Victorian Election Special: The fight for a better quality future

Next Saturday, the 29th of November, Victoria will go to the polls to elect our next State Parliament. This election has massive implications for the state with education, health and employment all significant election issues. What is different from previous elections, is the prominence of built environment issues to the prospects of each political aspirant.


Parliament House

In a previous post: Architecture and Politics, the systematic path taken by the Liberal Government to side-line vital design policies, systems and professional bodies was brought sharply into focus. Since then there has been renewed focus on the perils facing the Office of the Victorian Government Architect (OVGA) with this brilliant piece in The Age by Ray Edgar. In essence whilst past Premiers Baillieu and Bracks are highly supportive of the OVGA, current leaders are reluctant to re-position them within the Premier’s Department, rather than the Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure.

To investigate this further, the question was put to former Premier Jeff Kennett via twitter. A fantastic exchange eventuated which included Timothy Horton who is the current registrar of the Architects Registration Board of NSW and has had significant leadership roles including being the South Australian President of the AIA and the founding CEO of the Committee for Adelaide.

 Red+Black Architect ‏@Red_Black_Archi 

Jeff Kennett, Do you think the OVGA should be within Premiers Dept or Planning Dept? Views seem not on party lines

Jeff Kennett ‏@jeff_kennett 

I think I would have the office in the Premiers Dept for greater independence and authority

Timothy Horton ‏@timhorton_ 

For what it is worth, my own experience in South Australia was that premiers imprimatur allows frank advice & avoids agency ‘filtering’

Jeff Kennett

Agreed more likely to be Independent advice

Red+Black Architect

@jeff_kennett A very wise approach in my view! It is a shame that current leaders on all sides don’t seem to value world class design!

Jeff Kennett 

@Red_Black_Archi That’s because they do not see the value of art, of which architecture is a major force


 Architects getting political

In response to the undermining of good design practices progressive architecture practice WOWOWA are leading a campaign backed by the Australian Institute of Architects to ‘Turn the conversation to quality’.

They have been urging architects across the state to talk with their local candidates to air their concerns. The below info-graphic distributed to AIA members, highlights the written position of the major parties and kick started the conversation.

design quality

This excellent architectural activism has catapulted the discussion forward and put these critical issues on the wider political agenda. The efforts of The Australian Institute of Architects, WOWOWA and particularly Monique Woodward, are to be highly commended.

WOWOWA and Ellen Sandell

Taking the campaign on to Social Media


Political Parties Respond to the AIA

In addition to these fantastic efforts of the ‘Turn the conversation to quality’ campaign, the Australian Institute of Architects put a series of questions to the three major parties to respond to. Among the questions asked were:

Do you support ongoing funding for, and the strengthening of, the Victorian Design Review Panel run through the OVGA?

Do you support minimum apartment Design Standards for Victoria?

Do you support the mandatory use of an Architect for projects over a certain size?

Links to these responses are below:

The Liberal Party

The Australian Labor Party

The Greens


Plan Melbourne

Planning in Melbourne has undergone a significant transformation under the Liberal Government’s 4 year term. The cornerstone of this transformation has been the Metropolitan Planning Strategy which is better known as Plan Melbourne. This strategy was initially prepared by a team of planning experts led by Professor Roz Hansen and included significant community consultation and engagement. According to this article in The Age, things began to turn pear shaped in June 2013 when the process and plan came under attack from ministerial staff and public servants who did not want to sign the government up to meet measurable targets. Over the ensuing weeks, references to addressing climate change were removed and the document was revised and diluted further.

This political and bureaucratic interference led to five of the six original experts resigning from the project and requesting their names taken off the credits. The final substantially edited version of Plan Melbourne was then released in May 2014.

In what can only be considered unfortunate timing for the Liberal Government, the original Draft Melbourne Planning Strategy has now had to be released due to a nine month battle for the documents under the Freedom of Information Act. Former Brumby Government adviser and community leader Andrew Herington was set to take the State Government to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) tomorrow if the documents were not released.

follow the link below to see what Plan Melbourne could have been

Draft Metropolitan Planning Strategy August 2013

Among the major differences are

  • A restriction that 70% of new development occur with the existing urban boundaries which was later watered down to 61% in the final version.
  • Creation of a large Western Grasslands Reserve between Melton and Litte River and a Eucalypt Woodland Reserve near Whittlesea.
  • Addressing social issues such as growing homelessness and increased demand for public housing.
  • Bus services to be significantly increased in middle and outer suburbs.


