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The Mythical Green Wedges
Russell Degnan

I've been sitting on this article since Easter so it is about time I actually wrote on it.

The general media interest in planning issues continues to increase, and Kenneth Davidson has weighed in on the government's Green Wedge policy. No fan of the government these days, it is filled with mistakes and convenient ignorance of policy directions, then ends with a pining for the good old days of MMBW bureaucracy and an irrelevant plea for more public transport.

At the core of Davidsons's argument is a mistaken belief in the origin and purpose of the wedges. This: "The MMBW decided where the development went because it decided where the pipes to reticulate water and sewerage went." is completely inaccurate. MMBW would no doubt have liked to have directed development but almost without exception, their public works programs were lagging so far behind demand that the MMBW put sewerage and water where there was development - not vice versa.

Development followed the railway lines, and the green wedges came to exist more by accident than design. When they were set aside, it was for the purposes of keeping 'open space' for future needs and to protect valuable farming land in those areas. It is only now, when development pressures are encroaching on the land, that the government has made to protect them and prescribe their use; through the introduction of the Urban Growth Boundary and the Green Wedge Zone.

In this context the statement that: "But the radial development interspersed with green wedges is still Melbourne's finest inheritance - even more important in terms of Melbourne's liveability than the more spectacular inheritance in the form of Victorian public buildings and inner-city terraces." is almost bizarre. While parts of the green wedges are natural reserves, the greater part of them is farmland. 'Liveability' has nothing to do with it; the green wedges are too massive, too isolated, and too far from so much of the urban areas to have any effect on the majority of Melbournians at all.

This confusion over the wedges intended purpose, and more importantly, what purpose we should be pursuing today lies at the heart of green wedge politics. What the Green Wedge Zone has done, for the first time, is differentiate them from normal rural areas. Strategically, the key statement is:

To recognise, protect and conserve green wedge land for its agricultural, environmental, historic, landscape, recreational and tourism opportunities, and mineral and stone resources.

In short, the future of the green wedges is non-urban leisure activities: golf courses, conference centres, recreation centres, wineries, and bed and breakfasts. This may or may not be a good idea; but it is a lack of public space in existing suburban residential areas that is behind the push for more leisure activities in the wedges.

Davidson's argument is merely an anti-development line. As seen by his accusation of VCAT that it is 'pro-development' because its president recognises the obvious: that "[...] the market will play a significant role in the type of development which will occur in Melbourne and where it is located". It has to really - people don't build things to lose money.

But he finished with two last points, so I will too. One, development along growth corridors will occur with or without extensions to the urban rail network. The time and expense of applications, and the conditions placed on developments in the green wedges makes a large- scale sub-division an unlikely event. Moreover, with the exception of the Plenty Valley, the planned growth areas are already served (or nearly) by the urban rail network.

Two, the history of the MMBW is of a body that progressively lost its independence because it ignored - and was able to ignore - public opinion. That The Age was at the forefront of that criticism throughtout its history - and now calls for its return - is somewhat ironic. However, while parts of its legacy to Melbourne is good - the sewerage, and perhaps the water - a large part - the freeways, the housing commission flats, and the desolate outer suburbs - is pathetic. Whether it should shoulder all the blame is another matter; without question, the DSE has vastly stronger powers than the MMBW ever did. That the DSE infrastructure budget is constrained by popular opinion and political reality is something to be thankful for, not something to lament.

'Protecting' is the wrong word to apply to the green wedges. The qeustion that must be addressed is what should they be used for, and what limits on their use should apply. Tied up in the new policy is a push for leisure development in them that needs to be debated. Complaining about developers, and the absence of a legislatively toothless, yet potentially destructive planning body is not the way to do that.

Planning 29th April, 2004 17:02:51   [#] 


I agree. Come on Russ, write something that I'm bound to disagree with!!
Aaron Hewett  5th May, 2004 23:39:17  


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