About a month ago, Council approved a new MSS based on the new MV2040. Not much has been said about it, but, if approved by the Minister, it changes our local planning policies.
Planning laws are complicated.
It’s frustratingly difficult for ordinary people to navigate the planning scheme, work out how to fight bad planning, or negotiate good outcomes.
We rely on our councillors and council to put in place policies to protect heritage, to balance development with amenity, to facilitate sustainable living and to protect and enhance open space.
Which is why I’ve been concerned about the revision of the MSS – the section of the MV planning scheme that council writes. The state government writes the rest of the planning scheme, but the MSS is a local policy written by council.
About a month ago, Council approved a new MSS based on the new MV2040. The MSS was only available publicly on the Friday before the Tuesday meeting. It was approved by Moonee Valley Council without any submissions or feedback from the community.
It will soon go on exhibition as an Amendment to the planning scheme and residents can make submissions, which may result in changes by the council, or may be referred to a planning panel – who will make recommendations to the Minister before the new MSS is put into the MV planning scheme.
Having represented a number of residents at VCAT on contentious planning issues (with variable success), I’m frustrated that MV Council has done very little to communicate with residents about the new local policy.
For two large cases at VCAT last year, residents and I relied very heavily on specific clauses in the MSS. Given the significance of the MSS, more should be done to discuss it with the community so that we can get planning right in Moonee Valley.
After MV Council approved the MSS, I asked a series of questions about changes being made. Almost three weeks later, I finally received some responses.
I’m not a planning lawyer, and I certainly don’t know everything there is to know about planning. But below are some of the clauses in the new MSS that I find concerning.
1. Location of housing growth
Apart from heritage and open space, this is probably the area of greatest concern for residents: what density of housing growth is permitted and where is high density housing allowed?
Currently, our MSS (Cl 21.05-1) has a policy that, consistent with state policy, directs most housing growth towards Activity Centres, and outlines three categories of growth.
Within this, there are important qualifications that height, scale and massing must be in accordance with structure plans and respect surrounding built form.
The new MSS (Cl 21-06.1) abbreviates this, and adds a new first point:
I asked MV Council:
The Housing policy has been altered to remove the categories of High-Sub, Mod-High, Slight-Mod housing intensification. In particular, the emphasis on higher density housing occurring within Activity Centres has been replaced with a reference to good public transport or open space. Why is this?
I was told:
“The policy guidelines in existing Clause 21.05-1 have been added as strategies in the proposed Clause 21.06-1.”
I asked again:
There has been a change: the emphasis on higher density housing occurring within Activity Centres, with various qualifications, has been replaced with a reference to good public transport or open space. Why is this?
I was told:
“References to higher-density housing in Activity Centre is already emphasised through State policy, Clause 11.03 (Activity Centres) so … this policy repetition has been removed. Ensuring new housing is directed to the appropriate location is key to ensuring healthy and resilient neighbourhoods for the community, and through our extensive consultation process, the community has consistently told us that access to open space and public transport is important to them.”
This is the part of Cl 11.03 that mentions housing density:
As far as I can tell there is none of the detail in the existing policy Cl 21.05-1 in Cl 11.03.
While some of the changes are subtle, the key changes, as far as I can tell, are:
- housing of higher scale will be allowed where there is open space or access to public transport (because people like open space and transport)
- only new residential development must not compromise heritage and neighbourhood character
- there is no mention of preferred character statements.
These changes concern me. I wonder if they will be particularly useful for the developers of the Ascot Vale Housing Estate.
2. Local Area Plans without essential planning information
The new MSS has a series of local area maps that replicate the maps from MV2040. These maps show where new community facilities are planned.
These maps don’t show preferred land use, built form and housing densities. It’s not really clear what useful planning guidelines they provide.
“Has MVCC compared the Local Areas under 21.10 with neighbourhood plans developed by other councils such as Yarra and Port Phillip? MVCC’s approach seems more focused on specific capital works rather than strategic planning guidelines, development intensity and heritage protection, and directions that characterise the neighbourhood plans of other councils. Is there an intention to provide this strategic planning through the MSS?”
I was told:
“A report is being presented to Council next month around an approach for reviewing the current application of zone, overlay and other planning controls in our neighbourhoods (through Neighbourhood Implementation Plans). This is relevant to … your query in relation to the new Local Areas clause and the limited referencing of heritage and development.”
