Arden vision “at risk” as council takes urgent steps to resolve issues
The City of Melbourne has vowed to hold the state government to account after the final details of North Melbourne’s Arden precinct plan had “fallen well short” of expectations.
The state government has approved the Arden Structure Plan, which sets out an ambitious blueprint for the suburb over the next three decades.
The new precinct, which will be built around a new underground railway station as part of the Metro Tunnel, will include 12 hectares of open space, active transport links, community facilities, and a new school as it prepares to accommodate about 34,000 jobs and 15,000 residents.
After years of consultation, the state government gazetted planning controls in July that would guide the Arden Structure Plan.
However, a report, which was launched in response to the final decisions made and considered by councillors at their Future Melbourne Committee (FMC) meeting on September 20, found the Arden vision was “at risk” if “a number of key issues” went unresolved.
This included mandates for affordable housing, achieving zero net emissions by 2040, consolidated parking, overshadowing of public open space, land use controls, and third-party notice and appeal rights of planning applications.
Cr Rohan Leppert, who called for the report after being blindsided by the structure plan’s outcome, said he was “pretty furious” by the government’s “blatant dismissal” of key recommendations, adding it was the “worst partnership” the council had engaged in with the state government during in his 10-year tenure with the City of Melbourne.
“Where we’ve ended up is a planning package that will not meet the aspirations in the Arden vision and structure plan and in some instances won’t come anywhere close,” he said.
“The final version of the structure plan still says that the planning controls will get us there, but it’s a lie.”
“The state ignored every key recommendation of the [Victorian Planning Authority Projects] standing advisory committee that the city worked so hard to fight for and the committee agreed with us on.”
Cr Leppert said there was “not so much as a phone call to the city saying the decision is imminent [and] not so much as a phone call to the city saying, ‘here’s why we haven’t gone with some of the recommendations from the committee’.”
“At the moment, there is no guarantee of any affordable housing in the precinct. That’s outrageous.”
According to the plan, it would “support and encourage” the delivery of only six per cent affordable housing rather than it being required.
Deputy Lord Mayor and planning portfolio lead Nicolas Reece said while the structure plan “falls short in some very important areas”, he noted it had “important bright spots”, including infrastructure charging arrangements and the government’s commitment to cover the funding gap in the development contributions plan. He also welcomed the “first-rate” open spaces and the government’s agreement to cover the cost of land acquisitions for drainage projects given the precinct’s susceptibility to flooding.
However, Cr Reece said the council “would not be giving up” to resolve many key issues and would continue to “make this precinct the best it could possibly be”.
The FMC meeting determined that Lord Mayor Cr Sally Capp would write to the Minister for Planning and the Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan to “identify delivery pathways and mechanisms” to ensure Arden realised its vision.
It also resolved for the council to “prepare robust agreements” with the state government, including a memorandum of understanding to secure the delivery and funding of key infrastructure projects.
Chair of the North and West Melbourne Association Kevin Chamberlin said it was “clear that government has let the community down on the social and public affordable housing component of the development”, which he labelled as “a golden opportunity lost”.
However, he said the council and the state government had been “long-time supporters” of intense and high-rise residential development in the Arden precinct, and “they are the ones supporting the Docklands concept in North Melbourne”.
“They still haven’t got the message that the proposal is really an overdevelopment of the site, and completely out of scale with the surrounding suburbs,” he said.
“Given migration levels have been substantially restricted, and media reports state around 35 per cent of apartments in the City of Melbourne recently sold at a loss, the council and the state government need to get the message that high rise and intensive residential developments in locations like Arden are not goers in the immediate future.”
“The only development we’re going to see in the foreseeable future will be on the government-owned land around the underground railway station and that will be part of the Arden medical precinct. Developers will pick out a few sites in the study area if they stack up commercially.”
Mr Chamberlin added hydrology works would be carried out first and “they will be extremely expensive and very disruptive”. •