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The Liberal planning policy: Metropolitan Planning - A Plan for All
Russell Degnan

This might perhaps, be one of the more pointless posts in this blog's less than illustrious history. Certainly, for those readers whose eyes glaze over at the sight of a planning post, it will be one of the more boring. But we will see. While Robert Doyle was slowly realizing he had less chance of winning the November election than he did of a Reader's Digest sweep-stake, their next lamb for the slaughter leader Ted Bailleu was putting out the planning policies for a future Liberal government (if any).

Oddly enough, this may be the first election fought in the main over urban planning issues -- transport and land-use -- because it is by far Bracks biggest weakness. While parties lose, policies are like rats. The faster the ship they're on sinks, the faster they find themselves with the winners. While it may never be implemented by a Liberal government, it is worth looking at see which diseases we can expect to contract in Labor's next term. It is a lovely well-ordered document. That is nice in planning I think -- some might even argue its kind-of the point -- so I will address it one section at a time. Conclusions left as an exercise to the reader ...

A full-time planning minister

Probably not a bad idea. Planning is either a catch-all (environment, infrastructure, transport) or purely land-use. It is the former that causes issues with strategic plans outside the minister's remit, and this doesn't look like it will be fixed. But, while I'd love to combine them all, trim departments, and overhaul the land-use side completely, it is not a winning strategy.

Withdraw Melbourne 2030

Specifically, the MSS and zoning provisions will become the decision guidelines for developments, instead of a mixture of competing and highly interpretative ideals. The good thing with this approach is some sort of certainty, and a move back towards a semblance of rational decision making instead of by largely opinionated political fiat. The bad thing is it means the state government can't implement a metropolitan strategic policy... or can it.

Create a New Strategic Policy

There is a great deal of talk about community consultation in this process, but frankly, who are we kidding? Either you are trying to plan (and therefore force people to do something they otherwise wouldn't necessarily do), or planning is done by individuals according to their preference, in the context of services, infrastructure and economics.

The principles expressed so far are either inconsistent, or vague, so there is less policy here, than there is deceptively nice sounding principles. To whit, some of them imply more buildings in activity centres:

- Capacity based growth, rather than arbitrary targets;
- Maximum use of existing infrastructure;
- Protecting adjacent semi rural Shires from adverse impacts;
- Housing affordability and diversity;
- Retention of green wedges as sustainable breaks between urban developments;

Some of them imply strong local protections:

- Protection of existing neighbourhood amenity;
- Retention of Melbourne’s high living standards;
- Local community support for local outcomes;

Some of them could be read either way. Whose rights? The local land-holder and developer, or the neighbours, neither of which have any specific rights right now:

- Respect for property rights;

Or may be promising one or more of freeways, railways, or consolidation:

- Easy access to work and reduced travel times;

And some imply that planning isn't really our thing:

- Adaptability to acknowledge changing markets;

Something for everyone then.

Strengthen local government planning powers

As discussed above. This is strongly pro-local government, which is good, because of the principle of subsidiarity. But leaves open the question of how the state government plans to balance competing local government ideals (or if they even want to).

Move the UGB

Notice the Liberals don't want to remove it. Merely, to move it, and to implement it within the scheme. Again, this is a state versus local council matter. where each has different priorities. The Liberals are trying to have it both ways, and it isn't viable.

Turn some Green Wedge land into public parkland

This is an out and out good idea. But leaves open the question the question of the rest. This policy:

- Undertake a comprehensive land capability study for all Green Wedge Land to establish the agricultural potential of that land;

Is an irrelevance. The land is economically more viable as housing, or as a bed and breakfast or a golf course (the last two are perfectly acceptable green wedge uses right now). So while the public land parts are excellent, reading between the lines indicates that the Green Wedges will be opened to development. This may not be a bad thing, mind.

Allow extensions to the 60 day rule

Statutory planners will note this with some relief, or perhaps not. The fact is, 60 days is a long time, and it is the complexity of the system that forces applications near the deadline, rather than any other cause. To hark back to elections past, this is a bit like promising an extra 1000 waiting room trolleys.

