Labor to review Coalition residential zones overhaul

Date:November 6, 2014 – 6:51AM

Planning Minister Matthew Guy’s revamp of Melbourne’s residential zones could be overturned if Labor wins this month’s state election, with the opposition promising a major review of the new rules.

Mr Guy warned the review would be the first step in Labor tearing up the new zones in a bid to “bring back Melbourne 2030“, the controversial planning doctrine rolled out by the Bracks governments from 2002.

Mr Guy has approved new planning zones for 22 of Melbourne’s 31 councils.

The new zones divide suburbs into streets deemed “no-go”, where nothing over two levels can be built, “slow-go” where up to three levels is permitted, and “go-go” areas where up to four levels is allowed.

Councils have put forward their plans for where high-density development should be banned – but those in the city’s leafiest suburbs have had greater success in convincing Mr Guy to sign off on their proposals.

Glen Eira Council covers suburbs including Elsternwick, Bentleigh, Caulfield and Ormond. It has had 80 per cent of its municipality placed in the “no-go” zone where only two-level development was allowed.

Darebin Council, by comparison, asked for 36 per cent of its suburbs to be placed in this “no-go” zone – but last week learned it had got only 10 per cent.

Labor will on Thursday pledge to review what it says is the “botched” process of rolling out the new zones across Victoria.

Labor’s planning spokesman Brian Tee said Darebin showed decisions on the new zones had been heavily politicised.

The new zones had, he said, “distorted growth and planning by forcing intensive high-rise development in some areas, while locking up leafy Liberal suburbs”.

He said Labor’s review of the planning zones would include an examination of the consultation process and the role of Mr Guy and his office in it, and how the new zones had looked at the housing needs of the state.

But Mr Guy said Labor’s “review” would see the zones already rolled out, which had protected suburbs like never before, thrown away.

“Labor wrecked our suburbs when last in government, and by ‘reviewing’ the Neighbourhood Residential Zone, they’ll do it all over again under Daniel Andrews,” he said.

Labor’s pledge to review the zones came as a Greens candidate for the inner Melbourne seat of Northcote said the new planning rules had treated suburbs in Melbourne’s less conservative suburbs differently to those in Liberal electorates.

Trent McCarthy, who is also a Darebin councillor, said Mr Guy had played a “cruel joke” on residents by rejecting the controls proposed by Darebin Council. It had left many neighbourhoods exposed to “over-development”, he said.

Planners though were circumspect about Labor’s pledge to review the zones.

A group of high-profile planners have opposed the new zones because they restrict development and force medium and high-density housing into smaller pockets of Melbourne.

One outspoken planner, Colleen Peterson from Ration Consulting, said there was “every chance Labor’s proposal will make it worse not better”.

“This isn’t the great salvation – it’s going to play more into the common public perception that residential development is a bad thing,” Ms Peterson said.

She said planning a city should be “just like collecting taxes and building roads – governments have to make decisions for the greater good. It’s not a popularity contest”.

Swinging voters could knock Denis Napthine out in Melbourne’s planning zones

November 6, 2014 – 7:06AM
Concerns: Danita Tucker in Jasper Road, McKinnon, where residents are dismayed by developers' plans to build three-storey apartment blocks. Concerns: Danita Tucker in Jasper Road, McKinnon, where residents are dismayed by developers’ plans to build three-storey apartment blocks. Photo: Penny Stephens

She doesn’t look scary, but there are few people the Napthine government should fear more than someone like Danita Tucker. “I’m a swinging voter,” says the mother of two who lives with her family in a quiet Bentleigh street.

It’s a marginal electorate, held by the Liberal Party by just 0.9 per cent, and one that helped deliver government to Ted Baillieu in 2010.

Bentleigh is among a clutch of seats that could help hand power back to Labor this month.

If the electorate does switch to Labor, the new government will have planning – the perennial debate in Melbourne’s suburbs – to thank for it.

