GE Open Space

Melbourne’s green spaces are being lost in rush to build more housing

By Adam Carey

July 28, 2019 — 11.55pm

Melbourne has lost almost 2000 hectares of tree cover in the past five years as suburban backyards are cleared for new housing.

The amount of urban forest that was removed between 2014 and 2018 is roughly equal in size to Reservoir, Melbourne’s largest suburb by area.

The eastern suburbs, long celebrated for their leafiness, experienced the greatest loss of greenery in that time, accounting for more than two-thirds of Melbourne’s total tree canopy loss, researchers at RMIT University found.

By contrast, the western suburbs have enjoyed a small recent recovery in green growth, although this has been from a much lower base and has mostly occurred on public land.

Residential land provides the largest area of vegetation cover in Melbourne, followed by parkland and public spaces such as streets.

The researchers found Melbourne’s total tree and shrub cover shrunk from 50,964 hectares in 2014 to 46,393 hectares in 2018, an overall decrease in greenery of about two percentage points.

Their report concluded that urban redevelopment and homeowners’ decisions to clear or reduce the amount of greenery in their yards were playing a significant part in reducing Melbourne’s urban tree cover.

Lead author Associate Professor Joe Hurley, of RMIT’s Centre for Urban Research, said the findings were troubling for a number of reasons.

“Trees and vegetation in cities provide a lot of benefits to human health and wellbeing, as well as ecological and biodiversity benefits,” Professor Hurley said.

Trees were also critical to cooling the climate in built-up spaces, he said.

“The big one is heat amelioration, particularly for drier cities like Melbourne and Perth, where we get very hot conditions and it’s only increasing under climate change.”

The report found the amount of tree and shrub cover on residential land in greater Melbourne had declined 1.6 percentage points since 2014, had fallen by 4.6 percentage points in parkland and had increased 0.3 percentage points along street networks.

It said the significant loss of tree cover in Melbourne’s parks required further investigation, but could be caused by some species’ failure to adapt to a hotter and drier climate.

Tree loss was greatest in parts of Melbourne that are renowned for their greenery.

For example, Yarra Ranges Shire on Melbourne’s eastern fringe has experienced tree-cover loss of almost 5 per centage points since 2014, eastern suburban Maroondah has shed more than 3 percentage points of its canopy cover and Mornington Peninsula has lost 3 percentage points.

Outer suburban municipalities of Melton, Whittlesea and Wyndham had bucked the trend and boosted their canopy cover by between 1 and 2 percentage points in that time, mostly in public spaces.

Inner-city councils have similarly experienced modest growth in tree cover.

Professor Hurley said this could reflect a focus by councils in those areas on tree planting.

Some residents have also engaged in volunteer tree and shrub planting on public land to green their neighbourhoods.

Tamar Hopkins is part of the Upfield Urban Forest, a loose collection of volunteers engaged in a “guerrilla” tree planting project along the Upfield railway corridor in Melbourne’s north-west.

Ms Hopkins said she was motivated to start the project after years of “being blown away by the heat island effect” while cycling along the Upfield shared path.

In the past three years the group has planted natives including spotted gums, manna gums, blackwoods, casuarinas, flowering plants and native grasses along the rail corridor.

The effort has required delicate negotiations with VicTrack, the government agency that owns the land.

“It’s about recognising that this is a large piece of land that really could support quite a large tree canopy,” Ms Hopkins said.


Readers should click on the above link to see graphs of what’s happening.

PS: We’ve uploaded the full urban-vegetation-cover-change RMIT report.


The above screen dump is from Thursday’s Age newspaper and as stated is in response to a previous article written by the CEO of the Victorian Planning Authority. Please remember that the VPA is all about ‘development’. They are the government’s (of both persuasions) agency designed to achieve more and more development.

Putting this aside, it is a great pity that Tim Smith is more concerned with the simplistic solution of ‘decentralisation’ and pushing the Liberal agenda, than in really attacking the Mosely (VPA) argument. There is so much more he might have written. For starters, how about:

  • Reforming the planning system from a ‘performance based’ formula to one that contains prescriptive controls and parameters?
  • Reining in the powers of VCAT and councils?
  • Ensuring that residents do not subsidise developers, as in Glen Eira when we have no Development Contributions Levy and no Infrastructure Levy and this council is happy to exact pittance from its major developments for open space (ie Caulfield and East Villages)?
  • Ensuring that delegations at compulsory conferences are accountable to residents and councillors and do not simply cave in to developers.
  • Ensuring that the planning system is far more transparent and accountable to residents
  • That the ministerial intervention powers also be tightened and that full disclosure of department recommendations become public.

