Getting it right in Macauley
Factories with saw-toothed roofs, empty floodplains and huge development sites present some of the tests for the Macauley Structure Plan passed recently by the City of Melbourne.
Cr Rohan Leppert was a local resident who fell for the undeveloped magic of the area before getting on council in 2012.
“We wrote pages of submissions,” he said. “But it was clear the councillors didn’t read them.”
At the age of 23 he stood for council and was beaten. He didn’t give up. A few years later he was elected and has been working on the planning for this vast urban renewal program ever since.
The issue, Cr Leppert said, was getting a workable balance between community values and developers’ egos and that hasn’t been easy.
“We’ve had some abominations,” he said. “They ended up at VCAT and the tribunal was supportive.”
The solution has been to set a yield for each site with a ratio of one to four a standard.
Many eyes glaze over when planners begin talking about technicalities, yet a city like Barcelona is working proof of the power of “socialist” town planning.
Height limits, laneways, and squares within developments are some of the mandates that make the city so intimate for the pedestrian. Developers identify with the design image of the city and seem to conform.
Could Macauley become Melbourne’s Barcelona? Or is our construction industry too dollar-driven?
Cr Leppert concedes that the Macauley Plan offers more flexibility than Barcelona by allowing developers to vary the building footprint and gain credits in terms of height. He said the limit was seven storeys, but balconies had not been proscribed nor had squares.
He said that developers here expected to stamp their personalities on their projects but that mandates were specific in terms of community advantage. If heights are increased that means more space at ground level for communal activity.
At a recent committee meeting in North Melbourne when the Macauley Plan was discussed, he did express concern about the way flexibility could be interpreted and how the old planning laws were too crude for large sites.
“When [former Minister for Planning] Richard Wynne introduced a yield in the CBD, it paved the way for this,” he said.
The plan is still in its early stages and yet to be advertised, let alone go through the State Government’s planning panel.
One thing is for sure – Cr Leppert has devoted 10 years to the precinct and is fascinated by the former industrial built-form situated alongside the Moonee Ponds Creek in terms of its aesthetic and environmental potential.
He’s done a Masters of Planning and Heritage at RMIT and wants to get it right with heritage overlays as well as open space.
“I love the saw-toothed factories. I want to see them converted and a linear park along the flood plain.” •