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This post was originally written for the August 2013 issue of Planning News and hence was a bit constrained for length. My full submission, with quite a bit more detail, is here.
The new VicSmart provisions, announced during July and currently open for comment, are the culmination of a long push towards implementing two closely related reforms: code assessment and a fast-track permit process. These ideas have been central to the planning reform agenda of DTPLI and its predecessors for some time. August marks seven years since code assessment was put on the reform agenda by the Cutting Red Tape in Planning report, and ten since Better Decision Faster floated a “short permit process.”
Throughout that time the measures have been sold in terms that make them hard to argue with. Certainty! Speed! Efficiency! Yet in the absence of the specifics it has been unclear how the Department would resolve the challenges to realising such a best of all-possible-worlds outcome.
Now, with the release of draft provisions, we have our answers. VicSmart is code assessment… only without any codes. And Councils are expected to drive this engineless car very fast indeed.
The Australian Ugliness (Robin Boyd, Text, 1960/2010)
In 1960 Robin Boyd’s The Australian Ugliness became the classic treatise on the malaise of this country’s architecture and planning, offering a withering critique of all that Boyd found wanting in the Australian built form of the late 1950s. The book has now been re-issued in a handsome fiftieth-anniversary edition, with Boyd’s text bracketed between an introduction by Christos Tsiolkas and an afterword by John Denton, Phillip Goad and Geoffrey London, and its reappearance provides an interesting prompt for reflection. In the subsequent half century our cities have expanded astronomically, and no doubt there is plenty of ugliness out there in the built environment. But what kind of ugliness? Have we moved on from those trends that so bothered Boyd? And if so, have we just found newer, more effective ways to blight our landscape?
Back when I was writing for Planning News, I wrote an editorial about Justin Madden’s handling of the Windsor Hotel debacle. My point then was that politicians are not well served by the over-manipulation of their communication, which ends up alienating the public and cutting politicians off from legitimate sources of feedback. It has therefore been great to see that the new Victorian Planning Minister Matthew Guy has kept up with his twitter account and is obviously writing the posts himself rather than letting a media person do it. So rather than the usual drip feed of press releases, Guy’s account is full of obviously self-generated content that a media adviser would have probably tried to talk him out of, such as salutes to Joh Bjelke-Petersen and amusingly childish baiting of Labor politicians. To his credit, too, he has been responding directly to various tweets sent to or about him. (Update – 19/1/2011: He has now protected his tweets. I can’t see them now so I have no idea whether he’s deleted them or not).
Neil Mitchell: I would take Bob Brown and put him in cage with the looters and scam artists and put him in a river .. he’s a dill
While a re-tweet isn’t necessarily an endorsement, there is no suggestion by Guy that he is posting it as, for example, an example of an unhelpful contribution to the debate. Where do we start with this?
I was googling myself the other day – I know, I know – and stumbled across this page squirreled away on the Age website, where Jason Hill had blogged about my Planning News article on SimCity (which is reproduced in full here).
What made my day was this comment underneath by “RealityCheck:”
Stephen Rowley is quite obviously a drooling, mouth-breathing moron.
“OMGZ, no MS Flight Simulatorz, who willz flies all de planes!?” … retard.
On a sidenote, this article does explain the absolutely horrendous state of australia’s capital cities.
Love ya work Rowley.
Today saw the delivery of the last issue of Planning News for which I was co-editor, and my last post to the magazine’s facebook page. So I guess we really are done. I hope you can excuse a few self-indulgent thoughts.
It has been a privilege to work on the magazine. No other Australian state has a monthly planning magazine; Victoria is very lucky to have one, particularly since it also sustains the three-times a year VPELA newsletter as well. It is a tribute to the establishing editors of the magazine that they had not only the vision to see how important monthly publication was, but also the persistence to ensure that it happened. All the subsequent editors owe them a lot, as they proved the monthly turnaround could be done and established Planning News as the key channel for debate in the Victorian planning industry.
I didn’t expect to be surprised by Seaside. It was one of those places I’d read a great deal about: as ground zero for the New Urbanist movement, the Florida town’s merits have been hotly debated for nearly thirty years. It’s also one of the most visually familiar planned towns of the twentieth century, as a result both of widespread photographic coverage and its front-and-centre role in the film The Truman Show. From that remote reconnoitring I figured that I already knew its good points and bad points: it would be beautiful, quaint and impeccably planned; but at the same time artificial, overly controlled, and perhaps a little creepy. I was surprised, then, at just how profoundly impressed I was by it.
