Council set to take state government to task over Arden plan after recommendations “ignored”

Council set to take state government to task over Arden plan after recommendations “ignored”
Brendan Rees

The City of Melbourne is preparing to challenge the state government for an explanation as to why various recommendations were largely “ignored” in its approval of the Arden precinct redevelopment plan, including affordable housing not being made mandatory.

The release of the planning scheme amendment in July, which will guide the precinct’s Arden Structure Plan over the next 30 years, left one councillor blindsided, with the differences between the council’s position and the approved provisions considered to be “vast”.

This included the fact that the plan would “support and encourage” the delivery of only six per cent affordable housing rather than it being required, despite estimates the precinct would be home to 15,000 residents.

“The extent to which the state government has ignored its own expert advisory panel, and through it the City of Melbourne and local community, is staggering,” Cr Rohan Leppert said, who leads the council’s sustainable building portfolio and is deputy chair of planning.

“If the government can’t require a measly six per cent affordable housing requirement on land it owns and will sell, then where on earth will it do so? To say I’m disappointed is an understatement.”

In response, the council has launched an investigation which will be compiled in a report to be considered by councillors in September.

It will analyse how the council had reached such a position, how much it cost, and why most recommendations from the Victorian Planning Authority Projects Standing Advisory Committee were “ignored” and “therefore, most of the work undertaken by the City of Melbourne” in order to, according to Cr Leppert, “avoid this ever happening again”.

In addition to affordable housing not being mandatory, the council, through its report, will review why other provisions in the precinct plan had differed from its stance including:

  • Floor area ratio (FAR) controls being too high and not mandatory in the area around the new Arden underground railway station
  • No measures in the approved Arden planning controls requiring buildings to ‘achieve world-leading sustainability performance’
  • No requirement for developers to meet mandatory car parking rates; and
  • No legal requirement for residents to be notified of planning applications

Under the redevelopment plan, Arden will be divided into four sub-precincts, each with a “unique purpose and character”, including Arden Central (innovation), Arden Central (mixed-use), Arden North (arts, cultural and community hub), and Laurens St (mixed-use).

It would see 12 hectares (nearly a third of the precinct) dedicated to open space including a new 0.66ha Capital City open space while planning controls for the 44-hectare site would ensure development “complements and builds on” North Melbourne’s existing character.

It would also see a new major health institution embedded in the precinct with a new government primary school and a community centre also being proposed.

The Arden flood management strategy will install below-ground flood storages at the North Melbourne Recreation Reserve oval as well raising and extending the levees for the Moonee Ponds Creek – with the plan stating the “creek corridor will be revitalised as a new green spine for Melbourne”.

However, the Friends of Moonee Ponds Creek have expressed alarm that the embankment of the creek would be “trashed” if culverts were installed. 

“To have an existing 20-year-old area biodiversity with grown trees, lovely vegetation, and the open space to be trashed for culverts is totally unacceptable,” Kaye Oddie, a member of the Friends of Moonee Ponds Creek, said, adding they were also concerned about a proposal to build flood walls by up to a metre or more by the creek.

In other controversial measures, the Lost Dog’s Home would have to relocate from its North Melbourne site, with the Greens vowing to ensure the “support and resources they need to continue their work for animals” would be delivered in a new location.

Chairman of the North and West Melbourne Association and a former Melbourne Lord Mayor Kevin Chamberlin said the discretionary height limit of 40 storeys meant “we have ended up with an attempt to relocate the Docklands to North Melbourne, West Melbourne, and Kensington,” “thanks to the council and the state government”.

 

“It’s disappointing that the council and state government continue to promote excessive high-rise development in moderate and low-rise communities,” he said.

 

“The council, in particular, are a great disappointment; this was an opportunity to have a really good, sustainable development of human scale.”

This sentiment was shared by Patrick Fensham, an urban planning consultant and committee member of the Planning Institute of Australia, who said “indicative” building heights and scale would allow discretion for taller buildings to be considered, which he believed “doesn’t give much certainty to either the community or even the development sector”.

“It sets up the scope for non-transparent negotiations for extra height at the approvals stage,” he said.

According to the council, the density controls in Arden range from 4:1 to 17:1 but are mostly discretionary, with the height guidelines of up to 40 storeys being “all discretionary”.

Mr Fensham said the community also deserved a “more explicit rationale” as to why the plan didn’t require social or affordable housing to be delivered.

“That needs to be more transparent. This is a big and long-term project so you would think it would be a reasonable thing to think about housing diversity and social mix and just addressing what is a major problem,” he said.

Furthermore, Mr Fensham questioned why “there hasn’t been any consideration given or any public explanation or exposure” of what the effective value uplift in land would be as development occurred, and how this could fund infrastructure projects or even affordable housing.

Value uplift capture is when governments impose a levy on a share of the increase in land value that occurs when land is rezoned to a higher value use such as residential, as would be the case for Arden.

North Melbourne resident Brendan Gleeson, who is a professor of urban planning at the University of Melbourne, said while the generous provision of public open space was “very welcome” he believed the failure to include mandatory provisions for public and affordable housing “is very disappointing and hard to understand given the city’s housing crisis”.

“The government should tax some of the value of the uplift it is creating for developers through the plan and use this to fund social housing,” he said.

He also added the building heights planned for some parts of the precinct were “far too generous and will likely lead to vertical sprawl”.

Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan said the precinct plan would be a “tremendous opportunity to grow Victoria’s knowledge economy” with Arden to also become a destination with the completion of the Metro Tunnel and new Arden Station by 2025.  

“The Arden Structure Plan outlines how underutilised industrial land in Melbourne’s inner north will be transformed into a thriving centre for Victoria’s knowledge industries, with around 15,000 residents and 34,000 workers,” she said in a statement.

 

Leader of the Victorian Greens Samantha Ratnam said a six per cent social housing target was “unacceptable when we are experiencing a housing crisis”.

 

“It once again demonstrates that this government allows property developers to get away with not paying their fair share towards more affordable housing,” she said.

However, Robert Pradolin, who runs Housing All Australians – a not-for-profit dedicated to encouraging private-sector investment in affordable and social housing, said housing affordability, homelessness and the lack of affordable and social housing was a “huge issue that faces our society”.

His organisation launched an economic report in June called Give Me Shelter, which analyses the long-term costs of underproviding public, social and affordable housing.

It outlined if the shortfall was left unaddressed, the additional cost to Australian taxpayers would reach $25 billion annually by 2051. 

“Just like the provision of roads, schools and hospitals, we believe that safe, affordable and stable housing is a necessity for every Australian to be productive and contribute to society,” Mr Pradolin said.

“We believe this type of housing should be considered economic infrastructure and can establish the foundations for Australia’s future economic (and social) prosperity.

“Coming with a property lens, I feel like I can see very clearly what is happening very slowly and how the fabric of our society is unravelling unless we (business) do something about it.

“Neither left or the right side of politics want civil unrest, but we are slowly making our way towards that if we allow the polarisation to continue. We cannot let that happen, and the media, can play a significant role in the education.”

John Buncle

John Buncle

February 14th, 2024 - Felicity Jack
Like us on Facebook