Submission from the Fitzroy Residents’ Association and also as members of Yarra Residents’ Coalition

Conditional statement: This submission is made in good faith but with strong reservations as to the extent to which our position has been compromised by lack of essential information. We have opted to contribute rather than abstain. Our efforts are akin to working on a blind jigsaw puzzle which has many pieces missing.

The view of the Fitzroy Residents, and also the Yarra Residents Coalition of which we are a member association, is that a strategic plan for the future of Melbourne and a linked strategic plan for the planning for this future are the prerequisites for an effective review and rewriting of the planning zones. Moreover, the operational mechanisms for translating the zones are also missing. It is difficult to translate the new zones into how and what planning decisions will be made, and over time, what impact these decisions will have on the look of Melbourne.

Faced with these constraints, we have opted to make a submission on significant areas of planning that have been omitted. In identifying these omissions we aim to get a discussion started. Also, in the interests of retrieving some value from the government’s proposal, we have included a number of recommendations that if accepted, may provide opportunities to improve the further development of the new planning zones and the underpinning mechanisms.

It is essential that these planning zones, if implemented, should bring more certainty, improved fairness and transparency into the planning permit decision-making and improved cost effectiveness.

Process: The Minister has made few commitments on his intentions for the next steps in this process.

An advisory panel will review submissions and report to Minister. What are the terms of reference of the panel and what of the panel membership? Will panelists represent all key stakeholders, including a cross section of Melbourne residents, councils and experts as well as departmental officers? What are the criteria, templates and standards against which submissions will be assessed? What is the timetable from the closing of submissions to the final approval by Minister?

What accountabilities are in place to provide confidence to those making submissions and to the general public? Will all submissions and the advisory panel’s recommendations be publicly available? What commitments will the Minister make to accept the advice of the panel? Will parliament have the opportunity to scrutinize or debate the final documents prior to approval?

It is proposed that councils will have 12 months to translate the planning zone principles into new zones in their municipalities? When will that 12 month period commence?

Where is government’s plan for its overall and ongoing leadership and direction, to deliver synergy into the work of, and interpretations by, municipalities throughout Melbourne? Without centralized control and a template for decision-making, the signs already are, that the new zones will deliver a range of unforeseen circumstances that if planned for, would not occur.

From a political perspective, the timing could not be worse as Victoria moves toward the next election.

Recommendations 3, 4 and 5 describe some suggested solutions to government and the DPCD.

Recommendation 1: That a new and additional planning zone, the World Heritage Buffer Zone, be created for the World Heritage Environs Area.

Background:

Under the Heritage Act 1995, a World Heritage Environs Area Strategy Plan (‘Strategy Plan’) is required for the area surrounding the Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens.
The World Heritage Environs Area acts as a “buffer zone” for the Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens and assists in protecting and transmitting the World Heritage values of the site.
The Strategy Plan details the strategies to be employed to achieve the protection and transmission of the World Heritage values.
The Minister for Planning approved a Strategy Plan for the World Heritage Environs Area on 21 October 2009.
The Strategy Plan was gazetted in the Government Gazette on 5 November 2009 and came in to operation on that date.
In summary, the Strategy Plan proposes:
• Including the properties fronting the Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens in a new precinct-based Heritage Overlay in the Melbourne and Yarra Planning Schemes. Properties fronting the western part of Gertrude Street and the eastern part of Queensberry Street are also to be included in this precinct. Land in this precinct is considered to be the “area of greatest sensitivity”.
• Introducing a new local Heritage Policy in the Melbourne and Yarra Planning Schemes to provide specific guidance for development of land within the “area of greatest sensitivity”.
• Including properties on the northern side of Gertrude and Queensberry streets and the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons building within a Design and Development Overlay to protect views to the Royal Exhibition Building dome.
• Consequential changes to the Municipal Strategic Statements and the Local Planning Policies of the Melbourne and Yarra Planning Schemes.

