport capacity on routes running through these developments.”
    The Council has clearly set out to mislead locals so they can avoid problems by blaming someone else. Some Councils DO work with State Governments to seek better alternatives.
    Yours may choose not to, but it’s their choice.

  4. Tom the first and best


    Except for the most recent car less developments, housing without car spaces was planned and built before cars were generally available to the designed for residents.

    People without cars are more able to spend on housing because cars are a significant expense.

  5. memeweaver

    Marrickville in Sydney is similarly passing on the excess parking of higher-density development to the local streetscape. It ignores the extra overhead of visitors and second vehicles to streets of residents without off-street parking.

    The Council has made it clear that there is no appeals process on this matter when it approves newer developments, and it obviously has no interaction with the NSW state government on planning extra piublic transport capacity on routes running through these developments.

  6. Roger Clifton

    The original planning for a street of townhouses may have been quite adequate on the original concept of a townhouse. The one and a half bedrooms in each townhouse provided for mum, dad and the youngster, so the street frontage of 10 m was sufficient space to park The Family Car.

    What has changed is the price/rent of the townhouse. Cost sharing requires that those two bedrooms are occupied by two childless couples so the street is choked with their four cars.

  7. Norman Hanscombe

    Surely the more appropriate question, Alan, is how can State Governments be encouraged to bravely use their powers to sort out traffic and other inner city problems?