Planning and Environment Amendment

MR DIMOPOULOS (Oakleigh) — It gives me great pleasure to speak on this bill. This has been a big issue — I know other colleagues have said similar things — in my community, particularly around Carnegie and Ormond and parts of Murrumbeena and Notting Hill, covering two different councils: Glen Eira and Monash. The many hundreds of people in my community I spoke to in relation to this specific issue feel quite let down by the previous government’s handling of development generally. In my view the bill addresses some of the current imbalances in the planning system. I disagree entirely that it is underwhelming. You are damned by the opposition if you make any little bit of progress in this area, and you are also damned if you do not do anything.

Just to be clear, the bill amends two key provisions of the Planning and Environment Act 1987 — sections 60 and 84B — to set out that the responsible authority must consider, before deciding on a permit application, the volume of community objection and community concern. My issue with planning in the municipalities my electorate covers is that while there has been an increase in development pressure over the years, including in our previous time in government, the last few years under the previous government saw an acceleration of that pressure and there was not a commensurate response by the previous government.

Firstly, we had the imposition of the commercial zones with no height limits. After that we had inconsistent application of residential zones. For example, Glen Eira City Council applied for and received from the then government and the then Minister for Planning a translation of the zones from the old to the new without consultation with the community. I remember the language from when I was on the Monash City Council, that it was a ‘direct translation’ between those incoming zones and the zones that existed. That is a misnomer; there is no direct translation; there is an approximate translation. My concern about that is that the new zones have different attributes from those that were ‘directly’ translated.

An example of that for my community, particularly around Carnegie, is around the streets on the south side of Neerim Road — streets like Shepparton Avenue, Belsize Avenue, Tranmere Avenue, Elliott Avenue and others. For any normal layperson Neerim Road would be a hard-and-fast border in terms of separating a clearly residential zone from an activity zone where the railway station and shopping centre are. The so-called direct translation meant that probably the first 10 houses or so on the south side of Neerim Road ended up being in the high-growth zone and so could have high-density development while half the street is not in that zone. To me, that does not make sense. If that is what was meant by ‘direct translation’, it has failed.

There is an enormous amount of anecdotal evidence in Glen Eira specifically but in other areas in Monash as well where the development pressure is intense. Just the other week we had a decision by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) approving a 12-storey apartment building in Carnegie — 12 storeys! We are not talking about Richmond; we are talking about Carnegie. It will be the highest apartment building in Carnegie and the highest in the whole city of Glen Eira, and it is entirely inappropriate. That is one example.

I also have here a report from the City of Glen Eira from its meeting of 28 April. Item 9.8 on the agenda for that council meeting shows the number of new dwellings approved for the period before the residential zones came in and the number for the period after. In the 15 months before, May 2012 to July 2013, in Carnegie there were 92 new dwellings. In the 15 months after the new zones came in there were 221 new dwellings. That is an enormous increase. I do not necessarily ascribe every single one of those new dwellings to the residential zones, but you cannot look at those statistics and not find a causal relationship between those two things. Ormond in the same period went from 19 to 55, more than doubling.

This has been said before. I have no issue with development but I have an issue with development that is out of step with community expectations. While community expectations are hard to define, if you do enough work, you can define what they are. My personal view is that VCAT is out of step with community expectations. What ends up happening is that councillors and council officers self-regulate in anticipation of a VCAT outcome. You then start having conversations with the community, saying, ‘We should do this because you could get a far worse outcome at VCAT’. I do not think those kinds of conversations are constructive.

This bill is not a magic pill — I want to make that really clear to my community — and it will not relieve all our development pressures. Unfortunately it will not be a magic pill for some of the most offensive development applications. It will, however, be one of a number of tools in our armoury as residents to fight the most excessive elements of development. This government is not just introducing one bill to equalise the current imbalance that exists between the planning system and residents. I note that the Minister for Planning has also released a discussion paper entitled Better Apartments. The minister and the government have made a commitment to review the implementation of residential zones later this year. This is the third initiative that makes changes to what VCAT and the authorities must consider. These three things will together lead to an outcome which equalises the current power imbalance between residents and the development process.

I am proud to speak on this bill. I look forward to the other two initiatives announced by the government and the minister taking shape and starting to enhance the planning system for residents so that they have a say in the planning of their community and their future. I commend the bill to the house.

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