Whenever any city faces council elections, conversations about the broad issues and direction of the city in question come into focus.
Melbourne is no exception, and the holding of municipal elections during October has shone light upon critical challenges which the city faces.
That begs questions about who residents have chosen and what direction each of the candidates for Lord Mayor - current lord mayor Robert Doyle, Greens representative and human rights activist Olivia Ball, current councillor Ken Ong and renowned footballer and political commentator Phil Cleary - would take the city from a built asset perspective.
On the first issue, final results will not be announced until the week beginning October 31 - although early counting suggested that current Lord Mayor Robert Doyle held the lead.
In regards to the second question, critical issues were discussed during a Property Council lunch held in Melbourne on October 19. During this time, each candidate was given three minutes to outline their priorities for the built environment. Subsequently, each was asked for their views about:
- their four-year plan for residential and commercial rates and whether or not there will be any reductions for those impacted by major infrastructure developments (such as the Metro tunnel).
- how they will tackle homelessness within inner areas of the city
- their position on the state government’s C270 built form review (which proposes changes to planning controls that guide the built form and development of Melbourne’s central city); and
- their views on a proposed redevelopment of the iconic Queen Victoria Market, which would see the construction of two high-rise towers, the temporary removal of heritage-listed sheds that currently house souvenir and fruit stalls and construction of a sprawling underground services area.
To an extent, there were areas of common ground. All candidates acknowledged, for example, the importance of the city in generating economic opportunities as well as the need at a social level to reduce the number of people sleeping rough on the streets.
Beyond that, however, there were differences in terms of both priorities and specific solutions. On priorities, Doyle stresses the importance of stability and the need to both minimise upward pressure upon rates and maintain the city’s balance sheet through strong financial management. Cleary devotes more attention to social issues and addressing homelessness. He promises to convene a multi-stakeholder forum within thirty days of being elected and to develop an evidence-based appreciation of underlying causes of sleeping rough. The main focus of Ball, meanwhile, revolves around stricter planning controls and provision of social infrastructure such as schools, childcare centres, open spaces and recreational facilities. Ball is also pushing a developer contributions scheme through which funding for social infrastructure would be provided. Ong, finally, wants more attention to be given to the streetscape and improving the interaction between residents, visitors and surrounding buildings at the street level.
On individual matters, Doyle and Cleary clash on the proposed redevelopment of the Queen Victoria Market, which Doyle champions but which Cleary joined the race specifically to oppose. According to Doyle, the proposal reflects extensive consultation, addresses serious deficiencies with the current state of the market and is necessary to ensure the market’s long term future. Cleary, however, says the plans would destroy the market’s character would disrupt trader operations whilst the redevelopment was in progress.
On other issues, whilst all candidates agree that the C270 amendment to the city’s planning scheme will provide greater clarity and certainty, Doyle talks of a need to differentiate between residential and commercial buildings – the latter with regard to which he feels setback requirements may not be necessary. On homelessness, too, Cleary and Ong want an evidence based approach to core problems whilst Ball wants inclusionary zoning and higher rates for dwellings which remain vacant – a concept which she says will deliver a market based mechanism through which to encourage dwellings to be provided for use.
The latest election comes as the area around inner Melbourne continues to undergo significant areas of fundamental change. With precincts, such as Fisherman’s Bend, E-Gate and Arden, inner Melbourne is undergoing a significant degree of urban renewal. Works associated with the Metro Tunnel project linking the Sunbury line in the north-west with the Dandenong and Pakenham line in the south-east will also cause significant levels of medium term disruption.
The election also comes as inner Melbourne is undergoing fundamental change amid massive growth in the number of inner urban apartments being built as well as a process to institute new design guidelines for inner urban apartments along with the new planning controls referred to above.
The Candidates and What They Stand re: the Built Environment
Below is a summary of each of the four candidates and what they stand for from the point of view of significant issues impacting the built environment.
Candidate 1: Phil Cleary
Renowned as a former player and coach in the Victorian Football League, Cleary is an avid commentator on politics and sport and has previously served as an independent politician in the House of Representatives. Is a strong campaigner on issues such as social justice, housing for all, clean energy and ending ‘closed door developer deals’ as he says on his web site.
General Focus and Priorities:
Whilst acknowledging the importance of both commerce and the built environment, Cleary’s main priorities centre around social justice and opposing the redevelopment of the Queen Victoria Market.