Like the seats of Mordialloc, Carrum and Frankston, Bentleigh is one four marginals strung along the Frankston train line. The suburbs within these seats are not normally known for their political combat.

But, thanks to changes Planning Minister Matthew Guy started putting through last July – and still far from complete – there is an increased focus on urban development.

The new residential zones Guy has begun ushering in have been planned by consecutive governments over the past decade, and have now been introduced to 22 of Melbourne’s 31 council areas. The rollout has been messy, confusing, and has sparked anxiety for many residents.

But the three new zones were an attempt to drastically simplify the planning system and provide certainty – so residents know exactly what’s allowed in their street.

Glen Eira, the council covering Tucker’s area, was the first cab off the rank in Guy’s rezoning of residential areas into three zones: “no-go”, “slow-go” and “go-go”.

The “no-go” zones are called Neighbourhood Residential Zones. They restrict housing development in areas deemed urban preservation zones, and limit development to just two storeys.

Glen Eira had a remarkable 80 per cent of the council’s areas deemed worth preserving.

It compares with just 11 per cent on the other side of the city, in Darebin Council in the city’s north that covers areas including Northcote, Thornbury Preston and Reservoir.

The “slow-go” zones were applied to areas like Tucker’s, where “moderate housing growth” would be allowed, with buildings up to three levels.

In the seat of Bentleigh, the zoning has caused an outcry. Suddenly, residents in the streets surrounding the train line have found themselves pitted against developers wanting to build three-storey apartment blocks.

The new  rules theoretically changed little from existing land zoning. In reality, they removed any uncertainty about what a developer would get, either from the council or the state planning tribunal.

Newly formed resident groups say the changes are now having significant a impact. In a fortnight, Save Our Suburbs will hold a specially convened forum in Bentleigh on the zones.

Residents are concerned because, in the year since the new rules came into the area, several single-level, post-war cottages that have long defined the character of suburbs such as Bentleigh have been bought by developers.

They are to be replaced by townhouses and apartment blocks to house some of the 1.6 million extra dwellings the government’s Plan Melbourne strategy says will be needed by 2050.

“Developers weren’t really interested in this area until they saw there was a set height limit,” says Tucker, who is watching in amazement as her neighbours houses sell for medium-density housing. Every day flyers come through Tucker’s letterbox from real estate agents.

She says there is “an annoyance at our local member because she has not been looking after the needs of her local community”. The zones, Tucker says, were “just imposed upon us without any engagement”.

That local member, the Liberal Party’s Elizabeth Miller, supported the zones for Bentleigh.

She argues the changes have meant councils are now truly the planning authority for their area, deciding where development is appropriate.

“Glen Eira Council has identified 80 per cent of the municipality is now protected from development under the council’s own planning guidelines,” she says. “Under the former Labor government of 11 years, there were no clear guidelines to planning, which was done on an ad hoc basis.”

Labor’s candidate for the area is Nick Staikos. He says the zoning changes have turned Bentleigh “into a honey pot for developers”.

Staikos is doing a lot of door-knocking and jokes that the zones have had an upside for him in the development rush: “I’m finding there’s a developer or a real estate agent who’s been here just before me – residents are relieved I’m a politician.”

Glen Eira is among a lucky few councils – Bayside and Boroondara are the others – that were major beneficiaries of the zoning changes, with Guy locking up all but 20 per cent of each of the well-to-do councils’ suburbs from developers wanting to build anything above two levels.

While other councils like Darebin, Moonee Valley, Darebin and others were less fortunate, Guy boasted last week on ABC Radio he had introduced the toughest zoning laws in the country.

“Around 80 per cent plus [is] in the most restrictive zone in Australian residential zoning history, the government’s new neighbourhood residential zone.”

Guy wasn’t so keen to talk about the small pockets in places such as Bentleigh, Moorabbin, Highett and Cheltenham now facing what is known as the “go-go” zoning – the Residential Growth Zone.