There is much that needs to happen before we have a planning system that works for residents and not developers. It’s just a pity that both sides of politics are so entrenched in their views that Mosely may just be right ie things will get worse and developers will continue to rule.

Here’s another example of what happens when a council refuses to address the immediate planning issues of our local centres. Another 8 storey application in a Commercial zone. No mention of how many student dog boxes and car parking waivers of course. By the time this council gets around to doing anything, Glen Eira will definitely be the high rise capitol of the middle ring municipalities. Well done Council!

PS: readers may also be interested in a VCAT decision published today re 285/7 Koornang Road, Carnegie. This site was granted a permit for 4 storeys and 40 apartments a while back when we had the first version of council’s structure plan. In the second version, the 4 storey height limit suddenly became 5 storeys. So now we have the permit holder applying for an extra level plus an additional 6 dwellings. Councillors voted unanimously to grant the application for amendment and this was supported at VCAT. Another ‘well done’ to our councillors who without explanation, without consultation decided that four storeys was too low, so let’s make it 5 here and 12 elsewhere. Not for the first time are we finding that developers are going higher and higher after they’ve got their initial permit. And what does council say? bugger all it would seem!

For the past few years now social and affordable housing has been in the spot light at Glen Eira. So now we’ve finally got a ‘strategy’, but only after it was pointed out to council at VCAT that they didn’t even have a policy when they tried to enforce the social housing component for the Caulfield Village development. Further, this strategy comes only after the State Government provided Council with a grant to formulate the strategy! Other councils have had a strategy for well over a decade in some cases and without such state government benevolence! (A case of he who pays the piper…..?)

So how good is this strategy? What will it achieve? In our opinion, it follows the general pattern of all Glen Eira policies. That is:

  • Plenty of waffle
  • Plenty of empty promises
  • Plenty of shifting the onus onto state and federal government, meaning ‘let’s not do anything except wait because it is their responsibility’.

What is especially galling is the continued cave ins to developers. East Village is the perfect example. It appears that Council is ready to accept a 5% outcome on the current 3000 net new apartments. That equals a mere 150 homes out of 3000. Plus, we have no doubt that this ‘preliminary’ figure of 3000 will grow in precisely the same way that the original mooted 1100 for Caulfield Village has ballooned out to probably 2500 net new apartments! Thus 5% will eventually dwindle down to 3% unless these escape clauses are closed off in any Section 173 agreement.

Thankfully, not all councils operate as Glen Eira does. Their policies and strategies do not accept a 5% number for social and affordable housing. They go much higher. Moonee Valley for example on its VPA partnership over the Commonwealth defence site has demanded a 20% coverage for social/affordable homes. There are others too, as shown in the following screen dumps from Yarra, Kingston, and Maribyrnong. Thus if social and affordable housing is such an issue for Glen Eira as proclaimed, then why are we settling for a paltry 5%. Why can other councils go for double this percentage and voice their opposition to government plans, as in Bayside? Why is Glen Eira so compliant? So amenable to developers? And so indifferent to the plight of its residents when it comes to anything to do with planning?

Admittedly all of the above are ‘policies’ and hence do not have great statutory weight. They do however outshine anything that Glen Eira produces. If this council is serious about addressing the issue of the lack of social and affordable housing then going for a 5% imposition is only scratching the surface. Gillon and his mates (the VPA) are continuing to laugh all the way to the bank!

Another 9 storey application has been received by council for a site zoned Commercial 1 at 217 Nepean Highway, Gardenvale. Our neighbourhood centres, of which Gardenvale is one, remains at the mercy of a council unwilling, or incapable, or secretly ‘satisfied’ that developers are utilising the holes in our planning scheme to turn our neighbourhood centres into high rise areas.

Nothing but nothing can excuse this council in failing to address such issues which have been staring them in the face for the past 15 years. Nothing but nothing can excuse this council for failing to embrace structure planning until ordered to by the Minister of Planning in December 2015. And definitely nothing can excuse this council for deciding that nothing will be done on proper strategic planning for such centres until at least BEGINNING in 2021. In the meantime developers set the precedents and any subsequent attempt to limit heights is doomed to fail. If this is the plan, then it is frankly unconscionable. Nor do we accept that council has not the ‘resources’ nor the finances to begin work on this immediately. When hundreds upon hundreds of thousands are spent on so called ‘community consultations’ on open space ‘redevelopments’ that won’t be completed until years down the track, or on more and more concrete plinths in our parks, then this council has no idea as to what the priorities should be. And of course, residents have never been properly asked!