Stop appeals to VCAT for some applications

This one is just weird, note:

- Legislate to limit access to VCAT for the review of determinations for projects which are deemed in advance to substantially comply with the relevant Municipal Strategic Statement (MSS);
- Provide for VCAT to determine whether an application for review qualifies on the grounds of substantial compliance;

Oddly enough, having complained about proponents going to VCAT and locals losing their local decision making rights, the policy seems to suggest local rights to object will be curtailed. But how do we make this determination? VCAT is an appeals body, designed to test compliance with the planning scheme in its entirety. Either this policy does something substantial to the relative power balances, or it does nothing at all, but I can't actually work out which. More information required.

Ministerial interventions must be fully announced to Parliament

Nice. Pointless except for political junkies and the opposition. But nice.

Make the planning process friendlier

The complaint here is that only people with insider knowledge can work through the labyrinthian planning schemes and ResCode. This is false. People with inside knowledge don't know how to navigate ResCode either. However, the Liberals have a point. Some of these proposals are good, at least on the surface:

- Bring greater certainty and clarity to residential planning for the benefit of residents and home buyers alike;
- Conduct an industry review of ResCode to assess the impact on design quality of all ResCode provisions such as bedroom windows, ceiling heights, garaging;
- Ensure that advertising of planning proposals and amendments is sufficient to ensure residents and ratepayers have sufficient knowledge of the proposed plans;

Some ignore the fact that people don't care!

- Develop and implement a planning training package run by all councils for their constituents. These forums will simply and effectively outline ResCode, the documentation required, costs to be incurred, neighbourhood character requirements and dispute resolution;

The planning scheme needs, more than anything, a friendlier interface, by which I mean an automated one. It isn't that hard, and it is a much better way than expecting people to educated themselves at some length about a process that they have no need nor wish to know about.

Heritage, Contemporary Heritage, and the Government Architect?

As you were. But with more money for public properties and agencies. Ignoring the Productivity Commission report both in its recommendations, and in its underlying argument that "prescriptive regulation can lead to ineffective, inefficient and inequitable outcomes, particularly for less significant (marginal) places." Do heritage listed, but otherwise neglected, buildings need to fall down before this gets reviewed?

Improve strata title properties

This is significant, and it is an issue that will only get bigger. If a single dwelling is neglected it can be bought up, improved or demolished. Strata title cannot, at least as easily, because the whole building needs to be bought out before it can be demolished, and low-income tenants do not good body-corporates make. This may not be an effective strategy, but it is an issue worth the discussion.

Planning 7th May, 2006 14:03:52   [#] 

Comments

The Liberal planning policy: Metropolitan Planning - A Plan for All
Not sure how many votes are going to swing on these issues.

I did manage to get through to the end of this post, but I'm afraid I'm not much the wiser for it.
Scott Wickstein  7th May, 2006 15:32:58  

The Liberal planning policy: Metropolitan Planning - A Plan for All
Good summary, Russ.

Certainly the system needs reform and some of the Lib's policies can (and should) be implemented by the Bracks govt - in terms of handing back autonomy to local govts and making the system "friendlier" (even though the Libs are a little vague about these points). The problem being, however, is that govts rarely hand back powers to other govts or, if they do, rarely provide adequate funding. The other problem is that whenever a govt wants to make a system "fairer", "friendlier" or "less complicated", it always turns out to be less fair, less friendly and more complicated (e.g. the VPPs, the federal tax system, etc).

Their plans for limiting appeal rights are just plain loopy, and will inevitably result in miscarriages of justice.

As for extending the 60 day limit - argh!! 60 days is way too long as it is. There is no reason why an application not requiring notice cannot be dealt with in 14 working days. Local govt's need more funding to provide more administration staff and stat planners OR the planning system needs to become far more prescriptive.

I'm sure to have more to say about this later (over on my blog).
Aaron  7th May, 2006 16:00:28  

The Liberal planning policy: Metropolitan Planning - A Plan for All
Sorry Scott. It is designed to appeal to planning nerds like Aaron and the sort of people who google for "Melbourne 2030". Rest assured that your regularly scheduled cricket post will appear once New Zealand and South Africa finish playing cards in the rain.

You do raise an interesting point on the votes. There is a segment of the community who go ballistic over planning issues; and, regardless of what Ted Bailleu does as leader, if the discussions I have with assorted random people are any guide, he has managed to convince the electorate that Melbourne 2030 is no good. While I don't think the replacement policies are much better, it could shift a percent here or there. At the least it will sure up some of the Liberal's marginals in the middle suburbs.

Aaron, I don't disagree, which is probably wrong. I will try to do better next time.
Russ  7th May, 2006 19:06:15  


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