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RCI Planning is my consultancy providing expert advice, VCAT advocacy and statutory planning services in the Victorian planning system.
Tag Archives: residential zones
This year we have seen two key planning reforms rolled out, with the new residential zones and VicSmart both reaching the climactic phase of extended gestations. I have previously argued – here and here – that both have been problematic, but those concerns are secondary to my purpose here. What’s more important is that the ideas of code assessment and “three-speed” zones have dominated discussion about planning reform in Victoria for most of the last decade. Across multiple reviews variations on these ideas have bobbed up repeatedly as the solution to our problems.
Now both are done (even if code assessment morphed into something different in VicSmart.) And whatever you think of these reforms, either as conceived or as in fact implemented, we now have an opportunity to outline some new directions.
This article was written for (and as far as I know will be appearing in) the May 2014 Planning News. As it says, it is a response Liz Johnstone’s article “Stop Panning Planning” in the April 2014 issue.
Readers of Planning News will have read Liz Johnstone’s Executive Officer Report in last month’s magazine, endorsed by Brett Davis’ President’s column, which suggested that scaremongering was occurring by opponents of the new residential zones, and that the potential negative impacts of the rollout were greatly exaggerated.
There is no doubt that there is inaccurate reporting going on: the complexity of planning challenges the media’s ability to carry a coherent debate. I also agree with Liz that many of those who are suddenly vocal are, as she put it, the “beneficiaries of ambiguity.” (My own personal version of this frustration is that many of those most agitated about the new zones were silent throughout the assault on activity centre policy though amendment VC88 and the new commercial and industrial zones – I wish they would find a voice on that even more egregious example of #badplanning). It is also true that the areas in which problems occur may be outweighed, in sheer numbers, by areas in which we see a largely neutral rollover to the General Residential Zone.
Nevertheless, I am troubled on a number of fronts with the process surrounding the implementation of the new zones. I believe that there are many planners expressing legitimate concerns, and that these don’t amount to hysterical “Henny Penny” style alarmism. I am concerned that Liz and Brett’s pieces may have created the impression that PIA does not hear or speak for these views.
Certainly there are a range of views on the committee, of which my own is just one. However I think it is important that the industry understand that this perspective is represented on the PIA committee, and that in fact PIA’s submissions to various reviews (such as our comments on Plan Melbourne) have already outlined much of this perspective.
I therefore thought it was important to outline the contrary case for why, scaremongering aside, I believe a reasonable planner should in fact be concerned about the residential zones rollout.
The changes currently proposed to the zones are extensive, covering all major categories of zone (residential, business / commercial, industrial, and rural) and involving multiple significant changes to each zone. The proposed reforms mix together changes that were contemplated under the previous government and the subject of considerable work (the “three-speed” residential zones) with others that have appeared with little foreshadowing (most of the others). Very little information or strategic justification has been provided with this package.
I am a keen proponent of planning system reform and in previous submissions to reviews and writing on system reform have prided myself on providing constructive criticism. Unfortunately the paucity of information makes it difficult to be positive or constructive about this review as the information provided gives a striking sense that these reforms have been rushed and poorly thought through. They also appear to involve policy shifts – notably a weakening of activity centre policy – that are inappropriate ahead of the completion of the Metropolitan Strategy.
The consultation for the review of the new residential zones, announced back in July, is about half over. A great deal of mockery has been directed at the supporting information provided for us to consider: a ten page discussion paper and four double-sided fact sheets, available on the DPCD webpage. But what kind of strategic work underpinned previous reviews? Well, there are a few obvious comparisons.
Freedom from Information: My FOI Submission to get Release of the Residential Zones Advisory Committee Report
Sir Humphrey: How are things at the Campaign for the Freedom of Information, by the way?
Sir Arnold: Sorry, I can’t talk about that.
– Yes Minister, “Party Games”
Victorian planners will have seen the announcements about new zones this week. This is a big planning story and one I hope to write more about once the detail is available. But it also marked the conclusion of my own curious adventure through Victoria’s Freedom of Information procedures.
Through 2011 I had been thinking a bit about residential zones, and contemplating writing something for Planning News about how zones could better facilitate the rolling out of local housing solutions. My thinking had been that the focus on fast, medium and slow-growth zones, evident in the earlier discussion papers, was misplaced. For me the focus needed to be not so much about setting different “temperatures” of redevelopment, with all the political challenges that can involve, but instead being more specific about the forms preferred development should take.
As I thought about how such controls could work, I became increasingly frustrated that the Advisory Committee report on residential zones, finished in 2009, was not publicly available. This was, after all, the biggest single piece of work on the subject, and DPCD and the Minister had sitting on it for more than two years. I asked DPCD for it, but got the expected answer: they weren’t releasing it until the government’s response was ready.
This is an attitude to the release of information that has been getting more prevalent and which drives me crazy. It wouldn’t hurt anybody for such a report to be in the public realm while a response is being considered, as has occurred for numerous reviews in the past. So I lodged a Freedom of Information request seeking the Advisory Committee’s report.