It is almost a year since the Andrews Labor Government swept to power in Victoria. In the months since, Richard Wynne has been busy pushing through significant reforms as Victoria’s Minister for Planning, such as refreshing Plan Melbourne, restricting building plot ratios to constrain CBD density and generating a discussion on how to improve apartment design standards.
If you missed the first part of this interview click here to read from the start
Part 2 of this interview begins with the changes and controversies with VCAT, before continuing with questions on Fishermans Bend and the importance of the Victorian Government Architect.
R+BA – Prior to the election Labor flagged the idea of reforming VCAT such that they would have to take into account public opposition to projects. Where is this reform at?
RW – We have passed through the Parliament a VCAT objectors bill. This will allow the VCAT member, in their broader consideration of planning criteria, to consider the weight of public opinion around a particular development. That tool will come available from the 27th November.
R+BA – One of the criticisms of the VCAT system is inconsistency in decisions. There is the persistent view with many planners who I have spoken with, that the VCAT member who is assigned to the case has a significant impact on whether that decision is likely to be in their favour. Is there merit in changing VCAT procedures to ensure that planning decisions are made by a panel rather than an individual?
RW – The argument there that they might be conflicted?
R+BA – Not so much that they may be conflicted, but a panel is more likely to make better decisions through the wisdom of combined views rather than one person’s weighing one issue more than others.
RW – No, I don’t think so. Certainly when we have panels, Panels Victoria will often sit as a two or three, East-West had five members on it, although that was a different situation. We had no policy position around that going into government, and there’s no consideration about that at this stage.
R+BA – What is your view on the Nightingale development model? Specifically do you think Apartments which are well located next to ample public transport should be required to provide on-site car parking?
RW – So I’ve been to the Commons opposite. Literally opposite. And that’s a very interesting building. My answer to that is to say that I’m receiving quite a deal of representation on it. Is my answer. And I believe they’re going to resubmit. That’s what I’m told.
R+BA – That’s what I’ve heard as well.
RW – And we’ll obviously we’ll talk to the City of Moreland as well. It’s created quite a deal of energy.
R+BA – The Nightingale apartments that were refused at VCAT are one of a series they’re planning to do. Rather than speaking to that one specifically, more generally speaking should an apartment building in a similar situation, but maybe in Fitzroy or Fairfield that is located very well to public transport, right next to a train station and trams, does it need car parking?
RW – In theory, I think the Commons and the Nightingale are a quantum leap there’s no question about that, because they are literally located at major public transport opportunities. But the issue of car parking, particularly in the inner city is incredibly vexed. In my area of the City of Yarra, I would receive representations around the lack of car parking literally every day. I’ve had people come to see me in desperation and have been driven out of the area because of car parking policy. I’ll give you an example. He was a plumber and she was a night shift specialist acute care nurse. They needed two cars to go about their lives. They were booked so many times that they literally had to move. They just couldn’t cope with it any longer. I mean that’s the unintended consequence of some of these car parking issues where people have no capacity to change their lifestyle because of the nature of their work. So it’s not just a clean and simple “well this is a beautiful project” and they are, The Commons is an extraordinary project, it’s values are all very well established, but for some people car parking is a nightmare.
R+BA – So, it’s all about a diversity of options. Perhaps allowing the car-parking but not mandating it.
RW – Absolutely. So we’re looking we’ll continue to talk to the Council, Moreland, about that.
R+BA – One of the roles of being Planning Minister is that you are enabled to ‘call in’ planning applications that would have otherwise been decided by local council. How do you decide what warrants a project to be called in?
RW – Generally speaking, I would always be looking for that the matter has been well ventilated publicly. Secondly, that the council had requested it. And thirdly, that it satisfies my obligations under the act, in that it would be legally appropriate for me to intervene. They’re the criteria I use
R+BA – Research has shown repeatedly that there are minimum dwelling densities required to support local infrastructure. For example a corner store requires 26 dwellings per hectare to be viable whilst a Primary school requires 29 dwellings per hectare.
RW – We’re well below that.
R+BA – Yes! So do we need to increase the dwelling density in outer suburbs so these services can be provided locally and sustainably?
