The Macaulay drama

The Macaulay drama
Simon Harvey

Melbourne’s Deputy Lord Mayor sings an aria of lyrical beauty, Melbourne’s Lord Mayor joins him in a heartfelt duet, Cr Leppert wipes his brow, and someone sings a song from the wilderness. The story unfolds, the boat is launched, the crowd applauds.

I logged into the Future Melbourne Committee meeting (from my home office) at about 5.30pm on November 9 and waited for the committee to reach item 6.3 – the Macaulay Structure Plan. I had applied to address the committee about some things that the Kensington Association continued to be concerned about in the plan. When my time came, I crammed what I could into my allotted three minutes; God, those three minutes go quickly! Then the Director of City Strategy, Sophie Hanley, responded to what I had raised, following which the meeting proceeded to the “moving” and “seconding” stage, when four councillors (including the Mayor and Deputy Lord Mayor) spoke.

Councillors spoke with various levels of spin and sincerity about their association with – and feelings about – the plan. One felt there was a genuine sense of achievement that the plan had finally been exhibited after a stop/start decade of patchy planning regulation. Cr Davydd Griffiths (who lives nearby) recalled his battles to protect Moonee Ponds Creek when Citylink was being designed, and reinforced a point I had made about the importance of the creek to the community. All speakers were effusive in their praise for Cr Rohan Leppert, who had spent countless hours preparing a raft of amendments to the plan. It made me wonder what LGAs do if they haven’t someone with such planning nous and dedication to plough through weighty documents … 140 pages no less! For his part Cr Leppert, (having been involved since 2012) describing himself as a [planning] nerd, said the plan was a “leading example of urban design”. The Lord Mayor Sally Capp said it was “fundamental to the way we build back better”. Deputy Lord Mayor Reece waxed more lyrical – he said it was “a very important document for the entire northern suburbs” and “a showcase for gentle density done in an inner Melbourne way”. To top it off, he said that it was “urban planning policy at the absolute highest and best standards in Australia, indeed, anywhere around the world”. If there was spin in that, I forgive him, I feel that he (and the Lord Mayor) are doing their very best to gee-up the community to feel excited about what is ahead. Good on ‘em!

I must admit, I did grimace a bit when I heard the words, “very significant enhancement of Moonee Ponds Creek”. In my three minutes I had been quite scathing of the lack of progress towards revitalisation of the creek, but I was somewhat heartened that each councillor underlined its importance. Cr Leppert said it was “dear to my [his] heart”; he also made another very significant comment, indicating the management of the creek could well be rejigged to facilitate some action. Let’s hope so! I felt that everyone genuinely expressed their aspirations (their hopes, their visions) about how Macaulay could be.

Well, you say – “cut the drama – what will the Macaulay Structure Plan produce for the community?” Sorry, nobody really knows, the execution of a “plan” – no matter whether it’s a “leading example” or “the highest standard ... in the world” – can be great or horrible. Of course, we all hope it’s great. One of Cr Leppert’s amendments was to put in place a public reporting mechanism to monitor progress in terms of new dwellings, population, and employment in the area. A great move: we’ll keep an eye on that!

At the Kensington Association we are still concerned about density – i.e., too many residents with inadequate infrastructure. We are still concerned about building height and shape. We are still concerned about public open space. We dream of Moonee Ponds Creek being returned to a haven for native flora and fauna. Yes, I understand they actually did that in South Korea; can you believe it!? I haven’t seen it, but apparently in Seoul they actually pulled down a freeway and returned a creek to its former natural beauty.

The Macaulay drama has not concluded however! When a boat is launched you expect that to be the denouement, but not so! At the beginning of 2022, there is a “planning scheme amendment process” in which it is possible that some of the good work could be compromised by further “processes”. We need keep an eagle eye on that, we wouldn’t want the Macaulay Structure Plan to slip down a rung to be the second-best urban planning policy in the world. The other thing to note, which is praiseworthy in our world of short- term politics, is that this plan (like that wonderful Zero Emissions Feds “Plan”) will unfold over 20 years.

We will then (with luck) be living in our Macaulay paradise; or perchance, some of us might (through grace) be in another more lofty paradise – with pearly gates •

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