The Residential Development Advisory Committee (the Committee) on behalf of the Victorian State Government is conducting a review of the residential zones and has released a series of reports suggesting some initial improvements to the zones.  We welcome this review and note that many across the development industry, including Collie, have been critical of how the zones were prepared and implemented.

In our article ‘New Residential Zones for Moreland City Council‘ we expressed concern that the Neighbourhood Residential Zone (NRZ) (the most restrictive zone) has been applied across more than half (61.7 per cent) of Moreland.  When this is compared to other Municipalities such Darebin, which only has 9.3 per cent of land in the NRZ, it is reasonable to conclude that the application of the NRZ has become politicised.  Given that these inner Municipalities adjoin one another and are both well serviced, Moreland appears not to be taking responsibility for ensuring that an incremental level of population growth can be accommodated within its borders and therefore, is relying on other Municipalities (such as Darebin) to accommodate this growth.

As a consequence of the overreliance on the NRZ in some Municipalities, the Committee is concerned that with the current structure of the NRZ this could impact negatively on housing diversity, choice and price.  In our view Municipalities that have a high percentage of the NRZ are stifling opportunities for two to three-storey townhouse / unit style development, which will impact on housing diversity, put pressure on housing supply in various areas and limit reasonable choices.

Similarly, the recommendation of the Committee to increase the maximum building height limit in the NRZ from a mandatory 8 metres to a discretionary 9 metres height limit is a positive outcome.  We do not consider that there should be a one size fits all mandatory height limit, as the height of development should be assessed on a case by case basis and informed by neighbourhood character and amenity impacts on adjoining properties.

Another suggestion by the Committee that we welcome, is revising the Residential Growth Zone (RGZ) to provide consistency between the purpose and the maximum building height.  The RGZ currently allows a discretionary height limit of 13.5 metres, which is at odds with the purpose of the zone which is to “provide housing up to four storeys in height”.  The Committee suggested removing the four-storey height limit from the ‘purpose’ of the zone.  This will allow, where appropriate, development to exceed four storeys without having a conflict with the purpose of the zone and therefore, will make possible higher density residential development in well serviced suitable locations (such as along main roads and in proximity to activity centres).

On the other hand, whilst we note that the suggestions by the Committee are preliminary in nature, there are a number of suggestions with which we do not agree.  An example is seeking to reduce the maximum building footprint allowable for a single dwelling in the NRZ.  If an owner wishes to develop a property with a single dwelling, subject to meeting the relevant requirements of the planning scheme (such as the provision for open space and permeable surfaces), we do not believe an owner should be constrained by dwelling size stipulation.  The odd ‘mansion’ being built in the NRZ is not the problem.  More critical and a bigger problem in our view, is being able to devise a development proposal for multiple dwellings on a lot in the NRZ that is feasible.

Another suggestion with which we have concerns (depending on the limits set) is the preference of the Committee to apply mandatory maximum building height limits in the General Residential Zone (GRZ) and the RGZ.  We are of the view that maximum building heights should be performance based and be assessed having regard to the site context and design response, which is consistent with a number of rulings at Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

To review these reports prepared by the Residential Development Advisory Committee click here (http://www.dtpli.vic.gov.au/planning/panels-and-committees/current-panels-and-committees/managing-residential-development).  As part of the review, the committee is providing the opportunity to make a submission by 29 February 2016.