RW – And we are. Even though it is not mandated at the moment, developers are moving down this track. Recently I visited, out in the growth corridor of Casey, a project called Selandra Rise by Stockland. This estate won a heap of awards and these awards were for a couple of really I think sensible decisions that they made. Diversity of housing stock, some increased density and also that they had put in place, at the very start of the subdivision, all of the key infrastructure to support that community. Major child care centre, in this circumstance they had a P-12 private school already in there. Kindergartens, public open space, playgrounds, and the bus actually comes through the estate. Due to this approach, they sold it out three years ahead of their schedule.
R+BA – The way governments structure taxes also has an impact on the built environment. Do you think there is merit in the state moving from a one off stamp duty tax on property, to a land tax which could capture the uplift in property values whilst not penalising owner occupiers wishing to move home?
RW – There is no intention of changing the tax base that we have.
R+BA – Moving on to Fisherman’s Bend, how would you describe the planning process on that precinct to date?
RW – Well, let’s just say that the decision that my predecessor made to rezone this land overnight, without taking into account any public realm considerations, has presented me with an unbelievable challenge.
R+BA – Are you still hopeful of a good outcome.
RW – Of course. So we’ve broken up into five precincts: four residential, one an employment precinct. We’ve got a locally sourced ministerial advisory committee to advise me.
R+BA – I have actually interviewed Rob McGauran on these issues recently.
RW – Yes, the committee members are guns! Meredith Sussex is well known, she worked on Barangaroo and you name it. As well as the committee, there are two councils involved. But it’s an enormous task, our interventions now to even address the most basic things: a playground for the school – we’ve got a school site, but no playground. We have no public open space identified. No maternal child and health services. No library. All of the basic infrastructure to support a population of eighty thousand people. We have nothing.
R+BA – Does the Fisherman’s Bend rezoning decision by the previous government in some respects push back the urban renewal projects in other areas such as E-Gate?
RW – No, This question goes to the issue of sequential development and that’s one of the issues that we are very cognizant of. We have got Fisherman’s Bend on one side of the city and then you’ve got the whole Arden-Macauley precinct on the other side of the city. In between those two, sitting in the middle, is of course Docklands, which is still only sixty percent complete. So it’s trying to weigh up and ensure that we bring on land and development opportunities at the appropriate times. We’ll have commenced work on Melbourne Metro by 2018 and be advanced on that. So, obviously the first tunnel will be Arden-Macauley, because it’s starting at South Kensington. But it will get to South Kensington by 2020, maybe 2021. The station will be well on its way and development should be following that pretty carefully. In Fisherman’s Bend, in part, because there are approvals already in place, you’ll see some of that coming out of the ground, well before 2018. So they’ll come kind of a bit sequentially to each other.
R+BA – The Melbourne Metro Rail project at one point had a sister project proposed which started around Fishermans Bend and went up towards Clifton Hill and then continue down the Eastern Freeway as the Doncaster Rail. Is this in the long term thinking?
RW – Whilst there is no consideration of that at this stage, I am personally an advocate of Doncaster Light rail, however some of my colleagues are still locked down in heavy rail, but I just don’t think that is viable long term. Having said that, we have other project we have to get out of the way first. Melbourne Metro and the 50 Level crossing removals are big ticket, game changing, projects.
R+BA – As a government, you have reinstated the Office of the Victorian Government to the position of reporting directly to the Department of Premier and Cabinet. In addition the Premier has appointed Jill Garner as the new Victorian Government Architect. How important was this?
RW – This was really important. The Premier has got big ambitions for the State Architect. If you want to think about who is a friend in court, having the premier there is fantastic. He has big ambitions in terms of the role of the city architect and all other support people around both public buildings but also the urban realm generally
R+BA – Do you think we will see them working further and further from the centre of Melbourne
RW – Yes absolutely, they will be involved in all the level crossing removals, particularly where there is land value capture opportunities. Obviously all our major civic buildings, they will certainly be involved in regional Victoria as well. So they will have a very big role under the stewardship of the Premier, which is very important in terms of the prestige of Architecture, which I am delighted about.
R+BA – Thank you for your time
It is fantastic to have a Planning Minister who is willing to set aside time to explain the steps that are being taken to improve our built environment. There is certainly a lot to like about the energy that appears to be within the planning portfolio. It is hard to deny that there has been a lot of work done and even more to talk about in the last 12 months.
So now to you the reader. What did you think of Richard Wynne’s responses? Do you think he has the right approach? Have your say in the comment box below. After all, Architecture (and the built environment) is for everyone.