As the Minister for Planning has released the final draft Surf Coast Statement of Planning Policy (SPP) and the Standing Advisory Committee’s (SAC) report for the same, it’s an appropriate time for us to consider the outcomes.
Our high-level view of the Surf Coast Distinctive Area and Landscape (DAL) Program is that:
- Planning and politics will always be intertwined. It’s a matter of striking a balance between both, notwithstanding the underlying role of the Planning and Environment Act 1987 in Victoria.
- The principle of the Distinctive Areas and Landscapes Program has strategic merit ‒ its implementation is what will have the most effect.
- In a time where housing affordability is critical, this program must be supplemented by commensurate planning investigations into how population growth can be housed over the 50-year life span of the Statement of Planning Policy. Each affected municipality must be able to accommodate population growth over at least 15 years. This particularly applies to situations where major tracts of land are removed from the land supply pot.
The final draft SPP and Spring Creek PSP area
The politicised nature of this DAL program and the reliance on the Surf Coast SPP to resolve the matter of the Spring Creek PSP area has somewhat overshadowed its overall intent. Political interventions before the last State election have seen this growth area fill headlines, mostly relating to community perceptions that this is an inappropriate location for growth.
The final draft SPP has removed the Spring Creek PSP area, drawn the protected settlement boundary along Duffields Road, and placed the land within the defined ‘Green Break’ between Torquay Jan Juc and Bellbrae. This is despite the long-term designation of the area for urban growth supported by the SAC.
Both the Minister for Planning, Richard Wynne, and Member for South Barwon, Darren Cheeseman, were of the view that this outcome responded to community feedback while providing certainty and confidence for stakeholders regarding long-term investment plans.
The Surf Coast Standing Advisory Committee Report
The SAC report provides a contrasting position to that of the final draft SPP and the positions held by the Minister for Planning and Member for South Barwon. It provides a planning-based merits consideration of the draft SPP and a suite of recommendations for consideration by the Minister for Planning.
The SAC report clearly sets out its consideration of key matters, including land supply and population, landscape and visual, ecology and biodiversity, bushfire, cultural and social heritage, civil engineering, and site-specific issues.
We focus on several of the below themes:
- Spring Creek PSP area ‒ this area has been contemplated since the 1980s as a location to accommodate population growth. Since then, the planning intervention ‘yo-yo’ effect has been prevalent, finally coming to a head under the Surf Coast DAL program. The SAC found that the development of Spring Creek should progress generally in accordance with the Council endorsed PSP. The SAC further considered that the two options for this area contained in the draft SPP are not reflective of the strategic planning process undertaken or strategic imperatives of the Surf Coast planning scheme.
- Ultimately, the SAC concluded that Torquay-Jan Juc is identified as a District Town, a designated growth location, and that the Spring Creek PSP area should be retained. It further concluded that the final draft SPP should be updated to remove reference to Options 1 and 2 and show the PSP area within the protected settlement boundary.
- Land Supply & Population ‒ given the status of Torquay-Jan Juc as a designated growth area in the Surf Coast planning scheme, the SAC found that it would take a significant portion of the population and household growth. It both considered and recognised the serious implications of dwindling land supply, or the removal thereof, in terms of housing affordability and diversity in Torquay-Jan Juc. It referred to additional pressure being placed on the likes of Central Torquay and other areas.
- Landscape Controls ‒ the SAC considered the role of the landscape character and significance assessment that underpinned the draft SPP and subsequently proposed landscape controls. Several concerns were raised by the SAC and submitters regarding the limitations of the landscape character and significance assessment in terms of its approach to finer grain assessment, the fact it was not independently peered reviewed, and flagging that the widespread application of Significant Landscape Overlays was limited in justification and potentially not required in their proposed extent.
What does this mean for ongoing DAL programs?
Whilst each DAL program will be governed by the same legislation, these respective areas all contain unique areas and landscapes that warrant a tailored approach. This means that the tools available when preparing each SPP should be investigated to their full potential while remaining cognisant of the 50-year vision.
An example of this can be seen in the opportunity to consider the use of Settlement Boundaries in addition to what appears to be a carte blanche approach to the use of Protected Settlement Boundaries, noting that this matter did not appear to be a major point of contention during the Surf Coast SAC Hearing.
In relation to land supply and population, ongoing DAL programs need to carefully consider the implications of protected settlement boundaries ‒ or in the case of the Surf Coast ‒ back-zoning land that could accommodate up to 2,000 lots. Ultimately, a balance needs to be struck via a solution that does not displace demand into other municipalities.
Finally, DELWP will need to further consider the major role landscape character and significance assessment plays in these DAL programs. The implications of this work and subsequent implementation into respective planning schemes can have lasting effects. If there is one key outcome of the Surf Coast SAC report in this respect, it’s the importance of applying a deeper level of rigour to the preparation of controls and the need for independent peer review.
These projects will have lasting effects on future generations. At Ratio Consultants, we place importance on the planning framework proposed through each SPP and hold the view they should be guided by logical and orderly planning processes and inputs.
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