Thanks to Robert Nelson for his enthusiasm and effort in guest editing this Winter edition of Architect Victoria. Robert’s broad knowledge and advocacy of Melbourne’s art and design culture is one of those uniquely Melbourne qualities – that of public interest over private, and of informed opinion over personal ideologies – his is a voice of reason. Thanks as always to the Editorial Committee and all the magazine contributors.
Melbourne continues to be one of the fastest growing populations in Australia. Our size will increase from 4.3M today to an estimated 6.0M in 2031, and almost doubling to 7.8M by 2051. Over the same period, an estimated 0.8M will be added to Victoria’s regions – the lion’s share of development pressure will be in the greater Melbourne area.
In this climate of a high level of development demand, orderly and concise planning laws and regulations are more important than ever, but unfortunately, planning in Victoria has become a political football.
Plan Melbourne is relevant in principle, but the zoning controls imposed by the current Department of Planning have rewarded conservative political forces and do not provide for orderly development of the inner suburbs. The political battle for height controls in the inner suburbs has seen overly restrictive height limits applied to very broad areas of our most liveable suburbs, resulting in a diagrammatic ’reverse donut’ where the city and the outer areas are highly developed, and the inner ring of high amenity suburbs fossilised by restrictive planning heights. Make no mistake, this is the work of Save our Suburbs and similar self-interested lobby groups speaking through the Government. One wonders where the 3.7M projected growth of Melbourne, by 2050, are to fit without all municipalities sharing in absorbing this population. Ideologists have won rights for themselves above the interests of the orderly growth of greater Melbourne.
At the same time as established suburbs receive greater protection from development, other areas are being developed without good planning controls. Fishermans Bend appears to be following a Southbank-Docklands style developer driven model. Planning ideals such as effective retail and office zones, open space requirements, diversity and fine grain design and the requirement for public infrastructure such as libraries, police stations and schools should be established early and regulated effectively.
Multi-unit design standards remain inadequate to control the quality of development in high density zones. The Government Architect has developed standards which should be immediately adopted by the Department of Planning to improve the quality of large residential building design. We support the regulation of the use of architects for all building above three storeys, as codified in SEPP 65 in NSW, but this qualitative measure is opposed by the current Government.
I recently visited the city of Amsterdam, where a multitude of new medium and high density housing typologies have been tested in the past 20 years, particularly as part of renewal of dockside areas such as our own Fishermans Bend. How refreshing to see effective communities with a diversity of ages and ethnicities enjoying well designed (always by architects) urban housing with excellent open spaces, services, public transport and protection of important heritage structures.
Some development areas are led by artistic communities and self-build housing typologies.
The affordability of housing in Melbourne continues to decline, caused by a number of structural problems including high land prices, restrictive planning rules and high levels of taxation. External demand is distorting our real estate markets, with anecdotal reports of 60–80% of residential sales to overseas purchasers. Puzzlingly, the Australian Bureau of Statistics collects no data on the residential status of purchasers, a glaring omission of important economic data for planning purposes.
Planning in Melbourne is largely about housing growth and affordability. In this context, the argument for a more robust public housing sector has merit. Subsidised housing provides long term stability to the housing market and helps moderate the effect of housing price rises. Sadly, Australia has a homelessness rate of greater than 1 in 200 – many of them children-A damning statistic in a nation with our wealth and prosperity. It is time Government did more, using private sector skills and industrial capacity.
Good planning is about more than roads and sewerage. It is about how we choose to live in the next two, three and four generations. It is critical to the future of our cities that we get it right.
I shall leave the last word to Robin Boyd, delivered by Peter McIntyre as part of the University of Melbourne Architecture Revue which Peter founded in 1948:
I want to go back
To my L shaped shack
With the corner window
And a stepped down stack
I want to be seen
Dressed in velveteen
With a fibrous plaster heaven
Painted cream and green
Just let me snip
At my nature strip
And I know I’ll never roam
From my old North Balwyn home