The policy lists design principles to be had regard to, and over time has included reference to Departmental guidelines for activity centre design, higher density residential development, and safety. Otherwise, little has changed and the policy remains primarily a list of principles to be balanced against other, sometimes thought competing policies, and administered by mostly unskilled practitioners – including local government councillors – in the assessment of planning permit applications.
Despite Clause 19.03, the consistent requirement for a site analysis and design response statement, and the many local provisions referencing good quality architecture and contemporary design, the quality of built form outcomes remains a focus for contention in the planning process, giving rise to delay and controversy in the processing of development applications. This adds considerably to cost and affordability and, because single dwelling development is generally exempt from planning permission, single dwellings become a line of least resistance making development at the fringe on greenfield sites easier than any reworking or increasing density in established areas.
Victoria’s significant demographic change and population growth, as well as the need for new approaches to address climate change and the global financial crisis, means there is increasing urgency to address this lack of confidence in the planning system’s ability to deliver good built form outcomes.
Different tools and processes
The Government is presently looking to different tools and decision making mechanisms to support the pace of change required to meet the pressures of household and population growth. New residential zones, a new activity centre zone and an urban renewal zone are under consideration. A number of activity centres have also been targeted for accelerated change as Central Activities Districts (CADs), and Principal Activity Centres (PACs). In addition, Development Assessment Committees (DACs) are proposed, starting with the five PACs of Camberwell, Preston, Coburg, Doncaster Hill and Geelong. Government has moved to accelerate development approvals, leaving open the imperative to ensure that in haste, design quality is maintained and the outcomes not become the subject of future controversy. The current review of the Planning and Environment Act and the recent release of the Urban Design Charter, together with pressures for development, offer a context for reviewing Victoria’s approach to ensuring a planning system that can expeditiously deliver good quality built form outcomes.
Confidence in the planning scheme’s ability to deliver well-designed built form outcomes will be challenged by this pace for change. At issue then is how confidence levels can be improved in terms of public processes, skills and understanding.