Property developers in Melbourne have hit out at what they see as a populist attitude on the part of some local councils as moves on the part of one inner urban council to restrict development to no more than four storeys has prompted outrage on the part of those who say that the city needs greater housing supply in areas which offer good access to transport, employment opportunities and social infrastructure.

At its council meeting last month, the City of Yarra in Melbourne’s inner east-resolved to ask the State Minister for Planning to introduce strict new controls within the municipality’s boundaries which would limit development within Mixed-Use Zones and General Residential Zones to no more than thirteen metres (four storeys) and require setbacks of ten metres.

The Council is also asking for more public housing and open space, new heritage protection for shopping strips and the introduction of inclusionary zoning.

The moves are a response to opposition on the part of a vocal group of several hundred generally older residents to a sixteen storey 476 apartment development application put forward by developer GURNER™, which would have properties selling from $450,000 to $2.5 million and is designed to have three separate levels on its borders which are facing houses.

The moves are the latest in what the industry sees as an overly restrictive approach toward development on the part of some inner and middle suburban councils in Melbourne’s leafy east and south-east at a time when new housing supply in well serviced areas is needed to cater for growing population demands.

Even prior to this latest move, the sector has been frustrated about moves on the part of municipalities such as Glen Eira, Bayside and Boroondara to apply the restrictive neighbourhood residential zone to between 75 and 80 percent of their municipalities.

Nevertheless, the industry is particularly irked about the height restrictions in latest moves.

Danni Addison, Victorian chief executive officer of the Urban Development Institute of Australia said the concept of density had been misunderstood and that populist debates spread around fear were inhibiting sensible discussion about how best to accommodate long term population growth.

Addison says planning policies must enable more residents to enjoy the benefits of living in well-serviced locations which provide good access to employment.

“I see it as a social injustice,” Addison said. “There are some in our community who think that it’s alright for everybody else to live everywhere else so that they can continue to have their sole ownership over the lifestyle that they enjoy.”

“Opening up their areas so that others can enjoy that lifestyle won’t diminish their own. Density is a good thing if it’s done well.”

Tim Gurner, the developer behind the Fitzroy North proposal, agrees, saying that the city needs a good supply and a diverse mix of housing in well serviced locations which are desirable places to live.

Melbourne, Gurner says, has ample opportunity within its main streets and mixed use zones to deliver sufficient levels of housing growth to cater for population growth over the next thirty years.

Had there not have been an adequate supply of affordable dwellings within these localities in decades gone past, he points out, many of those same residents who are opposing new development would themselves have had to live in less desirable suburbs.

“I think it’s a very self-righteous attitude of people who are trying to block out the next generation from being able to afford it (living in well serviced inner suburbs),” Gurner said.

Another developer, SALTA managing director Sam Tarascio, expresses concerns about the ‘knee-jerk’ nature of the latest moves, which he says flies in the face of more sensible and measured policies which had evolved over time and allowed for growth and a mix and diversity of housing to cater for population needs.

Tarascio says many outer areas in Melbourne are already under pressure from development, and that responses like this risked jeopardising the delivery of housing in sought after locations.

Moreover, Tarascio is concerned that other municipalities may now come under pressure to follow Yarra Council’s lead.

The City of Yarra did not respond to requests for comment, but indicated in a press release last month that the moves were in response to rapid and large scale development within its boundaries which had resulted in pressure on residential amenity, open space and public facilities.

Whilst stressing that the municipality could accommodate growth and change through medium density development in suitable locations which were compatible with amenity, liveability and streetscape heritage protection, Councillor Amanda Stone says that the Council ‘is not seeing these sorts of developments being presented’.

Gurner, however, says Fitzroy North proposal is in fact an example of good development, and that the height of 3-16 storeys had indeed been supported by council external heritage and urban design consultants.

He says the development was designed by world-renowned architect Koichi Takada and the roughly 8,500 square meter area of the site had enabled an innovative approach whereby the building cascaded inwards in a way which concealed much of the development from the street and substantially reduced its street level impact.

“We are not supporting, at all, tall buildings with bad architecture,” he said.

“Density, if it’s done right and done respectfully to its context adds a huge amount of character to local areas.”

  • Density is not a good thing, Packing people together like sardines leads to a whole lot of social problems such as stress, noise pollution etc etc
    People need space to live a happy life!
    Growth and profits is all they think about instead of a healthy and sustainable lifestyle.
    The entire economic system is a joke based on infinite growth/profits on a finite sized planet with finite resources.

    • I agree that noise pollution is a potential issue for some.
      There is economic benefit to be gained by people living in high-density housing. That is tacit knowledge. The knowledge that is embedded in each individual and human networks. The spillover effect of tacit knowledge (that knowledge which can not otherwise be learned in an explicit sense, yet makes up a vast proportion of a societies productive knowledge) is aided by high density living It has been noted by Hausmann that a lack of this form of knowledge is what constrains the process of growth and development in many nations across the world, and that ultimately, differences in prosperity are related to the amount of tacit knowledge that societies hold. This leads to higher rates of economic complexity.

      If you compare Australia and Germany on an economic complexity index, we do quite poorly. Australia, as last reported, as a population density of 3 persons per square km, whereas Germany has 234 per square km. Have a look at our economic complexity index comparison here:

      Quite a long post. But there may be a case determining correlation and in turn a causative effect that population density has on productive knowledge, or economic complexity.

  • The other side to the 'nimby' story in this case could be that the growth lobby and media are pushing to manufacture a general consent towards intensification. There is no clear message that both what the council is seeking and what the developer is seeking will most likely end up in a compromise. Even if Yarra Council requests a mandatory height or 'cap' of 4- storey, it wont get it as the Vic Minister and department are against mandatory controls. The discretionary nature of the state provisions create an ambiguity for its benefactors: planners, lawyer, and the appeals system itself. Look at the neighbouring suburb of Brunswick, whose council was refused a a cap of up-to 'ten' storey by the Minister this year. So in the case of Yarra – it may get controls in it's scheme – preferred height of four storeys for instance – but VCAT will ultimately determine how discordant the new proposal design is with the policy. I was also disappointed that The Age's opinion piece (from a writer with good journalistic record) failed to consider these probabilities. Two perceived issues are clouding the journalism generally on these planning issues. These are 1) the 'smashed avocado' / generational disadvantage, and 2) an assumption that all objectors in the inner north are elites. In the first issue, most boomers and gen x in my inner area want good quality apartments for future generations nearby, but local consumers are ultimately buying bad products and losing money, (plus homes too small to be anything but commodity), and it's highly noticeable. In the second issue, many residents are existing pre-gentrification non-elite working class, and ditto, aren't resistant to change if the outcomes look best for future generations.

  • I don't really think we have a housing crisis requiring more high density apartments when there are so many empty apartments in and around the city. We need to tackle that problem first than keep on building.

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