I think my preconceptions about Seaside reflect a certain blasé attitude towards New Urbanism in the planning profession as a whole. Perhaps planners (and architects, and developers) feel that they have cherry-picked the best ideas from New Urbanism and don’t need to give the movement much more thought: yep, got it, walkable communities, mix of uses, classic design principles… got it, got it, got it. The whiff of unfashionable idealism and nostalgia associated with the movement doesn’t help, and nor does the fact that so many New Urbanist developments – including Seaside – have been occupied almost entirely by the wealthy and white. Seaside’s use in The Truman Show gives it a particularly strong association with these critiques, since the film’s story of a false paradise in a totally artificial environment was the ultimate pop-cultural expression of the anti-New Urbanist position. Yet to see Seaside is to realise the danger of judging New Urbanism only from afar or from its watered-down imitations.
In his recorded video presentation to this year’s State Planning Conference at the start of September, the Planning Minister announced that the review of the Planning & Environment Act would be referred to a working group of industry representatives to resolve the outstanding issues “before the end of the year.”1 The Act Review was last sighted in draft Bill form in December 2009, but the outstanding issues, apparently, are the proposed proponent-initiated amendments, the proposed fast track / code-assess permit process, and the assessment process for State significant development. The resolution of these issues, the Minister claimed, would allow other reforms to start to flow.
The significance of this latter point was perhaps easily lost in the context of an announcement ostensibly about the Act Review. Yet in the Minister’s interview with Planning News published in this issue, it is clearer exactly how widespread a policy logjam is occurring here. Asked about the various outstanding VPP reviews – of the Residential Zones, heritage overlays, car parking controls, advertising signs, and so on – the Minister has reiterated that these are waiting on the Act Review. What’s more, he suggests that the working group for that review may even play a part in forging some consensus as to the best a way ahead on these VPP initiatives. Everything, therefore, is now waiting on the Act.
The final report of the Bushfire Royal Commission, released at the end of July, is a challenging document for the planning profession. As intense as debate might sometime set within the profession, we normally have the luxury that our work is free of truly life or death consequences. The tragic events of February 2009 changed that, and chapter 6 of the Commission’s report, which discusses planning and building responses, is disquieting reading. It is unsettling to find so few easy answers in a situation where so much is at stake.
Amendment Process Streamlined through Wikis
The government has responded to criticism of prolonged planning scheme amendment processes by shifting management of the VPPs and planning schemes to a new website, Wikischemia.
The new system builds on the proposal under Modernising Victoria’s Planning Act to allow amendment proponents to undertake steps in the amendment process. The new process will follow this initiative to its logical conclusion by placing the VPPs and all planning schemes on an online wiki, where users can edit content at will.
“This is an exciting leap into the 21st Century,” said Planning Minister Justin Madden. “It makes the planning system more democratic, responsive, and flexible. If there are new policy challenges, schemes can be updated in minutes. Mistakes and problematic provisions won’t sit in schemes for years without being fixed. Best of all, our tests show a substantial improvement in amendment processing timeframes, with the average length of the amendment process slashed from 20 months to 0.1 seconds, assuming you have broadband.”
Originally published as an editorial under a joint by-line with Tim Westcott and Gilda Di Vincenzo in Planning News 36, No. 5 (June 2010).
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal is currently engaged in a process of introspection. The outgoing President, Justice Kevin Bell, released his review (titled One VCAT) back in February, and in May the incoming President, Justice Iain Ross, has released his own discussion paper, Transforming VCAT. The release of two documents covering such similar material so close together is at first a little disorienting, particularly for a planning profession accustomed to a more glacial approach to review and reform. Yet it was inevitable that the change of President would result in some reframing of the previous President’s findings: the new President is to be congratulated on moving forward so quickly rather than allowing the process to bog down. The term “discussion paper” might imply that the process has returned to square one, but a comparison of Transforming VCAT with the initial March 2009 “consultation paper” The Role of VCAT in a Changing World makes it clear that the slate hasn’t been wiped clean. While Transforming VCAT is also framed as a call for submissions, it builds upon the earlier work and includes responses to various of the Bell review’s recommendations.