In January 2013 Amendment C87 was gazetted. This amendment introduced some revised Neighbourhood Character Overlays into the planning scheme with the objective of ‘protecting’ certain streets and areas of the city. Council’s stated objectives in the recently completed planning scheme review is to implement more of these overlays.

But there is a major problem with council’s planning as illustrated in a  recent VCAT decision which calls into question whether council is totally incompetent, or simply so pro-development that nothing they do to foster more development should come as a surprise to residents. This latest VCAT decision involved an application to build a 2 storey building containing 4 townhouses. The site was in Murrumbeena and included in a Neighbourhood Character Overlay (NOC6), plus a Design and Development Overlay, plus a Special Building Overlay (ie flooding). Yet, council in its wisdom also ZONED THIS AREA UNDER GENERAL RESIDENTIAL ZONE 1.

This raises a multitude of important issues –

  • Why has council included areas that have NCO’S in the GRZ and RGZ zones?
  • Discussion on the introduction of the new zones was already happening in 2013 and probably well before. Didn’t council planners know what they were potentially undermining? Or didn’t they and councillors care?
  • What happens now to the several hundred properties that find themselves in the same boat as this Murrumbeena application?
  • Why can’t council write amendments that actually mean something, instead of the contradictory and useless waffle that they continually produce? And who ultimately is responsible for vetting their nonsense? Here is an example of two statements that come from this NCO6. We maintain that they contradict each other –.

To ensure that new dwellings or extensions to existing dwellings respect the dominant building height, form, façade articulation, materials and roof forms of the streetscape..

New buildings should interpret the detailed elements of older dwellings that contribute to the neighbourhood character significance of the area in an innovative and contemporary manner that complements, rather than replicates, period dwelling styles.

Thus we have an NCO that is seeking to protect existing neighbourhood characteristics on the one hand (ie ‘respect) and then there is the injunction NOT TO ‘replicate’ but merely ‘complement’ the area. No definition of course exists as to the meaning of these two terms. You could literally drive a truck through any of these statements, decision guidelines and objectives!

The VCAT decision went the developer’s way with the member making this important point –

The construction and application of the zones, overlay controls and policies to this locality creates a tension within the planning scheme with respect to the future built form character of the area. This is a locality identified as a diversity area in which the Council seeks to encourage redevelopment and increased residential densities. It is one of a confined number of diversity areas in this municipality in which redevelopment is directed and specifically encouraged. Simultaneously the Council has applied an NCO to this locality, the purpose of which encourages development to be in accordance with a preferred neighbourhood character that is largely based on the protection of existing neighbourhood character. Notwithstanding this site’s diversity area location the Council opposes the demolition of a modest and relatively non-descript (my description) dwelling because it is a dwelling originating from the interwar period. (Source:

As for the other ‘protections’ afforded this site, they are useless. The Design and Development Overlay only applies to fence heights (like another 2 from council’s ‘generous’ 5 DDOs) and hence was irrelevant. The member also makes the point that council’s opposition to demolition should not be based on a Neighbourhood Character Overlay, but on a Heritage Overlay! Melbourne Water had no objections to the Special Building Overlay requirements following amended plans.

What does all this ultimately mean? We believe that:

  • No property should be zoned GRZ or RGZ if it is also covered by a Neighbourhood Character Overlay. This of course means changing the zoning – a definite ‘no-no’ for this council since they are ‘perfect’ and got everything right the first time around
  • At least another 200 properties now find themselves in the same boat as this Murrumbeena site. What will council do to ensure that they are fully ‘protected’?
  • Until there is a complete and utter re-write of the planning scheme, and eschewing reliance on useless waffle, then no resident anywhere can expect that his neighbourhood or street  is ‘safe’.

In the public interest, we provide some screen dumps of the other areas that are covered by an NCO, but also zoned for increased density. Residents in these areas – BEWARE!nco2