Amendment C120 proposes to introduce an open space levy of 5.7%. Whilst certainly a vast improvement over the previous contribution rate, the draft Amendment is NOT the universal panacea to the problem of acquiring more open space that council would like residents to think it is!

In introducing a schedule (ie the 5.7%) council CANNOT mandate the contribution of land instead of cash – hence the deliberate terminology of ‘may’ in the map presented below. Council also states that ‘land contributions for public open space will be preferred over cash contributions…..’. But here’s the rub. According to the map practically 90% of the municipality is earmarked for LAND contribution rather than cash. Problem is, that according to the Land Subdivision Act, the ‘value’ that council can extract in lieu of cash CAN ONLY BE TO THE MAXIMUM OF 5%. Does this therefore mean that developers will again be given a bonus from ratepayers – ie instead of paying 5.7% in cold, hard cash, they will now ‘negotiate’ with council officers and at the maximum, will only have to cede land that amounts to 5% of unimproved value?

Further, there is not one single sentence in either the proposed amendment, or in the consultant’s accompanying paper that is supposed to be the ‘rationale’ for this approach, as to WHY LAND IN ALL THESE AREAS IS PREFERABLE TO CASH. Further, council’s Strategic Resource Plan, for the next ten years only designates a paltry $2.2 million in open space levy contributions each year. Given the amount of development in the municipality, this is hardly a sum to write home about.

What makes things even worse, are the stated criteria upon which land will be accepted. We quote:

Should be of a size to meet its intended purpose or be able to meaningfully contribute to the assembly of a parcel of land. Minimum size parcels for each type of open space are as follows:

– Neighbourhood open space, minimum 1 ha.

– Local open space, minimum 0.26 ha (up to 0.99 ha).

Small Local open space, minimum 0.05 ha (up to 0.25 ha) with a minimum width of 20 m in at least one direction.

Small Local Link space, with a minimum width of 5 m.

Should be accessible or have the potential to be accessible.

We cannot see any large development willingly ceding 1 hectare or even 0.26 hectares from their very valuable land. What we fear will happen is that council will make its little sweet heart deals and what will be ‘negotiated’ are pocket handkerchiefs of land abutting developments – ie 0.05 hectares is literally a joke! That is basically one house block! Surely if the average unimproved land is conservatively valued at let’s say $500,000, then 5.7% is not a negligible sum to add to the coffers!

Stonnington has disavowed this approach precisely because it becomes a higgledy piggledy, ad hoc, non-strategic process. Here’s what their current amendment (that seeks 8% for residential and more for commercial) has to say –

Cash in lieu of land provision can be useful where the council seeks to pool contributions to provide a consolidated open space network – or improve an existing network – as opposed to obtaining a disjointed series of pocket parks. This is particularly important in established and densifying areas where strategic investments are required as opposed to sporadic land contributions.

To sum up, Council has not provided any evidence-

  • As to why land contributions in 90% of the municipality are preferable to cash in hand
  • As to why the prognostications of $2.2 million in open space levies will in fact be sufficient to even purchase one block of land per year given that part of this money will still be used for ‘development’ of the open space
  • As to why no area or individual site has been earmarked for a PPZ acquisition overlay (ie eventually turning such properties into parks and open space).
  • Nor has council provided any explanation as to why the following significant clauses that are part of the existing open space schedule have now been magically removed. Again we quote:

Encourage the protection and enhancement of significant vegetation on properties abutting areas of public open space.

Requiring the provision of open style fencing for new residential redevelopment that directly abuts public open space.

Requiring the retention of significant vegetation on properties that directly abut public open

In a muncipality that is crying out for open space, especially with ever increasing rampant development going on, and which the 1998 Open Strategy so clearly identified, asking developers to contribute tiny pockets of land all over the place is not a solution, nor is it ‘strategic planning’. Instead, it has the potential to hand another gilt edged ‘present’ to developers at the cost of the community!

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