Looking through the DPCD’s proposed new zones you can draw a number of conclusions about what the strategic beliefs underpinning them are, even where those beliefs aren’t really spelt out in the material released by DPCD (as I noted the other day, the material accompanying the review is a little thin, to put it mildly).
One of the underlying assumptions seems to be that we don’t need to worry about activity centres so much. The Minister has already moved to allow more kinds of big-box retail to move to industrial land outside of centres (which I talked about here and here); these new changes would allow small supermarkets and offices to join that exodus.
There isn’t a very clear statement in the material about where this leaves traditional activity centre policy. However, speaking to a regional paper, the Minister has given more idea of what his thinking on the issue is.
The Warragul Citizen‘s reporter William Kulich was considering what the impacts would be for Baw Baw Shire, and got comments from Matthew Guy that were far more frank about his view on activity centres, and planners, than I’ve seen in the Melbourne press:
The planning fraternity [has] very rigid and out-dated views about what forms a town and about what forms an activities area, that are really linked to the 1970s and 1980s… This romantic notion that the only area where a place of employment should be able to open is in a defined area or part of a town [is] just an out-dated point of view…. No Coles or Woolies is going to… make a million-dollar or multimillion-dollar investment where there are no people, but that’s what’s kind of being put forward.
Now, it’s not that I think the concept of activity centres should be sacred. But if it’s the Minister’s view that traditional activity centre planning is out-dated, and this is one rationale behind the zones, then that should be more clearly declared so that the Minister can tell us what he sees as the alternative. Is it his view that we should just embrace out-of-centre retailing, give up on concentrating activity near transport, and let the market operate unfettered? That’s a valid point of view – though not one I share – but he should at least say that more clearly.
It’s not a worldview, for example, that clearly emerges from the “strategic principles” released for the Metropolitan Strategy. I would have thought that a fundamental re-shaping of activity centre policy might be better off following from the Metropolitan Strategy process, rather than being rolled out beforehand without clear explanation.
Note: PIA are doing a survey on the new zones: you can complete it here.
Image by “BMcIvr,” used under Creative Commons Licence. Click it for details.