If anyone needs further proof of what an unmitigated disaster planning is in Victoria the events of the past week prove this in spades. Wynne has certainly outdone himself this time in gazetting Amendment C143 on the 15th May, without any consultation, without any forewarning, and handing more and more advantage to developers and complicit councils which we label Glen Eira as.

Amendment C143 has basically diluted the much vaunted ‘garden requirement’ – especially for areas zoned as General Residential (GRZ). When this amendment was introduced in March 2017, garden areas were mandatory and proclaimed that dwellings in both NRZ and GRZ had to set aside, 25%, 30% and 35% of the site depending on their respective size. Each garden area was supposed to be at ground level, not to include any ‘covered’ areas, and there was no scope for councils to ignore this. On the 15th May all this changed. What we have now is depicted in the following image taken from the amendment

Please note the following:

  • Councils now have the option to include in their schedules an ‘exclusion’. That means that if they so desire then the garden requirement need not apply to any proposed development. Further, if the site is designated as ‘medium density’ then it may also be excluded. We note that according to council’s draft structure plans and the Urban Design guidelines Garden townhouses and Urban townhouses are defined as ‘medium density’ and given the ridiculous label of 2 to 3 storeys. That can only mean that all these areas will be rezoned to GRZ and hence may be excluded from the requirement to provide any ‘garden area’.
  • Land under the eaves is now to be included in any garden area calculation.
  • Garden areas now do not need to be at ground level – they can be calculated via balcony size and whatever is under a balcony that projects out from the building is also included in the garden area calculation.
  • Sheds of up to 10 square metres can now also be included in the required calculation. If the site happens to be 420 square metres, then 25% should be ‘garden area’. That means 105 square metres. Thus if a shed is built, it can occupy 10% of the previously designated garden area.
  • Pergolas are now also acceptable – even if they have louvred shutters that at various time could form an ‘enclosed’ area. And who will supervise that these louvres remain open all the time?
  • The most interesting aspect is again the possibility that everything included in an approved structure plan can also be excluded from having a mandatory garden area. In Glen Eira where we estimate 90% of the municipality will become ‘activity centres’ according to council’s published ‘study area’ borders, that could mean that only a small proportion of land will be required to meet the garden area clause.

Making matters worse is that VCAT has finally started hearing cases post the introduction of Amendment C110. In two recent decisions, labeled as ‘red dot’, one respective member had this to say:

The Tribunal’s finding regarding the MGAR (minimum garden area requirement) is that the areas underneath the eaves and extended roofline of the proposal are excluded from the calculation of the ‘garden area’ because they are not ‘uncovered outdoor areas’; and because they are ‘roofed areas’ within the ordinary meaning of those terms.  (Source: http://www8.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/cases/vic/VCAT/2018/646.html)

Both decisions came to the same conclusion on MGAR. But not a week later, Wynne gazetted his Amendment C143 which contradicted these decisions! Where does that leave us? What are the legal ramifications? How much further will Wynne go to accommodate developers and reduce residential amenity for communities? And the $64 question?– which way will council jump? Will they introduce some nifty clause into their amendments which remove the need for garden areas in the GRZ? Will they continue to plough on in their unjustified endeavours to expand activity centres and facilitate more and more development – in the face of huge community opposition? How many more attempts to bypass the community via applying under section 20(4) of the Planning & Environment Act will we have to endure? When will this group of 9 councillors have the guts to stand up and say ‘enough is enough’?