World Heritage Environs Area Planning Scheme Amendments
Planning Scheme Amendments to implement the recommendations of the Strategy Plan in the Melbourne and Yarra Planning Schemes were gazetted on 18 November 2009.
Amendment C154 to the Melbourne Planning Scheme (in summary):
• introduces a new Local Heritage Policy into the planning scheme, which contains specific guidance for the development of land immediately surrounding the World Heritage Site;
• includes the 'World Heritage Environs Area Precinct' in the Heritage Overlay;
• amends the Design and Development Overlays applying to properties on the north side of Queensberry Street and the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons site on Spring Street; and
• makes consequential changes to the Municipal Strategic Statement and other Local Policies within the planning scheme.
Full details can be viewed on at Planning Schemes Amendment Information online.
Amendment C118 to the Yarra Planning Scheme (in summary):
• introduces a new Local Heritage Policy into the planning scheme, which contains specific guidance for the development of land immediately surrounding the World Heritage Site;
• includes the 'World Heritage Environs Area Precinct' in the Heritage Overlay;
• introduces a Design and Development Overlay over properties on the north side of Gertrude Street; and
• makes consequential changes to the Municipal Strategic Statement and other Local Policies within the planning scheme.

The responsibilities for World Heritage are shared between three levels of government.

The Australian Government in the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (CEPBC) has principal responsibility for World Heritage and obligations to report to UNESCO. The Australian Government has passed some powers to the Victorian Government in Amendments to the Heritage Act. In turn, powers for the WHEA had been passed to the Yarra and Melbourne Councils in changes to their respective strategic policies, DDOs and Planning Schemes.

The evidence from Yarra council’s planning management and permit decisions for developments in the WHEA, is that council cannot work effectively with the current mechanisms. Neither, it seems is there an effective integration between council’s World Heritage responsibilities and those of Heritage Victoria. Again, this is an unintended consequence, but perhaps it is a consequence of council as the operational experts, not being effective participants in the drafting of the WH changes.

If council lacks authority or responsibility in relation to World Heritage Environs Area as intended in the WHEA plan, where is the responsibility for action to protect the most significant heritage area of Yarra? It is worth noting that the City of Melbourne has similar responsibilities for the parts of the WHEA and precinct that are within its boundaries. If the City of Melbourne also finds itself in this position, both councils should seek resolution before further World Heritage properties and more of the precinct and views, are lost to development.

The conclusion is, that the mechanisms intended to recognise the added significance of the World Heritage site and area, and to add to the protections of the World Heritage values, are dysfunctional.

The new planning zone process is the right time to identify that the world heritage site and the related buffer zone, deserve and require a separate zone.

This is a simple fact: The REB and Carlton Gardens are the only world heritage site in Victoria. A world heritage site is the most significant of heritage areas. It commands the highest level of heritage conservation and protection. Victoria’s WH site and buffer zone, are the built form of the site and the related heritage environs area around the site.

It follows that the policy and planning schemes intended to define and then set planning mechanisms, should, as part of this rezoning process, be given a separate World Heritage planning scheme zone. Much of the work has been done. What is needed is a reassessment of the current planning scheme and then improvements made, to ensure the World Heritage zone planning scheme is effective.

Of note is the government’s obligation to UNESCO to review all World Heritage Plans and also to report on actions to protect and preserve the World Heritage site and areas. This may be an avenue to pursue. Certainly, the YRC is considering whether it should approach UNESCO with these concerns.

Recommendation 2: That a sub-zone of the suburban residential planning zone be created for those properties that already have heritage overlays.

It is mystifying as to how, or why, heritage has been omitted from the proposal documentation to this point. It is an extraordinary oversight that should be rectified in the next round of drafting. Heritage is so significant part of Melbourne’s built form, and is such an important consideration in planning process and decisions. To not explicitly deal with heritage would leave an unaccounted for gap in the new zoning arrangements.

The new heritage sub-zone would recognise the already established added value that heritage properties, neighborhoods and suburban streetscapes, bring to Melbourne.

The development of the new planning zones is also the right time to review and improve, the effectiveness of the heritage overlays. There are fundamental contradictions between the intent of heritage overlays to protect heritage properties, precincts and neighbourhoods, and development by sole property planning permit decision-making. Planning policies, regulations and permit decision-making have been seriously compromised. The current planning regime, has delivered a progressive and escalating loss of tracts of heritage areas throughout Melbourne, but especially in the inner city suburbs.

The new residential planning zones must include improved mechanisms to protect and conserve heritage properties and overlays. Prescribed height limits, obligatory conservation management plans and defined property uses in heritage areas are needed.

Solution: It is suggested that Heritage Victoria should lead in providing the heritage input to the changes. Heritage Victoria should review zoning proposals and their application, and advise on the implication for and opportunities to improve, heritage protection and conservation that might arise from the changes in the new planning zones.

To do this Heritage Victoria might build case examples describing how the existing heritage overlays may be impacted, including by building examples of planning permit decision-making. Further, Heritage Victoria might advise on opportunities to improve the effectiveness of heritage overlays or protections of properties in overlays.