On the former point, he says Melbourne needs to examine the plight of homelessness people and develop evidence based solutions as well as address route causes. On the latter, he believes the proposed redevelopment will destroy much of the character of the market and be disastrous for traders throughout construction.
Would like to keep rate increases to a minimum and says this is can be best achieved by avoiding expenditure on what he considers to be poor projects such as the $250 million he says the Council is spending on the redevelopment of the Queen Victoria Market. Speaking of media questions posed to him about a surge in defaults of rates around the city of Melbourne, he would also like to see a better inventory of what properties are actually being purchased in the city.
Expresses frustration that rough sleeping has become more actively discussed during the election campaign as opposed to having been more prominent over the course of recent years. Talks of a lack of evidence based reporting on the issue and questions whether or not we truly understand underlying causes in a comprehensive manner - saying that if factors such as unemployment, family violence and mental health are important threads then we need to go back and look at how we are tackling these problems at the source. Promises if elected to conduct a forum bringing all relevant stakeholders together within the first thirty days.
C270 Built Form Review
Talks of a fundamental problem of the ‘building culture’ in Melbourne whereby we are putting up endless towers of apartments in the CBD and inner suburbs without adequately engaging in efforts to create a sense of community and liveability. Acknowledges that the C270 amendments do go some way to addressing concerns relating to setback and heights and offer incentives to developers regarding the provision of community infrastructure, open space and commercial office space but calls for a wider ranging review about the type of housing being provided and a ten-year plan for the Melbourne built environment.
Queen Victoria Market
Decided to run for Lord Mayor out of passion to oppose the development, which he says will destroy its character. Disagrees with Doyle’s interpretation (see below) about the extent and nature of problems which traders believe that they face. According to Cleary, indications from traders are that they need only weatherproofing, water and a new management – the latter of which he says has failed the market and must be replaced. He says the multi-year development period which will send traders under boards will ruin many traders and that ideas about new towers and digging up the carpark will destroy fabric of the market and ruin its atmosphere.
Candidate 2: Dr Ken Ong
Current councillor who chairs the Council’s planning portfolio and is deputy chair of the finance and governance portfolio and of the major projects portfolio. Is also the Council’s representative on the Disability Advisory Committee, Metropolitan Local Government’s Waste Forum, the Inner Melbourne Action Plan Committee and the Committee for Melbourne.
General Focus and Priorities:
Feels that a focus on commercial prosperity and attracting investment is important but that more critical issues revolve around liveability and attracting more families into the city. To do this, he says we need good amenities and facilities as well as more social infrastructure such as schools. Whilst he is less concerned about building height, Ong says a critical area of focus revolves around the street level and improving the experience at this level for everyday people and visitors as well as promoting a more vibrant retail environment.
Believes we should look at reducing rates over time where possible. Feels that there has been an overshooting of residential development in the city at the expense of commercial space and would like to see the differential between commercial and residential rates evened out in order to promote commercial investment. Would look at compensation to residential/commercial residents whose premises was impacted by local infrastructure projects and would lobby the state for appropriate compensation in the case of state based projects.
Agrees that homelessness is out of control and says we need both immediate and long term strategies to address underlying causes.
In the short term, this means providing safe and well managed emergency accommodation as well as funding programs to provide training and support in order to assist people in getting back on their feet. Longer term, he says the Council must work with state and federal governments to provide housing solutions.
Says that whilst much of the explosion of residential building across the city in recent times has been of a high standard, this has in fact not been the case everywhere and that we have a mismatch of good and poor quality stock as a result. Believes that the C270 amendments will help by making rules clearer and providing opportunities for developers to add value to the community in exchange for more favourable plot ratios.
On the commercial building side, wants to improve underlying demand by encouraging business to invest in the city and by creating innovation hubs.
Queen Victoria Market
Agrees that the market needs better facilities and says there could be opportunities to attract new traders and extend trading hours but cautions that we need more detail about the proposed conversion of the carpark to open space.
Candidate 3: Olivia Ball
The Greens’ candidate for the role, Ball is a qualified psychologist and long standing human rights campaigner with a background in teaching as well as human rights advocacy and policy.
General Focus and Priorities:
Acknowledges the importance of the inner city from an economic perspective but says a priority of government should be to help ensure that the benefits of the wealth which the city generates are evenly spread.