A Referendum on the East West Link

Perhaps the most important issue in this entire election campaign is the controversial East West Link. Labor are saying they will tear up the contracts, The Liberals are pushing it’s merits and the Greens are flat out against the project.

” It [the state election] is a referendum of the East West Link” Prime Minister Tony Abbott

It will come as little surprise to regular readers that it is the author’s position that this project incarnates the worst possible direction for Melbourne to head towards. If there was any doubt as to why this project should not go ahead, here is a brief summary

  1. Climate change is a real thing. Building the East West Link is a high carbon solution that is the very model of a ‘business as usual’ or ’20th century’ approach.
  2. It will not solve the congestion problem. It will in fact make it worse as more cars will be dumped into queues at Mount Alexander Road or Hoddle Street from the opposite side of the city.
  3. The Public Business Case has shown the project will make a significant loss returning only 80 cents for every dollar spent. (See here)
  4. The Liberal Government’s full business case is secret which avoids scrutiny
  5. The Planning process was flawed. The Assessment Committee found that:”the process of reaching the design that is the Reference Project has not been one that follows a logical path of identifying viable options, evaluating them, engaging the community in the process at an early stage when such input can be incorporated, testing the preferred option against robust criteria, adjusting it and then proposing it with supporting justification.”
  6. Royal Park will be significantly damaged and reduced in size, despite being recognized as being of significant heritage and ecological value
  7. Heritage homes on Gold Street will be demolished for a flyover deemed completely unnecessary by the independent assessment committee.
  8. Heritage homes on Alexandra Parade will be demolished for a temporary road
  9. Viable alternative designs by community group Safety Net, have been put forward and rejected due to artificial time restraints, despite them being more cost effective and vastly less destructive.
  10. Impacted residents have been treated with absolute disdain despite being promised compassion. The Property Impact Report which determined the extent of voluntary property acquisition is secret.
  11. The Development Plans which explain the design as approved are secret despite the fact they should clearly be public documents.
  12. Ventilation exhaust stacks will be built close to primary schools with no filtration of the toxic emissions
  13. West Parkville will be forever cut into three parts by no less than 7 flyovers, with the loss of 55 homes, Ross Straw Field and wetlands.
  14. The contract and conditions were signed within weeks of the election and remain secret.
  15. There are three current and one pending Supreme Court challenges to the project, all challenging different points of law.
  16. Four years of Planning the Arden Macaulay Structure Plan will need to be scrapped if the project is built over the proposed public open space. This open space is critical to the design of the proposed higher density precinct.
  17. Community and social infrastructure such as Debney’s Park, Flemington Estate social housing towers, Parkville Elderly Chinese Residents Home and the Seeing Eye Dogs facility in Kensington would all be catastrophically impacted
  18. Moonee Ponds Creek would be trashed by being completely covered by elevated roadways
  19. Stage one alone is likely to cost all up over 17.8 Billion Dollars (see here)
  20. Tunnel projects in Brisbane and Sydney have gone bankrupt, if this occurs on the East West Link, taxpayers will hold the financial risk.
  21. The project is likely to prevent the original Melbourne Metro Rail Tunnel Project from proceeding.


Victoria Decides

With so many big built environment issues facing Victoria, it is fair to say that more than any other recent election, the 2014 show down will be critical for our built environment. There are still many unknowns. Will the ALP do what they say they will and rip up the East West Link contracts if they are voted in? Will it be back to the drawing board on Plan Melbourne? Could the Green’s get the balance of power to push forward their agenda?

With so much on the line there are two very different futures possible for Melbourne. Will it strive for world’s best practice, or will it look to the 20th century for its big ideas?  Will future generations be able to live within our city or will they be pushed to the boundaries? Will it be an inclusive city or an exclusive one?

We will find out after 29th November.

Architecture is for Everyone


About Michael Smith

Architect and Director of Atelier Red + Black based in Melbourne, Australia
This entry was posted in all posts, construction industry, East West Link, News, Uncategorized, Urban Design and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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