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Feature article



In the last few months the Victorian Government has released several major reports and policies that seek to have a significant influence on Melbourne’s future.

The long-awaited  metropolitan strategic plan, Plan Melbourne, was released for public comment in October 2013. This followed the draft vision for the Fishermans Bend Urban Renewal Area, a precinct whose redevelopment is intended to be an important plank in Plan Melbourne’s strategy for an expanded central city.

At around the same time the Commission for Environmental Sustainability released its report on the State of the Environment. A major component of this report was a consideration of the impact of human settlement on Victoria’s environment and a vision for how Victoria’s cities, especially Melbourne, might be developed in a more sustainable way.

The OVGA had significant input into the development of each of these documents and more recently has had the opportunity to comment on their final form. It is encouraging to see that at a very broad level there is clear recognition of the challenges that lie ahead for our cities and a genuine attempt to discuss and engage with a number of issues including growth, investment, housing affordability, environment and water, liveable communities and neighbourhoods, transport integration and connectivity.

We are delighted that Plan Melbourne includes a commitment to the development of new guidelines for higher density residential development and to providing standards regarding the amenity and quality of apartments. The OVGA message in the 2013 Spring edition Architect Victoria, cited our advocacy for a range of initiatives that seek to improve the quality and provision of medium and high density housing, recognising that securing a good minimum standard for apartments will be fundamental to the next stage Melbourne’s growth and development. The OVGA is now proceeding with implementation of this initiative, and leading the development of a guideline document that seeks to address the qualitative and amenity issues raised in Plan Melbourne.

The OVGA is also particularly supportive of the inclusion of design excellence as one of the Directions in Plan Melbourne, which clearly recognises that the quality of the built environment has significant cultural and public value.  The plan seeks to embed and extend initiatives such as the OVGA’s formal Victorian Design Review process to include significant public and private sector projects and projects affecting places on the Victorian Heritage Register.

Building on this Direction there is a clear commitment to actively engage with the design industries and facilitate an ongoing conversation with the public, investors and visitors about the design and form of our city. A key action identified as part of this initiative is the concept of a Melbourne Planning and Design Centre. This concept has been developed by the OVGA in consultation with several departments across government. The Office continues to lead this initiative and looks forward to also engaging with the industry on this exciting opportunity to keep the conversation about Melbourne’s future open.

Plan Melbourne has a strong emphasis on promoting growth and supporting investment. How this growth will be managed to ensure metropolitan Melbourne is equitable and sustainable and continues to be a distinctive place is an equally important consideration.

Cities are identified on the global stage by their distinctiveness. This was recognised in the Discussion Paper, Melbourne: Let’s Talk About The Future, where this Principle was understood as a prerequisite for the city’s global connectedness. A considered proposition about the type of city Melbourne will become and its distinctive qualities, is necessary to ensure investment and growth are appropriately harnessed to create healthy and resilient communities and sustainable places.

Clearly Plan Melbourne’s central proposition is framed around ‘the new integrated economic triangle’. Is this a sufficient proposition? While the individual components of this key concept might represent good integrated land use and transport planning, do they collectively constitute a rationale that might convincingly flow through to subsequent concerns around housing; transport; communities and neighbourhoods; environment and water.

The split proposed between the growth of detached housing at the urban fringe (43%) and of other dwelling types within established areas (57%) is based on current trends and represents minimal change from the existing situation. Given the Plan’s 30-40 year horizon, this approach to accommodating growth is unlikely to address this pressing issue in metropolitan strategic planning. The goal of ‘establishing a more compact, sustainable city’ will be difficult to achieve while the Plan accepts the status quo of housing provision. Likewise, other objectives discussed in the Housing chapter, such as improving housing affordability, providing greater dwelling diversity and housing with better access to jobs and services, especially public transport, will be compromised.

Other key, and arguably, higher order concepts in the Plan include ‘transitioning to a more sustainable city’, ‘delivering housing choice and affordability’, and the ‘creation of 20-minute neighbourhoods’.

The concept of ‘transitioning to a more sustainable city’ provides the type of forward-thinking, organising principle that can be used to frame a metropolitan strategy. This concept might also inform the spatial resolution of an urban strategy, providing more clarity on matters relating to human settlement patterns and the value and role of our ecosystems. It is encouraging that Plan Melbourne recognises the need for a permanent metropolitan urban boundary.

The vision on related issues such as the role of green wedge areas and encouraging a mode shift in future transport use is however less clear, but could perhaps be informed by the following proposition put forward by the State of the Environment report and worth noting in this context:

‘The protection of ecosystem services is integral to our quest for liveability and the sustainability of our cities and towns. To build resilient, thriving communities we need our planning systems to provide a coherent, certain and strategic vision for human settlement.’