Heritage Victoria’s leadership on heritage during the developmental stage of the proposed planning zones, should inject long needed improvements, but also avoid, so-called unforeseen circumstances, arising when the new planning zones are operating.

Recommendation 3: That prior to final approval, the government undertake further public consultation

A win win for everyone would be for the submission period to be extended.

The government appears to be taking a huge political risk in the way it is managing this process. While government has a right to make changes, the process appears to be the wrong way to get the understanding and support of the people of Melbourne, who will be individually and collectively affected by these changes.

Solution: That Yarra council lobby the Minister until the submission due date, to extend the submission period.

Whether the period is extended or not, Yarra council should in its submission, recommend that government prepare a much more comprehensive plan for its 12 month developmental period, that would involve all stakeholders. Planning is already fraught with complexities and disputation: government action now, should improve the process and the outcome for the new planning regime.

Council might recommend that the 12 month zone development plan include a rolling program of public consultation as well the preparation and public exposure of a set of explanatory documents and aids on how the new zones are intended to work. This material would contribute to further rounds of public consultation.

It is suggested that these subsequent consultations, be conducted jointly between DPCD planners and council planners. It is further suggested that these consultations be both municipality and zone specific. The aim would be over an extended consultation period to,
• reverse the cynicism and sense of disconnection between the planning controllers and the public,
• build up the public awareness and knowledge,
• build respect for the planners and provide opportunities for them to engage with the public,
• progressively identify problems and find improvements,
• build up across Melbourne a public sense of shared involvement, fairness and equity arising from the zoning and planning changes.

Recommendation 4: That the DPCD work with VCAT to ensure that the new planning zones and the related regulations and mechanisms return most planning decision making to councils.

Solution: That joint DPCD and council teams determine the best way to have the new planning zones ensure that council’s make most of the planning decisions and VCAT acts as the decision maker of last resort as was intended when VCAT was set up discuss with VCAT. This may mean case examples being developed and decision-making streams be agreed.

Such improvements would have the obvious benefit of reducing costly and time consuming VCAT hearings. All involved parties would benefit. From the clarity of knowing council would be the decisonmaker.

Such change would certainly benefit residents as objectors who invariably self fund their involvement at VCAT. It would redress the current criticism of unfairness and inequity of paid experts and legal advisers representing the developer.

Recommendation 5: That prior to final approval, the government undertakes further developmental processes

The government has foreshadowed a 12 month period for councils to bed down the new zoning arrangements. One would anticipate that councils would require and would welcome support from DPCD. Additionally, councils would benefit from sharing experiences with other councils as the new zones are applied. Using a cooperative action learning approach, the transitional 12 months would be used to test the ability of the proposed changes to deliver the government’s intended result for the future of Melbourne.

For whatever reasons, the planning process has the hallmarks of a rushed job. A key criticism is that the current draft lacks a strategic vision.

The obvious question to ask is what picture does government have of a future Melbourne and what will it look like as the changes progressively unfold? The answer currently is a mystery to those who have been asked to respond to the government’s draft. With the best faith in the world that is an impossible task. Yarra council should recommend that government build this missing strategic plan and use it in the 12 month developmental period.

Some of the tools that government should use in building its new zone development plan are described below.

Solution: Government undertakes a series of risk analyses, including field force analysis. These analyses would take account of all the known exigencies and all stake holders, to test the proposed scheme against all identifiable the interactions and interconnectivity and conflicts.

Solution: The government will prepare case scenarios, for applications for planning permit, covering all the proposed zones. The case scenarios will include best practice for council’s management and decision-making.

For example, Yarra council would recommend that DPCD planners work with council planners to test the likely result using the new planning zones. The council planners would identify typical permit case examples and then test the management and decision-making streams to permit recommendation stage.

Solution: Government prepares a set of maps and three-dimensional visual aids, to demonstrate how the new zones will work. These maps, visual aids and dioramas, would demonstrate the progressive unfolding of the future look of Melbourne as the new planning zones and schemes took effect.

Solution: The government would develop, a proposed timeline for the changes based both on scenarios for projected development or on government’s intention to actively encourage development in various areas and of various types. For example government has signaled its intention to develop into Fishermen’s Bend and the port and also the western outer suburban areas.

Desired result: These management tools and aids would be an integral part of the information used in the consultations with the stakeholders and the public exposure period. The aim would be, at the end of the 12 months zone development period, for stakeholders to be informed and involved and the plan be continuously improved in a managed open and consultative process.