Residents weigh in on Shiel St housing plans

Residents weigh in on Shiel St housing plans
Spencer Fowler Steen

North Melbourne residents have voiced their concerns over a proposed community housing block in Shiel St which will be exempt from normal planning requirements as part of the Victorian Government’s “Big Housing Build” blitz.

Many locals who will be affected by the nine-storey, 77-unit block at 3-15 Shiel St nearly missed out on a vital government-hosted information session about the proposal after only receiving invitation letters on the day of the presentation.

The presentation outlined the last chance residents will have to submit feedback before Ministerial approval in November.

With construction mooted for the middle of 2023, the community housing units will be delivered by independent, not-for-profit housing provider Housing Choices Australia (HCA) and will provide affordable rental homes at 75 per cent or less than the market value for people on low incomes.

But instead of being assessed under the normal planning requirements, the community housing units will be subject to final approval by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), meaning it is not assessed under the mixed-use zone and overlay requirements, according to urban planner Andrew Thornton.

Mr Thornton, who represented town planners Tract at the September 30 meeting, said under Clause 52.20 of the Melbourne Planning Scheme under which the project will be assessed, there was no opportunity to appeal the final decision at VCAT.

Shiel St resident Kaye Oddie said it was “extremely worrying” that planning requirements for the site regarding setbacks that respect the low-rise, heritage built form of the opposite side of Shiel St, would be ignored.

“The five-storey street wall is not what is appropriate for Shiel St I think,” she said.

 

Please respect the planning scheme – you can’t just bulldoze these developments in. I respect the need for social housing, but I think you could do a better design that doesn’t bulldoze the planning requirements.

 

Under current plans, the front facade will be the same height as the five-storey building at 1 Shiel St despite planning controls stipulating a three-storey maximum. Eight storeys will rise behind a decreased setback of six metres, exacerbating the “in-your-face” impact of the building, Ms Oddie said.

At the meeting, locals voiced their concerns over the proposed setbacks, brick facade, safety around vehicle access, soil contamination and lack of community consultation.

Residents also fear the project will be a reversion back to the “bulk and scale” of the ‘60s, which many locals fought against in other nearby developments.

“Local residents fought for years to achieve planning controls that would see developments on the southern side of Shiel St respect the existing low-scale residences and neighbourhood character of the northern side,” Ms Oddie said.

One local also flagged concerns that the building would breach the newly proposed C728 Amendment to the Planning Scheme prohibiting overshadowing of parks by casting a shadow over Gardener Reserve – something he said was not accounted for in the architectural drawings.

But in response, the City of Melbourne Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece, who also owns a property in nearby Dryburgh St, said the amendment had not yet been gazetted and that the building’s design was “terrific”.

“I want to say some positive things about it. The previous application was for over 90 apartments – it looked like a disco ball with a tropical rainforest draped over it – it was an investor project,” he said.

“This is different, it’s community housing. We [the City of Melbourne] are delighted to partner with Housing Choices Australia. I think this building looks terrific in terms of design.”

In response to a question from a nearby resident about how much thought had been given to the location of the proposal, Tract Consultant senior principal town planner Luke Chamberlin said there were “strategic locational advantages”.

Mr Chamberlin said the community housing would be situated 200 metres from the route 57 tram, 850 metres from Macaulay Station and 610 metres from North Melbourne Primary School.

Clare Cousins Architects director Clare Cousins said there were views across North Melbourne, Royal Park and Melbourne Zoo, with two large, open-air spaces and three communal gardens.

In response to a question from Ms Oddie about who would be preparing and managing the construction plan, HCA general manager of property and assets James Henry said HCA would be taking out a tender for building and providing oversight over construction.

Mr Henry also said an auditor had been appointed to oversee the remediation of the site, with initial ground water testing carried out earlier this year after another local at the meeting raised the issue of possible site contamination.

However, he said he was not certain whether the remediation plan would be available for the public to see.

After apologising to residents at the meeting who only received an invitation to the September meeting on the day, Tract principal urban designer Carley Wright sent an email to locals extending the deadline for feedback from October 11 to October 17.

After that, there will be no more opportunities for community feedback before the final determination of the application by the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change in November 2021 •

Caption: Many local North Melbourne residents are concerned about the proposed design for community housing in Shiel St.

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