The Victorian Minister for Planning has triggered controversy with the abrupt introduction of interim planning controls due to concerns that the Melbourne CBD could soon become a warren of ill-lit wind tunnels as a result of breakneck development.

According to Richard Wynne Victoria’s outdated planning laws are failing to adequately regulate the current spate of breakneck development in Melbourne’s downtown area, and threaten to seriously undermine the quality and efficiency of the city’s urban environment.

Wynne notes that the lax planning controls currently in place have not undergone significant revision since the turn of the century

“The Melbourne Planning Scheme currently favours discretionary, performance-based controls to enable alternative built form response and there has been no significant update of the planning controls guiding development in the Central City since 1999, with most controls based on even earlier work,” Wynne said.

“As a result the control are outdated and there has been inconsistency in the use of discretion and therefore no certainty or consistency of outcomes.”

Wynne fears that without the introduction of planning changes the Melbourne CBD “is at risk of darkened streets, wind tunnels and less open space.”

In order to address the problem Wynne has unveiled a raft of temporary planning controls for the Melbourne CBD and parts of nearby Southbank, including a maximum 24:1 plot ratio, the replacement of discretionary height limits with mandatory restrictions, as well as stricter controls on the overshadowing of the river and public areas.

Wynne’s decision follows a recent study by Leanne Hodyl which concluded that central Melbourne is on track to become the world’s densest city, outpacing even Hong Kong, Tokyo and New York.

The Hodyl report slammed existing policies governing the development of high-rise buildings in downtown Melbourne, referring to them as “weak, ineffective, or non-existence.”

“[Existing policy] enables the approval of tower developments that are very tall and that squeeze out the space between buildings, with little regard on the effect on the residents within, the impact on the streets below or on the value of neighbouring properties,” said the report.

Industries bodies such Urban Development Institute and the Property Council of Australia have nonetheless criticised the abrupt nature of Wynne’s introduction of provisional planning controls and its potential deleterious impact on local business.

“Now is not the time to be undermining investor confidence nor is it the time to be sending messages to the business community that Melbourne is closed for business,” said Danni Addison, UDI Victorian chief executive.

“People who have purchased sites before Friday night, some of those sites may now be unviable [for development] and a lot of money has gone into them,” said PCA executive director Jennifer Cunich to Fairfax.