Argues that ‘deregulation’ in terms of planning has led to poor outcomes such as large towers with inadequate separation and that the city currently lacks a sustainable funding strategy for social infrastructure such as schools, childcare facilities, sporting grounds and open spaces. Would like to see better planning rules to dictate adequate levels of privacy and building separation as well as a developer contribution regime out of which aforementioned social infrastructure would be funded.
Feels that the 17 percent difference between commercial and residential rates remains appropriate but says that the Greens would also seek to apply different rates to residential properties which are vacant as opposed to those which are in use. This, she said, would deliver a market based mechanism to discourage owners from leaving properties vacant and would raise money for investment in social infrastructure.
Talks of housing as a basic human right and a critical aspect of social infrastructure. Says the most important factor in this regard is to adopt fundamental measures to address long term affordability issues. These include a ‘vacancy tax’ (higher rates on vacant apartments) to discourage the practice of units remaining unoccupied, inclusionary zoning policies whereby all new developments would be required to allocate 15 percent of floor space to low cost housing and the removal of requirements relating to the compulsory provision of street parking - which she says add an undue impost to new housing provision.
Welcomes C270 review, whereby she says the combination of plot ratios will be clearer and will restore much needed certainty and integrity to the planning system in the wake of the helter skelter developments approved by then planning minister Matthew Guy several years back. Would also like to see the introduction of developer contributions, which she says could be applied to fund more community infrastructure.
Queen Victoria Market
Due to recording issues, much of Ball’s response to this question was not captured. However, Ball did call for an overhaul of governance structures so that management was accountable to traders and to the general public as opposed to merely seeking to maximise return on investment. Has previously told media outlets that the Greens were opposed to any major developments such as supermarkets which would compromise the character and heritage value of the site.
Candidate 4: Lord Mayor Robert Doyle
Current Lord Mayor who has served two terms in the role and chair of the major projects portfolio. Holds statutory appointments on the Lord Mayors Charitable Foundation, the Cancer Council of Victoria, the Shrine of Remembrance Trusts and the Melbourne Art Trust. Is also the Council’s representative on the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, the Council of Capital City Lord Mayors, the Council’s Chief Executive Officer Employment Matters Committee and the Ministerial Mayors Advisory Panel.
General Focus and Priorities:
Says the city must focus upon strong economic and financial management to enable ongoing competitiveness with regard to property rates. Argues that his team has a record of strong financial and economic management and says that his established working relationship with governments at higher levels will serve both personal and corporate residents of the city well as his team is able to effectively advocate for the needs of residents as around $42 billion worth of infrastructure projects which impacts the city get going in the next two years.
Claims a strong track record at keeping rate rises low. Says he will leverage his team’s established relations with state government departments and infrastructure delivery authorities in order to get the best deal possible for inner city personal and corporate residents with regard to any compensation for disruption due to infrastructure program such as the Melbourne Metro.
Argues that addressing homelessness and reducing the number of people sleeping rough is the area of highest priority as far as social problems go. Says underlying causes of homelessness (family violence, drug and alcohol addiction, mental health issues etc.) are well understood but that the city needs to drive better coordination in terms of services provided not just within its own efforts but also between itself, state and federal governments and the private sector.
Also stresses the need to look at measures to prevent people from falling into homelessness as well as to find and assist those who do fall into this circumstance as quickly as possible. Feels that some responses to homelessness are in fact counter-productive and in fact serve to further entrench people’s situations. This includes providing those who are sleeping rough with tents, blankets, generators or portable showers.
Acknowledges that tower separation and setback requirements are important for residential development but remains concerned about a situation whereby he says that residential and commercial development within the city have gone from being about even in terms of pace over the five years to 2010 to residential having outstripped commercial office space development by a factor of two and a half to one over the past five years and being expected to outstrip commercial by a factor of four to one in the next five years.
Feels there should therefore be a differentiation between residential and commercial development and that the tower separation and setback requirements, and that these are not quite so necessary where commercial development is concerned.
Queen Victoria Market
Stresses that the current renewal plan has been considered over a five-year period with four rounds of consultation and input and feedback from over 700 people, and that the City has sought protection of the market’s authentic character through moves to pursue world heritage listing.
Says the current situation whereby the market lacks storage, chill or power is unsatisfactory and stresses that he has been warned by traders that the long-term future of the market cannot be assured unless facilities improved. Claims that under the current plan, the only difference the public will notice as a result of the renovation is that the carpark will be converted into open space.