It sounds like a common sense proposal, but think again. In the above example, the Heritage Overlay applied to properties abutting a main road / the PPTN (in the General Residential Zone, which has been adjusted to allow 4-storey development) relegates the site from a ‘substantial change area’ (without the Heritage Overlay) to a ‘minimal change area’ (with the Heritage Overlay). As a consequence, community expectations are created, the matter ends up before VCAT, and VCAT has to adjudicate a tricky matter where some planning provisions recommend putting one foot on the brake, and others recommend putting one foot on the accelerator.
I’m not a heritage expert, but given (in this case) the desire is to protect a precinct characterised by Victorian and Federation buildings, wouldn’t there be enough examples of these in the Neighbourhood Residential Zone areas to ensure the community has an enduring appreciation of this era of development? Maybe, with the exception of individually significant buildings, and again using the above example, should the Heritage Overlay be repealed from land in the General Residential Zone abutting a main road / the PPTN?
Is it a reasonable community compromise to accept this outcome, and the resultant loss of heritage stock and changes to the character and amenity of the locale, in order to enable the provision of new housing in highly desirable and appropriate location?
Consolidating Views Across the Planning Scheme
In a perfect world, zones, overlays and policies would all be in perfect alignment. They usually are not, however, and it would be an immense job to achieve this alignment. On one view it is not realistic to expect that this alignment will happen – certainly not in the short term, and not without a lot of political courage.
Do we have the time to wait and hope that planning schemes will be amended to ensure urban consolidation is given more weight in decision-making in appropriate locations (e.g. in or near activity centres or abutting main roads that form part of the PPTN)? Or, is the problem of housing affordability now so dire that we should consider adjusting our planning schemes immediately to ensure urban consolidation objectives and outcomes are given a leg-up?
Clause 71.02-3 contains the following clause (with my emphasis):
The Planning Policy Framework operates together with the remainder of the scheme to deliver integrated decision making. Planning and responsible authorities should endeavour to integrate the range of planning policies relevant to the issues to be determined and balance conflicting objectives in favour of net community benefit and sustainable development for the benefit of present and future generations. However, in bushfire affected areas, planning and responsible authorities must prioritise the protection of human life over all other policy considerations.
This is totally understandable. After all, what’s the point in planning for our communities if we don’t prioritise the protection of human life over all other relevant considerations (noting I believe this should be a general principle, and not just restricted to bushfire areas).
Yet, is the housing crisis now so serious and crippling that planning policy should also be adjusted to prioritise urban consolidation in certain locations?
Could this clause also be used to achieve other important community needs, such as housing supply and affordability in logical locations?
Consider this potential ‘quick fix’ alternative:
The Planning Policy Framework operates together with the remainder of the scheme to deliver integrated decision making. Planning and responsible authorities should endeavour to integrate the range of planning policies relevant to the issues to be determined and balance conflicting objectives in favour of net community benefit and sustainable development for the benefit of present and future generations. However:
- In bushfire affected areas, planning and responsible authorities must prioritise the protection of human life over all other policy considerations [addendum: all areas?].
- On sites that are in or around activity centres or train stations, or that abut main roads that form part of the Principal Public Transport Network, planning and responsible authorities must prioritise urban consolidation policies (that promote housing supply, diversity and/or diversity) over heritage and character policies. This does not apply if the site is subject to an individual Heritage Overlay or is graded as significant in heritage policy.
Professional Urgency Required
Yes, the above fix is a piecemeal approach. And yes, there are important logistical issues as well – what does ‘around’ an activity centre or train station mean? Within 200m or 400m?
However, using Clause 71.02-3 in a manner like this (effectively, as a policy ‘trump card’) may be an appropriate and relatively straightforward way to address common tensions in planning schemes and provide an immediate ‘fix’ that may assist decision-makers and developers, and ultimately the broader community, in responding to the present housing crisis.
The current housing affordability situation has got to a point where we, as a profession, need to look at all sorts of ways to increase the supply and diversity of housing in logical locations. Maybe we need to recalibrate what is more important to us as a community – at least in a targeted fashion. The above suggestion would be just one small part of an overall response, but it sends a clear message and just may make a difference.