These are areas where residential streets near train lines and busy shopping strips have been, or are to be, rezoned to allow developments of at least four storeys. There aren’t many in the marginal Bentleigh electorate affected by this.

But across the rail line from Bentleigh is the far safer seat of Sandringham, held by Murray Thompson – son of a former premier Lindsay – by a margin of 15.6 per cent.

It is in the council area of Bayside. There, while the richest suburbs like Brighton and Sandringham have largely received the highest level of protection from “over-development” available in Australia, the less wealthy have been put into this pro-development category.

A drive around the streets affected by these proposed new zones in Cheltenham, Moorabbin, Highett and near the long-promised new Southland railway station shows why many residents are anxious.

Typical is Highett’s Major Street, a quiet dead-end so narrow the rubbish truck can’t turn around and has to reverse out each week. It has a few new two-storey townhouses, but most of its 20 houses are single level.

On one side of the street – the side to be rezoned for up to four-level development – every house bar one has a sign Melbourne has seen before: “We Will Oppose Inappropriate Development.”

Gary McCulloch bought in Major Street two years ago “because it was a very quiet, family-oriented street that was organically regenerating”, and now fears he will soon have an apartment tower looming over him.

McCulloch doesn’t know who to blame for the zoning that could soon be finalised on his street: Bayside Council or the minister. They blame each other.

But he’s sure of one thing: “None of this is based on sound planning principles, and it is a result of political interference from the state government – there are no votes for them here or in Cheltenham. They wouldn’t dare upset their blue-blood constituents in Brighton.”

Bayside mayor Laurie Evans says the council was forced to choose the high-growth zones after Guy’s chief of staff demanded the council select areas along the Frankston railway line.

Guy argues the zones have provided people with certainty, protecting large areas of Melbourne from inappropriate high-rise development.

He says Labor had never accepted responsibility for some of the problems created by the “anything-goes Melbourne 2030 policy”. He argues its push to consolidate Melbourne into its existing boundaries fuelled inappropriate overdevelopment.

Labor, for its part, on Thursday revealed that if it was elected it would complete a major review of the zoning changes.

“Communities right across Victoria are complaining that they were not consulted,” Opposition planning spokesman Brian Tee says.

“Outcomes have been forced on them with many residents believing the changes to what can be built in certain areas is political – some suburbs have been protected and development has been pushed elsewhere.”

Perhaps most surprisingly in the debate around the zones in the bayside areas is that, while residents are unhappy, developers are equally dissatisfied. A group of them, represented by high-profile planning barrister Nick Tweedie, SC, last month told a planning department committee considering the new high-growth zones that they would have preferred them to be in more affluent bayside areas.

James Larmour-Reid is president of Victoria’s Planning Institute, which backs the new residential zones as a means of managing growth and change across Melbourne. Larmour-Reid says the new zones, after a decade of debate, have provided a method of implementing “go-go”, “slow-go” and “no-go” areas in council housing strategies.

But he says that missing from the plan to push forward with the residential zones was “an overarching metropolitan housing strategy”. It was also unfortunate that the government’s Plan Melbourne strategy had been released only after the new residential zones had started to be rolled out.

Larmour-Reid says it is  “too early to make a call on whether or how the new zones are shaping development proposals in particular locations” because the housing market is constantly evolving.

Questioned over suburbs such as Bentleigh seeing a surge of applications for medium-density development, he says these sorts of projects were always possible under the old zones.

And, he says, medium-density development might just be something Melbourne has to start getting used to.

“Apartments are now being constructed at greater distances from the CBD in places like Mitcham, Glen Waverley and Preston.”

PS – and the Labor Party Media Release –


 An Andrews Labor Government will review the botched planning zones imposed on councils and allow communities to have their say.

