The Age has reported that State Government delays in the finalising new planning zones have resulted in a “high-rise stampede” in Moreland. Local resident Joanna Stanley disagrees, and has contributed this commentary:
The media has wrongly suggested that due the fact our zones request is not finalised, this will create a ‘high rise’ rush.
Specifically the Sunday Age and The Age have suggested that when Victoria’s Residential 1 planning zone converted to ‘General residential’, this now ‘permits development up to three storeys’. In actual fact three-storey was (since 2001) already permitted, BUT in future we could see better developments than we have seen.
The disappearing Residential 1 zone created ad hoc three-storey development in our suburbs. The third level under a flat roof fitting (9m) instead of within a ‘preferred’ pitched roof is allowed because the maximum height stipulated in ‘Rescode’ today is 9m. Unless you live in a council where diligent resident groups have driven their council to adopt watertight Neighbourhood Character (NC) guidelines (like in Melbourne’s east and south east), three-storey is likely in all of Victoria.
A refreshing purpose of the new GRZ is to: “respect neighbourhood character (NC); implement adopted NC guidelines; and encourage moderate growth near services (moderate is defined as ‘not extreme or excessive, fair or not unreasonable’). Therefore if councils review and adopt new NC guidelines – this general zone can become more restrictive. Residents in the north: get busy teaming up with councils to review and adopt new guidelines. Contrary to belief the new General zone could tighten the assessments of development proposals.
NEIGHBOURHOOD CHARACTER (NC)
Unless a neighbour specifically objects to a flat roof, many councils ignore ‘skimpy’ local neighbourhood guidelines and allow a third level of development. A few councils (mainly in the east and south east of Melbourne) have resident-driven tight NC guidelines that keep a pitched roof, amongst other things, like front set back, low front fences, building materials etc..
Most councils have neighbourhood guidelines that can ironically be described as ‘extensively skimpy‘. They cover up to 90 areas per council, but can only result in a pitched roof if the neighbour specifically objects to a flat one. Areas such as Bayside by contrast have guidelines that go into detail stipulating height and material of a front fence or what width a side setback should be. The eastern residents’ groups have members who work 24/7 on their idea of what their neighbourhoods should look like and defending it through a zero tolerance approach. We in the north are more progressive, accepting of future residents, slightly less organised, and under attack from development. This combination means that (unlike groups in the inner east), we can not practice planning advocacy that is ‘preventive of inappropriate development’ to the same degree groups in the east do.
A more restrictive planning zone: neighbourhood residential zone (NRZ) has a default mandatory height of 8m. This stipulates a two-story (with pitched roof) outcome because squeezing a third level into 8 metres is not permittable through the building regulations. A council can vary this height for different areas through the use of a schedule to the zone. A ‘schedule’ is a tailored attachment to a zone that reflects the council’s vision for a zones in a particular location. The default number of units on a block in the NRZ is two, but again, a council can alter it to create a greater number of units to get more control of strata development.
THE REAL ZONES ISSUES AND WHERE MORELAND IS AHEAD OF THE GAME
Currently Rescode is also varied to create strata units up to 10 per residential block that can be 40m2 in area per level, and do not have courtyards. Due to this trend, the ability to offer a ‘variety’ of housing in inner suburbs is at risk. Here lies the real issue for some councils. The focus on the new zones has so much been about height when the real issue is about number of units on a block and how this affects liveability for future residents of Melbourne. The less liveable a unit is, the more it is likely a couple or family will relocate to outer suburbs. Three or more units on a block, including stipulating they have courtyards, can be controlled through the use of a ‘schedule’ (see above). Moreland Council in particular has taken this option and should be applauded for its forward thinking.
There is a less restrictive Residential Growth Zone (RGZ) available for councils converting their Residential 1 zone, and this is to provide housing in buildings ‘up to and including four-storey, in locations near services and having good access to transport including in activity areas.’ Councils in the West and North of Melbourne should be allowed to allocate their Res 1 land inside the boundaries of activity areas towards their ‘res growth’ allocations. These areas of Melbourne are rich in brownfields (old industrial sites) and rail corridors that are earmarked for Urban Renewal that can accommodate a burgeoning population. Therefore in order to continue to offer a variety of future housing types, it is more appropriate to curtail development in residential areas in brownfield rich suburbs.
Joanna is a community planning advocate in Moreland, and across the north and west of Melbourne. She was member of the Reformed Zones Ministerial Advisory Committee