Posted 22/4/08


Macedon Ranges Residents' Association Inc.




Draft Residential Zones


18 April, 2008



Thank you for this opportunity to comment on the draft zones’ Discussion Paper.



MRRA Response


The zones, and the principles behind them, are a major disappointment.  Macedon Ranges Residents’ Association opposes the introduction of these zones. 



Removal of Third Party Rights, Absence of Accountability


We note that the Department of Planning and Community Development is listed as a new or recent member (March, 2008) of the Property Council of Australia, on the PCA’s website.  The relationship between the government and this set of stakeholders is not at arm’s length. 


We also note on the PCA website that the Property Council of Australia says, in its “Powerhouse” document (page 5), at Planning Reform: “The Government agreed to our calls to simplify planning process by establishing the Carbines review.”   These draft residential zones are a product of the Carbines’ review.  


Developers lobbied for the “flexibility” of the current planning system, which takes more time to process.  They are now pressuring the government to “simplify” further by removing even these processes, for their own advantage. 


The Victorian government has established an inappropriate relationship with the development industry, and in doing so, seems to have lost all sight of who it was elected to govern for:  ALL VICTORIANS.


The new zones are clearly predicated on and intended to deliver levels of growth and development that are unpalatable, and so the government – while acknowledging the Residential 2 zone, which also extinguishes residents’ rights, has not been taken up voluntarily – has decided to force growth and development on the entire Victorian community through these new zones. 


The zones, which support maximum profit principles rather than good planning principles, are designed to disenfranchise the general public of Victoria by removing legal and democratic rights to know about, to object to and to appeal against development applications in order to benefit the government’s preferred constituency: developers and the development industry. 


Ordinary Victorians will be left feeling powerless; in itself this will trigger significant adverse social impacts.


The measure for removing the public’s rights is compliance with ResCode.  Planning schemes are not prescriptive enough to know what the boundaries are, and almost any interpretation can be placed on whether applications comply with ResCode.  Will this be compliance with objectives, standards, defaults, or all or none of the above?  Does this mean applications don’t have to comply with the rest of the scheme?


Who makes the decision?  Openness, transparency and accountability are notably missing.  These zones have the potential to make planning in Victoria no better than planning in New South Wales, with Victoria even more vulnerable to wholesale corruption, given that not only doesn’t Victoria have an ICAC-type watchdog, the Victorian government refuses to consider one.  Does Victoria really want to vie for the position of corruption capital of Australia?



No Rural Context


The zones are blatantly Melbourne-centric.  The only reference to types of development these zones will cater for is redevelopment.  Yet they are to be applied across Victoria, where greenfields development still occurs.  There is nothing here for rural towns except a suburban if not citified future, because once again, those making decisions don’t think beyond Melbourne.  ResCode has already proven to be a disaster in rural areas, now it seems it is to be an uncontested disaster, aided by Melbourne-centric zones.



Are These Zones Really “Planning”?


The only zone with any appeal is the so-called Limited Change zone.  It alone has some hope of being able to address planning issues and deliver sound planning outcomes.  However, we suspect, based upon past experiences, the Department of Planning and Community Development will likely go out of its way to restrict this zone’s application.  It additionally carries the unacceptable feature of extinguishing third party rights and also proposes to encourage non-residential development near road zones, overturning years of effort by rural councils to prevent ‘strip development’ and commercialization of town entries. 


The other two zones don’t seem to be about planning at all – their only purpose is to deliver development. Any standard will do, approve whatever walks in the door.  The Substantial Change zone is blatant ‘open slather’ and most likely will result in a plethora of elitist high-rise, which have no hope of addressing affordability, diversity, and sustainability.   The Incremental Change zone refers to design guidelines, but which takes precedence, guidelines or ResCode?


It also sounds as if the only policy to be implemented is generic, over-arching State policy.  It is arrogant to assume local constraints and issues can be addressed by generic State policy. 


The height parameters are extraordinary, and unacceptable; they fail to recognise that everything isn’t going to work everywhere and so the zones are again an exercise in development rather than planning.  How many rural towns will have the Substantial Change zone (no buildings under 4 storeys) forced on them?  Even the 3 storeys in the Incremental Change zone has the potential to devastate rural and township cultural landscapes.  These heights don’t discriminate, and don’t allow discretion either.


In addition to rubbing out residents’ rights the zones also propose fast-tracking.  What constitutes a ‘straight forward’ application, and who will decide? 



Implementation Costs – Who Pays?


Who foots the bill for accommodating these State changes?  In some areas, significant additional work attaches to introducing these zones.  Who pays to get that work done, particularly in rural areas?  Or will it be another cost to Councils and ratepayers…





It is almost inconceivable that anyone who claims to support democracy or sound planning had a hand in coming up with these zones.  The government needs to decide whether it is a democratically elected body with a responsibility for representing everyone’s interests, or whether it is simply a lap-dog of developers.  Decisions made about how – or whether – these zones move forward will allow everyone in Victoria to see precisely where the government stands.  A major, major disappointment.