Write your own Zone: Any four toppings
Russell Degnan

The Age A3 Yesterday made an oblique reference to the changes to the Port Phillip Planning Scheme that were gazetted this week. The crux of the change is the new schedule to a special use zone in the St. Kilda 'Triangle Site'.

I don't plan to deal with the residents arguments that the site "isn't broke" except to point out that it is surrounded by two very busy pedestrian unfriendly roads and has an ugly carpark. That the Palais is crumbling from neglect - maybe all these rich musos should buy it instead of whining - and that the Palace might be a great venue but it is also a seedy shack. And, that you have to have some plan, and this is what has been created.

But what a strange creation. When the new planning schemes came in they were designed to reduce the number of zones, to give developer certainty. But what this shows is that with State Government acquiesance you can have whatever zoning laws you might wish for any piece of land you might choose. This site has an 'as-of-right' use for a cinema, function centre, indoor recreation, nightclub or restaurant. It takes into account heritage, architectural and urban design, and pedestrian issues normally just hinted at.

Most controversially, it exempts the developer "from the notice requirements of Section 52(1)(a), (b) and (d), the decision requirements of Section 64(1), (2) and (3) and the appeal rights of Section 82(1) of the Act". This is in accordance with the Act in each of these Sections that allow it to happen. The question is, why is this site so different as to warrant removing some of the core democratic parts of the act?

The mayor claims that it is for "commercial certainty" but if commercial certainty was an aim for a planning scheme then the best measure would be to abolish it completely. In effect, by removing the right of appeal, and rewriting the zoning to be site specific, the council has made itself the sole arbiter of what will go there. The statements in the document are almost irrelevant. What we have now is a political fight between the council, residents and the developer, whomever that is. Objective planning will go out the window the second it leaves the planning office and enters the council chambers.

It may, in fact, be a useful thing. For such a controversial site, a political and legal fight was almost inevitable. Allowing the council take leadership on the issue (barring a ministerial call-in) at least makes the responsibility clear to everyone. Not least of all, to electors. But your mileage may vary there. Does it lend itself to corruption? To favouritism? To good or bad planning outcomes? To controversy? To more, or less uncertainty?

Either way, interesting times ahead.

Sterner Matters 17th July, 2004 18:24:00   [#]