The Napthine Government has distorted growth and planning by forcing intensive high-rise development in some areas, while locking up leafy Liberal suburbs. Under Labor’s plan, new planning zones will be reviewed with a full report tabled in Parliament. The review will examine:

• The Napthine Government’s consultation process •
  • The role of Planning Minister Matthew Guy and his office in that process
  • • Departmental advice on zone application and what weight is given to heritage, local character and the housing needs of the state
  • • The impact of the zone changes on our suburbs
  • • Alternative ways to meet our housing needs
  • • How the zones can better fit within the framework outlined in Plan Melbourne Quotes attributable to Mr Tee “The Liberals can’t say they support growth and development in Melbourne if they target suburbs based on their politics.” “Under the Liberals, local councils are getting trampled over, the community doesn’t have a say and some of our oldest and most vibrant neighbourhoods are facing the wrecking ball.” “Labor will take the politics out of planning. We’ll meet the housing needs of our future but we’ll take communities and councils with us.”
  • Key Facts
  • • Plan Melbourne, the Napthine Government’s vision for Melbourne to 2050, outlined the need for 1.6 million houses to keep pace with population growth.
  • • The Napthine Government’s new zones were released before Plan Melbourne was released.

18 Responses to “Out With The Zones?”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    This is interesting. Labour were the instigators of these policies (sacrifice 20% for the good of the 80%). But certainly a review, if they come to office, willl see the might of community backlash as the previously unaware reesidents express their horror at what is happening to their

    Pity the reporters can’t get it right and think that Glen Eira has ‘protected’ 80%in stead of looking at the trashing of the 20% and what this means for resiidents in Go-Go saones. It sure is G0-Go near me!!

  2. anon Says:

    The NIMBY sleepwalkers are slowly awakening, now watch them stuff it up by running to Labor, who as usual, will hand them on a platter to their developer mates. Just watch them fall into the trap. NIMBY’s are the problem, their knee-jerk self centred thinking will only makes the problems worse.

    1. Peter Jenkins Says:

      Nimby residents are not the problem. I don’t see Labor as being the saviour in any of this. They are just as bad as the Libs. Both parties haven’t got a clue about planning and neither has council. If you are going to have greater density then you need to plan for transport open space and a million other things. Council could and should have done a lot more and they haven’t. They hopped on the bandwagon and said whoopee more units more rates so we can build more useless pavilions that take away open space and we can hire more useless pen pushers to make Newton look good and while we’re at it we will give the Mrc all that they want and get buckleys back in return. Council and councillors have a lot to answer for.

    2. Anonymous Says:

      Jeez I’m getting tired of the NIMBY term – grossly over used and abused.

      Personally I feel that everyone has the right to comment on imposed policies (State and Council) which directly impact where they live and fail to provide the facilities and services required to support both current and future residents. Merely directing construction to specific areas does not result in improved public transport or wider roads or provide parkland, schools or jobs (other than for construction workers). Combined with poorly designed dwellings, lacking natural light and ventilation, it does little to encourage a happy, healthy, safe and environmentally sustainable community.

      Neither of the major political parties has any solution
      – Guy’s zonings and his putting politics on the planning agenda has only succeeded in doing the unimaginable ie. making Madden look good.
      – As for Labor, planning is a major election issue (and has been for years) and within the election weeks away only now are they coming out saying they will change what has been implemented. Where are the details of their proposed alternative which they have had plenty of time to prepare

      Yes, people are waking up and they are not liking the results of their apathy. It’s a darn good thing too.

      1. just another anon Says:

        I think everyone’s missing the point, most Glen Eira residents are NIMBYers who do not give a rats about anything, until they thinks its going to dent their personal wealth. Then the push-back is one of personal indignation, that this couldn’t be happening to me, rather than any greater sense of a wider community wellbeing.

        How on earth do you think the handful of politicians and bureaucrats rule this 3rd rate land, they use the the old but true method of “divide and rule” This is Newts method.

        You can keep on championing for these suburban sleepwalkers, but I bet most own shares in mining and development companies, banks etc. that are doing or going to do to others, what they rally against here.

