The Age has written this article, reporting proposed changes to the state’s planning system. Below is the text in full.
The future is here
March 17, 2012
Planning changes can’t halt suburban high-rise creep.
Ten years ago the Bracks Labor government was preparing to release an internally praised but community criticised planning policy that, in practice, revolutionised the way Melburnians viewed apartment living.
The now redundant Melbourne 2030 strategy aimed to accommodate about a million extra people by permitting high-density development around all transport nodes within the city’s existing boundaries, regardless of that site’s proximity to the CBD.
Cost-effective because it reaped the financial rewards of a rising population without the need to invest in new infrastructure, the policy was imposed aggressively by various levels of government until 2011 when, according to RMIT academic Dr Paul Mees in his report Who Killed Melbourne 2030? it was ‘‘buried, unmourned and unloved’’.
Responsible for the fatality was the incoming Liberal government, led by architect Ted Baillieu. Self-professed ‘‘interventionist’’ Planning Minister Matthew Guy said a replacement strategy would be released late this year, but in the meantime, he has identified precincts in Port Melbourne, North Melbourne and Richmond where he will legislate for more intense apartment development in the medium and longer term.
But chat to industry players, including planners, developers and agents, and it would appear the core elements of Melbourne 2030 are very much alive and well right now.
In Box Hill, for example, where apartment development has been rampant in recent years, the owners of a Station Street site where a 38-level tower was proposed under Melbourne 2030, but never approved, have just lodged plans to replace the site with a 33-level building.
Agents say in 2002, before Melbourne 2030 was introduced, an apartment tower even a
quarter of this size would have been unheard of in the area.
Today, apartment towers of 10 or more levels exist or are being considered in plenty of middle and outer-ring suburbs such as Glen Waverley, Reservoir and Ringwood. Even in the regional township of Cowes, for example, 142 kilometres from Melbourne, a permit was granted in 2010 for a nine-level tower.
‘‘Given that Melbourne’s population is continuing to grow rapidly, many of the key principles of the Melbourne 2030 plan remain in action by default,’’ said Clinton Baxter, director of commercial real estate agency Savills, which has sold many residential development sites to builders since the state government changed.
‘‘Melbourne will need an additional 620,000 households to cater for another million people by 2030, and developers expect to be encouraged to continue high-density development within
particular locations that offer public transport, shopping and community infrastructure,’’ Mr Baxter said.
‘‘This expectation and confidence has been maintained since the Baillieu government came to office.’’
Mr Baxter said developers responded to buyer preferences such as apartments in the suburbs, and planning authorities needed to regulate to allow for demand-led population growth.
‘‘If this objective can be managed while retaining the wonderful character of Melbourne’s established suburbs, then we all stand to benefit,’’ he said.
But retention of character, particularly for streetscapes around suburban train stations, proved hard to maintain under Melbourne 2030 as developers snapped up prime sites, including historic homes, with the view to replacing them with flats.
Various councils, a former planning minister and the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal regularly cited the strategy (along with such other justifications as affordability and jobs) to
approve apartment projects the community did not want, nor understand it may have needed.
Interestingly, however, developers and agents said that, often, those who complained about high-density residential proposals were the ones who subsequently ended up buying apartments within them.
This was proved at Camberwell Junction about two years ago, when Queensland developer FKP revealed that 90 per cent of apartment sales within the Aerial project it fought locals to develop were sold to investors who live within five kilometres of the site.
The mismatch of demand for apartments, versus limited supply of them, may be one reason the best performing suburb in terms of median value is the relatively middle-class suburb of Bentleigh East, about 14 kilometres southeast of town.
According to the Real Estate Institute of Victoria’s most recent December 2012 quarter research, the median price for a unit or apartment in Bentleigh East is $700,000 — up 7.7 per cent from last year. By comparison the median house value in Bentleigh East, according to the REIV, is $677,500 — down 7.5 per cent.
Bentleigh East ranked above what may be considered more blue-ribbon suburbs, and where apartments are in larger supply, including Armadale, Brighton, Docklands, Port Melbourne
Challenging those who argue that buyers cannot afford to buy into Melbourne’s inner-city any more, the REIV found several precincts, including Carlton, Footscray and Thornbury, ranked in the top 10 most affordable suburbs for units and apartments.
Catherine Cashmore of Elite Buyer Advocates is not surprised Bentleigh East (and another middle-ring suburb, Mount Waverley) ranked in the REIV’s top 10 for unit and apartment median
value, but she warned prospective buyers to compare apples with apples.
She said the way the REIV compiled its figures, inner-city apartments were defined under the same umbrella as large villa units, which might include a portion of land.
However, Ms Cashmore said, in recent years Bentleigh East had fallen in line with the Melbourne 2030 policy in regard to apartment construction. She said the shop-top-living concept was taking place, starting at the suburb’s Centre Road retail strip.
Developers were finding buyers for apartments within their projects, despite the bleak economic backdrop, she said.
Like Mr Baxter, Ms Cashmore believes planning attitudes under the current government are similar to those of the former Bracks-Brumby government.
‘‘It costs less to build houses than it does to build infrastructure,’’ Ms Cashmore said. ‘‘To build a community is particularly expensive when government factors in the price of schools, parks and other amenities.
‘‘This is one of the reasons governments and councils end up building where existing infrastructure is,’’ she said. ‘‘The precedent [to make more efficient use of sites within the Urban
Growth Boundary by increasing density] has been set.’’