“The Neighbourhood Implementation Plans will review all the planning controls applicable to that neighbourhood. This will include a review of the residential zones the currently apply and what changes need to be made. The adopted MV2040 Strategy (particularly Strategic Direction 5 – A city with housing for all, and its associated target, objectives and actions, page 59) will be used as the strategic foundation for work going forward, and the population and dwelling projections as the justification.”
So the MV Council has approved the MSS for exhibition without having the report about essential planning information. They are embarking on an extensive process to incorporate new maps into the MSS, and another process that focuses on the actual planning controls for each area – including the residential zones.
I am concerned that these processes are occurring separately, rather than at the same time. How can we have plans with community capital works without having information about zones, overlays, and other planning controls (like ….?? structure plans? heritage? housing preferences?).
I understand council wanting to get something done now, but isn’t this other planning work the real basis for the community facilities planning? I feel the process is topsy-turvy.
3. Structure Plans for Racecourse Rd, Essendon Junction and Union Rd
“21.02-7 no longer includes reference to preparing a Racecourse Rd Structure Plan. Does this mean MVCC is no longer intending to develop a Structure Plan for Racecourse Rd despite the increasing pressures on the area, its designation as an Activity Centre and VCAT’s statements about the lack of strategic guidance for the precinct? The same applies for Essendon Junction and Union Rd.”
I was told:
“A review of the planning controls for the … Activity Centre[s] would fall within the proposed Neighbourhood Implementation Plan[s].”
So for a period of time, we’ll have an MSS without any reference to these structure plans. Those of us who have sat at VCAT dealing with applications near or in Activity Centres know the difficulties this policy vacuum creates.
4. DDO3,7 and 10
This is quite a complicated point and I’m not even sure it matters terribly much. It is just frustrating. So bear with me.
“21.02-6 does not include the DDO3 for Mt Road or the DDO7 for Keilor Rd, or the DDO10 for Nth Essendon, but does include the DDO for Airport West. Why is that?”
See the old and new clauses below:
Residents have relied on the DDO3 for many decisions along Mt Road at VCAT.
I was told:
“The DDO references to Mt Alexander Road, Keilor Road and North Essendon have been removed as they have been implemented.”
“The ‘implementation’ section of each clause indicates the type of planning controls that need to be introduced into the planning scheme (through separate amendments to the planning scheme) based on strategic work that has been adopted by Council. They are accurate based on the date that particular section of clause was gazetted into the planning scheme.
“From your screenshots [above] I can see that Clause 21.02-6 and 21.07-6 were last updated on 30 March 2015 (through Amendment C100). So in saying that DDO03 to Mt Alexander Road has been implemented, it means that it has been introduced/gazetted into the planning scheme – http://planningschemes.dpcd.vic.gov.au/schemes/mooneevalley/ordinance/43_02s03_moon.pdf”
Which sort of makes sense, except that DDO3 was ‘implemented’ in January 2013 through C102. The DDO3 was already in the planning scheme on March 2015 when the clause was updated to say “Apply the DDO3….”.
Looking at other planning schemes and other sections of the planning scheme, the sections headed ‘Implementation’ seem to include references to the policies that need to be adhered to to implement the objectives – not the further Amendments that are needed.
The DDOs are still in the planning scheme, which is why this might not matter. It’s just very unclear.
There are other changes, including removing a reference to “reducing reducing private vehicle” and replacing it with “managing car use”.
An objective to encourage residents to use alternative transport has been removed.
And I need to check whether Clause 15.01 (Urban Environment) and MV2040 Strategic Direction 18 (A city of high-quality design), encapsulate the urban design guidance in the existing clause 21.05-4 (urban design guidelines), or whether the new clause has been watered down.
On a positive note…
In response to my comments about communicating with residents, council officers have said:
“We will be meeting with our Communications team to discuss the best way forward regarding the proposed Neighbourhood Implementation Plans. One of the ideas that has been floated is developing neighbourhood-specific webpages to keep residents updated on planning, as well as a events, occurring in their areas.”
Planning matters to many MV residents – and is very, very complicated. Every effort council can make to better communicate changes with residents would be greatly appreciated.