Victorian Planning: Failing at almost every level
Russell Degnan

In the paper this morning, and over the past week, there have been several planning articles. Directly and indirectly they relate to Melbourne 2030, but even though some of them discuss it, none of them ever engage with it properly, because none of them seem to understand what it really means. This is an abysmal failure on the part of this state's planning fraternity, to actually explain what it means. But then, I am assuming that they really do understand what it means, and perhaps that is wrong too.

Let's start with the articles:
- On Tuesday, the problem was the water supplies of the regional cities, Ballarat and Geelong; predicted to have substantial shortages by 2030. [1]
- An inernational consortium wants to build an estate in Rockbank;
- outer suburban councils and developers want to review the Urban Growth Boundary.
- (Some) farmers in Rockbank don't want their little town to become part of Melbourne;
- while some planners (Michael Buxton) don't want housing encroaching on the green wedges;
- Marcus Spiller wants infrastructure on the city's edge to stop being subsidised by imposing a developer's levy.
- And Guy Rundle wants to protect 'neighbourhood character' in Melbourne's existing suburbs.

What needs to be remembered, nay, must be remembered, is why planning is a worthwhile activity (if indeed it is). The Planning Act lays it out simply enough: planning is to facilitate development, in a manner that respects the amenity, environment, heritage, and character of the built environment. Melbourne 2030 requires exactly the same thing, but is intended as a guide for how to best accomplish this given an expectation for another million Melbourne residents over that period.

The reason I summarised all those articles above is to point out what should be blindly obvious. What looks like a local complaint about heritage, or sprawl, or the environment, or transport, or water, is not local. Every single person living anywhere has some attachment to their place of residence and the local character. Every single person who moves into a residence does so because that is the cheapest place they could find that offered elements of the lifestyle they wished to have.

The problem with the making of that lifestyle choice is that it depends on the choices of people outside your own sphere of control: mostly in the public realm, but also in the private. The entire basis of planning is to mediate that problem by considering the long-term implications of those decisions. The ongoing failure of planners has been to explain why this makes Melbourne 2030 desirable.

Every planning decision has costs. Rejecting an inner-suburban residential tower impacts on Ballarat's water supply, because some of those potential residents choose to live there instead. Not many perhaps, but some [2].

Development levies are not necessarily right, and certainly aren't equitable. Because what you charge for are the current costs of providing for new residents in that place. Consider this example: if 50 years ago I asked you the most cost effective way of housing forty thousand people the answer would undoubtedly be on the urban fringe (plenty of land, sufficient infrastructure, easy access to transport); if I asked you that question every year after that the answer would be the same, for the same reasons. But if I asked you the best way to house two million people fifty years hence, the answer would be very different. The costs of providing Melbourne's infrastructure get higher every year -- consider the Thomson Dam that had to cross the ranges, or the extensions to rail and freeway systems. A regional centre policy would have been much cheaper, but the planning system has never been capable of providing it and still isn't.

There is much more to be said on this, but I need to think it out first. Instead, I'll reiterate my main point: planning, despite what it seems, is not a political exercise. Planning as politics is a waste of time and money, driven and ultimately won by those best placed to exploit the system - namely developers and well-heeled suburban residents (not to mention laywers and planners). If planners want to be something other than despised they would do well to start explaining themselves better.

[1] The second part of this article quoted Federal MP Greg Hunt on recycling city water for country areas. This would be a good idea if Australia's urban population wasn't on the coast. Pumping water up hill is very expensive; pumping it uphill for agricultural purposes is very unlkely to be cost-effective.

[2] It is actually a chain, the first person chooses another spot where they can afford it, pushing out someone else, who pushes out someone else, and son on until someone has to build a house on the urban fringe.

Sterner Matters 22nd October, 2005 23:29:29   [#] 


2030 will be torn up by 2020.
Tony.T  25th October, 2005 19:02:44  

Yes, sort of.
2030 is not much different to the plans of 1985, 1970 and even 1955 (district centres, less sprawl, more freeways etc.). Based on that a new one that looks roughly the same but has newer (but still incorrect) population projections will be produced (and ignored) in 2015.

Unless the Libs get their act together and tear it up first.
Russ  25th October, 2005 21:56:40