Last night I attended a VPELA seminar where guest speakers from a range of fields including archaeology, town planning, the Environment Protection Authority and the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources, spoke on Melbourne’s urban renewal.  Following the presentations, there was a panel discussion.

While the presentations considered both constraints and opportunities for Melbourne’s urban renewal, there was an emphasis on the need to not always focus on the negatives.  An example that was mentioned was Southbank, which is often maligned for its building height but not appreciated for the role it plays in housing population growth and providing activation along the promenade:  when walking past in summer, the waterfront restaurants are jam-packed with people so something must be working!

It was noted that urban renewal areas will play an important role in the housing of Melbourne’s population growth.  Brunswick was mentioned as an example of an area that can accommodate some of this growth with large areas of former industrial land playing an important part.  As demonstrated in our recent article New Residential Zones for Moreland City Council however, the application of the Neighbourhood Residential Zone across 66 per cent of residentially zoned land is a constraint and a lost opportunity to accommodate some of this population growth.

Another constraint identified was the redevelopment of former commercial / industrial sites and the inability to get approvals through quickly.  Some examples were given where it has taken up to two years to obtain planning approval.  With former commercial / industrial sites in existing areas that are well serviced being an asset, the timing for these approvals needs to be improved.

A common theme across the discussion was the need to break away from the political cycle.  For example, it was stated that for Fishermans Bend under the former State Government, the Metropolitan Planning Authority (MPA) was to be the decision making authority, which was seen as a significant step in removing these large urban renewal sites from the political process.  Under the current State Government, the handing of decision making for Fishermans Bend to the Minster for Planning was seen by some speakers as a constraint to obtaining independent decisions.  Similarly, the need for a long term plan for public transport that transcends the political cycle was also raised.  The opportunities that a long term plan would present include saving significant time and cost that is wasted on feasibility studies for projects that do not proceed, providing certainty for business investment and greater public understanding of the direction for public transport investment.

From an archaeological and environment perspective, the former swamp land that has been infilled in Docklands and Fishermans Bend was identified as a significant constraint and is part of the reason for high rise development in these areas, as the construction costs of the foundations often makes lower rise built form less feasible.

Another point of discussion was Docklands and how people are often quick to criticise its development.  Docklands is still in its infancy and therefore, as was the case with the central business district, its character will continue to emerge over time.  Some of the constraints raised were that many of the boulevards and streets are too wide with not enough fine grain development and not enough provision of public facilities.

Enquiries to James Million on 03 8698 9300 or jjm@colliepl.com.au