        That’s why most people take the money and run, its easy, the rest are to dumb or lazy, or mostly incapable of thinking in any altruistic way, in effect they are moral cowards, without much or any sense of belonging or community, autism is the new world order.

        Silence is consent in bureaucratic speak, and a few squeaky voices here and there, ain’t no revolution.

        Don’t get me wrong I think you bloggers are the best of the best, thinking people, but take a look at your community its gone, wether you think it’s beyond or worthy of rescue, is another debate altogether

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Electioneering is in full swing. Glen Eira residents can thank the Liberals in council if the growth zones grow. Poetic justice would be if all these councillors soon found themselves living next to 4 storeys.

    1. anon Says:

      With 2 Greens and 3 Labor it is drawing a long bow to blame the Liberals on Council for the current planning situation.
      The so called “go-go zones were inked on the map in 1999. They were written into law by the Labor Government in 2001 called the C25 Planning Urban Villages.
      Nothing a Labor Government can do. Any fool that thinks a ‘review” will help is dreaming.
      The smart ones have seen the map and sold out for very good money. Some bought in 2000/01 knowing they would clean up and they are doing that now. C’est la vie.

      1. D.Evans Says:

        I disagree with you entirely. People don’t buy in order to “clean up” in ten years time. Developers might, but not everyday residents. Most people if they bought ten years ago wouldn’t even have known what zone they were in and I’m guessing that today the majority don’t know what zone they are in. People buy because they like the look of the street, whether it is close to schools and other facilities and where their friends live, as well as price. If Glen Eira’s planning is based on research that is now 15 years old then this in itself is an indictment on how little council did when it decided to bring in the zones without consultation. I cannot see any excuse for them making street after street that is heritage zoned, or has beautiful californian bungalows all in a row being given the go ahead to have four storeys erected in these streets. This is poor planning to say the least and scurrilous decision making that has no understanding of what neighbourhood character means. People buy their homes because of neighbourhood character. Where the new zones might have gone has got nothing to do with state labor or liberal. It was council’s decision and they got it incredibly wrong. There should be an investigation but this investigation must ensure that planning is more than filling in the dots on a prearranged map. I don’t believe any of the parties are capable of this – not when state revenue is beholden to developers and their friends in high places.

        1. anon Says:

          You must be living in a pretend world. For a Council to amend their planning scheme it must be approved by both houses State Parliament, It takes along time and lots of work. Anyone that buys land with a house on it and does not know what the Council has in mind is a fool. The Section 32 that the vendor is obliged to produce would denote the land use that is in the planning scheme, It is unrealistic to think that someone is going to live in a Californian bungalow within walking distance to the station and the shopping centre. You are wrong when you say that the zones are not in control of Labor or Liberal. All planning schemes have to be approved by the State Parliament. Councils are servant to the State Parliament. The Councils may design the plan but they have to have it approved. The State members have the power to amend any motion in either House. Bentleigh is becoming the Urban Village that was envisaged 15 years ago. Ask Reprobate he would know how it all works.
          The Urban Villages were voted unanimously by both houses. A change of Government will make no difference. 80 % of Glen Eira is “no-go”. That means most of the neighbourhood character will be maintained.

          1. gleneira Says:

            We beg to differ with your interpretation of how an amendment comes into being. It DOES NOT REQUIRE PARLIAMENTARY APPROVAL. All that is needed is for the Minister to sign off on the proposed amendment.

            1. anon Says:

              Where were you in 2001 when people were complaining about the Urban Village plan? That went through the Labor Parliament.

          2. Anonymous Says:

            I really do not understand your comment that it is ” It is unrealistic to think that someone is going to live in a Californian bungalow within walking distance to the station and the shopping centre.” Please take a walk down Bent St Bentleigh and have a look at the houses that went into the 3 lot combined sale and then tell me that people don’t live in California bungalows near train stations. You should also visit many other streets around train stations and see what the neighbourhood character is like in some of these – beautiful homes and streets being totally destroyed by the new zoning.