Council’s budget year after year proclaims a hefty surplus. There is money that could be spent on additional planning staff, consultants, etc. All that is needed is the will to redirect some of this money to the ‘essentials’ such as safeguarding our neighbourhoods.

Further exacerbating the Gardenvale commercial area is that on top of this 9 storey application, there is also another application in for a 5 storey development.  Plus of course if there is a 9 storey eventually along Nepean Highway, then this augurs well for council’s ill considered proposals for 12 storeys reaching all the way back to Elsternwick! And what does Bayside think just across the road from this 9 storey application? Their Martin Street structure plan has varying preferred heights of 5, 4 and 3 storeys in the Commercially zoned land. The amendment is awaiting Ministerial approval.

The message to these councillors is clear. Get off your backsides and start fulfilling your role of representing the community.

Readers will remember that council has slipped in some new (dubious) figures for our housing projection needs. At first we were told that Glen Eira requires 9000 net new dwellings by 2031. This was suddenly changed to 13000 by 2036, with an average requirement of approximately 800 net new dwellings per annum.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics(ABS) has today released its latest figures for the current financial year ie from July 2018 to the end of April 2019. That is a 10 month period. We have taken the trouble to analyse these figures from July 2016 up to the present day to coincide with council’s prognostications. We have also removed the number of building permits for single house replacements. Thus what these figures represent is building approvals for multi developments in the main. The figures literally make a mockery of council’s propaganda. Please also bear in mind that these figures do NOT include the 3000+ for East Village, plus an anticipated additional 1500+ for the Caulfield Village precinct 3 development.

Of particular interest is the average number of net new dwellings per annum. At the current rate, Glen Eira is DOUBLING the 800 average with its total of 1755pa. Compare this with the following averages: Bayside: 685; Boroondara: 838; Kingston: 903; Stonnington: 1106; Port Phillip: 927, and Monash: 1469. If this rate continues (without including East Village & Caulfield Village) the so called target of 13000 net new dwellings will be achieved NOT IN 2036 but in 2023.

Council’s persistent argument has been that not all building permits are acted upon. In fact, they claim that 50% are abandoned and never completed. Even if we accept this argument that means that on current figures council is already achieving its 800 net new dwellings per annum. Which of course raises again the fundamental question(s) of:

  • Why do we need to double the size of our activity centres?
  • Why do we need to turn Glen Eira into a high rise municipality with 12 storeys?
  • Why do we need to rezone so much of our Neigbourhood Residential zoning to GRZ or RGZ?
  • Do we really have the infrastructure to cope with this development given that council spends approx. only $3m per annum on drainage and we do not have a Development Contributions Levy?
  • Why does council never answer these questions?

Finally, so that readers can compare councils in our area we provide a graph that shows the number of building permits since July 2016 until today. The data does NOT include building permits for single house replacements. We also reiterate what we have said countless times previously:

  • Stonnington has roughly 8% of its land zoned commercial. Glen Eira a bare 3% meaning that most multi unit development is occurring in residential streets and NOT in our commercial areas
  • Glen Eira’s density is already the 4th highest in the State behind Melbourne, Port Phillip and Yarra. Port Phillip is a special case with its Capital City Zoning and large tourist requirements
  • Monash is 80 square km in size whilst Glen Eira is half that size with the least amount of public open space per population.

Whilst council sits back waiting until 2021 before it even thinks about doing anything for our Neighbourhood Centres/Activity Centres, developers have an open field day. There already is a 9 storey application in for Hawthorn Road (opposite Godfreys). Now we have another potential sale of the indoor bowls facility. Again practically opposite the 9 storey application.

When the asking price is close to $9 million, then nothing is surer than this will lead to a high rise application with a few token retail shops below.

Council has much to answer for following 15 years of steadfastly refusing to implement structure plans, or any decent Design & Development Overlays in these commercial areas. To delay again is not only unacceptable, it is negligent. That is, of course, unless you are a council that is all for more and more development, aka Glen Eira City Council!

Source: Today’s Caulfield Leader

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