Plan Melbourne, Victoria’s integrated land use, community infrastructure, and transport strategy, was released in late May.

The new plan, which will guide the state’s development through 2050, includes for the first time a dedicated regional authority, the Metropolitan Transit Authority, or MTA, to implement the goals of the plan. Community, professional, and industry stakeholders collaborated for more than two years to develop Plan Melbourne.

The Metropolitan Planning Authority was created in 2013 to facilitate implementation and enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of projects.

“The MPA will drive the delivery of Plan Melbourne and an authority such as this has been the missing link in other strategic Plans,” said Jennifer Cunich, executive director of the Victoria Division of the Property Council Of Australia.

The MTA is charged with working with stakeholders such as landowners, developers, local governments, and state government agencies.

“It will focus on facilitating appropriate development and help to coordinate government investment. It will also work to speed up development processes and advise on opportunities to cut red tape in these areas,” the plan states.

In addition, five new subregions were created to streamline the functions of local governments.

According to the plan, Melbourne is facing robust growth and will reach a population of 7.7 million people by 2051, a gain of 3.4 million. Approximately 1.7 million new jobs and 1.6 million new dwellings will be needed over that time frame, as well.

In the past decade alone, over 600,000 new residents have moved to the Melbourne area, with nearly 60 per cent choosing to live in the outer suburbs. The city’s infrastructure and service systems have been strained by the pattern and rate of growth.

Plan Melbourne contains nine strategic principles intended to direct and inform implementation efforts:

● A distinctive Melbourne
● A globally connected and competitive city
● Social and economic participation
● Strong communities
● Environmental resilience
● A polycentric city linked to regional cities
● Living locally in a “20-minute neighbourhood”
● Infrastructure investment that supports city growth
● Leadership and partnership.

“I think these are strong principles which will provide the framework for all government departments and agencies to work within,” said Cunich. “If this whole of government approach is achieved, I think the benefit to Victorians will be substantial.”

Two key ideas, the “20-minute neighbourhood” and the “polycentric city,” were highlighted by Premier Denis Napthine in his foreword to the plan.

The concept of a polycentric city reflects distributed centres of community, recreational, and business activity that link together and are all connected to a central city area. Many vibrant areas, distributed throughout the city, mesh cleanly with the concept of 20-minute neighbourhoods.

The concept of a 20-minute neighbourhood reflects the desire of residents to have amenities close to home, within a 20-minute walk. Several initiatives will facilitate efforts to create these neighbourhoods, including supporting local governments in planning and managing their neighbourhoods, making neighbourhoods pedestrian-friendly, and facilitating most new dwellings within existing development that’s close to the transit network.

“Creating a city of 20-minute neighbourhoods relies on creating the market size and concentration that can support a broad range of local services and facilities,” the plan states.

The plan notes that several existing areas can presently be called 20-minute neighbourhoods, such as inner suburbs. Newer developments such as Wyndham’s Riverwalk Town Centre and Selandra Rise in Case include amenities to encourage walking.

In addition, Plan Melbourne identified five challenges to livability and competitiveness the region faces as it grows:

● Congestion affects both drivers and transit users and will worsen if not addressed now.
● Affordability is declining, as competition for housing close to the city has driven up prices, leaving middle- and low-income households to travel farther to the suburbs, where they may have less access to employment.
● Accessibility can be an issue for households that move to the suburbs, beyond the reach of needed infrastructure, services, employment, and recreation opportunities.
● Climate change will present challenges in the future,
● People moving beyond the city into rural areas also puts pressure on the supply of productive farmland and recreational land, as well as the services that larger settlements require.

Another potential challenge involves the role of local councils.

“History shows us that in most cases politics gets in the way of planning,” Cunich said. “Some local councils will inevitably try to lock down their suburbs and push growth into those areas that do not have the infrastructure to support the increasing population.”