            This also reminds me that a post that went up a day or so ago had the Bent Street sale now having an application in for four storeys and 55 units. That is what is happening to all these “unrealistic” people who bought their California bungalows decades ago and thought they would live nice peaceful lives. They did not count on a rapacious and inept council and a group of incompetent and ignorant councillors.

            1. anon Says:

              You are starting to get an idea what an Urban Village looks like. It pays to keep an eye on the Town Hall. In fact it can pay quite a lot. Plenty of Bentleigh people have met their aspirations and jumped over the highway to Breeton.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    At the 14/10/2014 Council Meeting when Council (ie. CEO Newton, he not Councillors determine the agenda) successfully placed all contentious planning applications in the one meeting, Jamie Hyams made two comments
    1) related to the good job Glen Eira did with it’s zone implementation and
    2) that opposition to the GE’s implementation were due to political motivations of a handful of people.

    Pretty amazing that he made these comments to a packed, standing room only galley of disenchanted and disenfranchised residents objecting to the various developments. In the light of the above articles (and those previously published in the various media), it’ll be interesting to see if he persists with such comments.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Interesting that Hocking Stuart Bentleigh are sponsoring Elizabeth Miller garden boards.

    1. Anonymous Says:

      It’s just an interesting to see Southwick is wearing lipstick on his election boards.

      1. anon Says:

        At least both Southwick and Miller had real jobs before the were elected. The ALP Bentleigh candidate has been living in a political bubble.

  6. Reprobate Says:

    There are many many problems with what is euphemistically called “Victoria Planning Provisions”, but there are systemic problems too, including the Planning and Environment Act, VCAT Act, LGA, and the myriad reference documents. A “Review” tends to be done by somebody who can be trusted to deliver the outcomes the government of the day wants. In this particular case there would be a political imperative to find justification to unwind the residential zones, which would be to ignore much of what isn’t working.

    The whole planning policy mess lacks cohesion. Governments can’t simply impose their will on the public and expect meek compliance, especially when they don’t believe in their own policies.

    I don’t believe any political party that starts out with the fundamental goal that we should grow indefinitely. That is NOT sustainable. If they were honest they would admit growth comes at a cost, including loss of amenity. As we repeatedly discover, Government will not fund, and claim they cannot afford, the investment needed to maintain or improve amenity. Public transport has been starved in order to meet the demands of the road lobby, especially the trucking industry. Governments in Victoria have for 60 years steadily deinvested from rail.

    Governments have chosen places for higher density development that lack public open space to compensate for minimal private open space. What little private open space Planning Schemes specify has been undermined by decision-makers [councils, VCAT]. 8sqm is “too much” according to one VCAT member. Effectively there are no standards, and they can’t even be called guidelines because no guidance is provided to decision-makers. They are free to do what they like.

    There is a fundamental dichotomy between council and VCAT. When councils make decisions, they’re supposed to have “regard to the long term and cumulative effects of decisions”. That doesn’t apply to VCAT in planning matters. Not that either can truly be said to plan ahead. It’s all very ad-hoc based on immediate political considerations. Waiving parking requirements for example. It is NOT a simple matter of saying street parking is available. It is a matter of assessing the cumulative impact of the immediate decision if similar decisions were made for all other properties in the area. This covers not just on-street parking demand, but solar access and overshadowing from tall buildings, traffic generation, infrastructure requirements and much much more. Grant a permit for a 12-storey tower and the effect is to say that 12-storeys is the preferred character and that the area can cope without additional infrastructure investment if every property becomes a 12-storey tower.

    This isn’t a Labor vs Liberal argument. There isn’t much difference between them in terms of policy—just bickering at the margins. We know they crave power for power’s sake. What would astound me is if ever they could articulate clear philosophies that guide their use of power.

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