In a recent decision by the VCAT on a housing development which was refused by the local council, the presiding member eloquently summarised the future of housing, planning and travel in the Melbourne of the future.

VCAT proceeded to grant a permit to the applicant, who had unsuccessfully tried to obtain a permit on her land for several years. What a waste of time and money.

But does this council realise money does not grow on trees for developers? Apparently not, as the council regularly appears before the Tribunal only to hear refusals being turned into permits by the Tribunal.

The Tribunal’s decision was as follows:

“ Melbourne is rapidly changing and the metropolitan area in future will be a very different place from the past or the present. On 31 March 2017, the new metropolitan planning strategy was released and changes made to all Planning Schemes in Victoria. Plan Melbourne 2017-2050 in essence updates and revises Plan Melbourne released in 2014.

Underpinning the whole strategy is the necessity to accommodate a population which is projected to increase from approximately 5 million to 8 million people by 2050. Aside from population growth, listed key challenges are remaining competitive in a changing economy, providing housing that is affordable and accessible, keeping up with the growing transport needs of the city, and mitigating and adapting to climate change.

In summary, the strategies set out in Plan Melbourne 2017-2050 include an intention to constrain the outward spread of the urban area and to focus employment, services and development in national employment and innovation clusters, urban renewal precincts and activity centres linked by public transport.

It is anticipated that Melbourne will require an additional 1.6 million homes by 2050 and [the]…region will need to accommodate approximately 175,000 to 180,000 new dwellings in established areas.

Specifically there is an intention to locate medium and higher density development near services, jobs and public transport to support objectives concerning urban consolidation and housing choice. There is support for new housing in activity centres and other places that offer good access to jobs, services and public transport. There is still an intention to create 20-minute neighbourhoods to enable residents to walk, cycle or catch public transport rather than rely on longer trips and the use of private motor vehicles with benefits in reduced travel costs, traffic congestion and carbon emissions.

Whilst many, if not most, of these strategies are not new, they emphasise that the whole metropolitan area will be subject to change, even outside urban renewal areas and activity centres which are to be the focus for higher density development.

One of the significant benefits of providing less car parking is a lower volume of vehicle movements and hence a reduced increase in traffic movements.”

The state government’s overarching policy and vision is something obviously not shared at some of the local government level-because if it were, then this matter would not have burdened the resources of the Tribunal  for three days, not to mention the resources and costs of the applicant.

Time and again, local government takes the emotional stance: Not in My Backyard.

I recently encountered a planning officer in a council close to the city in an area exploding with population growth and facing a housing shortage.

The council was always against double-storey dwellings in a backyard but never gazetted that requirement into its planning scheme. It basically did not believe in change but had attractive brochures envisioning the opposite.

To meet the state government’s demand for more housing, this council (like many others) rezoned parcels of appropriately sited land to the Activity Centre Zone (ACZ). The ACZ area is still a shamble of run down shops and tired postwar detached homes.

While some progressive councils have seized on the opportunities the ACZ allows and are encouraging higher densities and plenty of new housing stock to breathe like into tired looking neighbourhoods, other councils have stuck with the NIMBY attitude.

In response to a question as to what council expected in an ACZ site, the planning officer remarked: “You have to respect the neighbourhood character which are mostly detached single level dwellings!”

Given the circumstances in the area, this archaic attitude is shocking.

My response was that those single storey dwellings would soon be replaced by four-plus storey apartments as the ACZ envisions. But the planning officer, who has been in council for decades, still harped on about Rescode and character – both of which do not apply to four-storey buildings in the ACZ.

The conclusion is simple: change the policies or change the people making decisions, as the status quo is adding to the housing crisis and adding costs to developers.

I hastened to avoid that particular planning officer and requested a meeting with another planning officer as it was obvious an apartment design was something this planning officer was uncomfortable with in an Activity Centre Zone.