Shadow planning minister David Davis visited Sorrento last Friday (7 April) with some alarming news.
The state government wants to “scoop the Mornington Peninsula into metropolitan Melbourne”, he said, where it will have inflicted on it some draconian metro planning rules that don’t now apply down here.
The Hon. David Davis, Minister for Health and Ageing, opening the 2012 U3A Carnival of Learning at Federation Square.

The Hon. David Davis: densification seems a very strange priority to me.

At “huge risk” will be residential areas, where locals and some councillors have fought for years to contain maximum building height at nine metres or less. Mr Davis said these will climb to 11 metres – three storeys – when, or if, the peninsula becomes part of suburban Melbourne.

Two storeys is the right height, Mr Davis told his audience of some 60 community group members and other interested parties at the Sorrento RSL.
And there’s more. Amendment VC110, a new addition to the state planning scheme, is now in force. It applies everywhere, from the Alpine Shire in the state’s north-east to the flat-plain shire of Yarrambiack, in the heart of Victoria’s wheat belt, taking in Patchewollock, Rainbow and Warracknabeal.
A government website states that VC110 introduces “a new general term, ‘garden area’, and [amends] the Neighbourhood Residential Zone, General Residential Zone, Residential Growth Zone, Mixed Use Zone and Township Zone”.
Bandicoot found this on the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DWELP) website.
For Mr Davis, who has a house in Sorrento, peninsula assets such as its open space and heritage were accepted as needing protection when the Mornington Peninsula got its own separate planning scheme not long ago.
But the “intense focus” now is on “densification – the number one overriding objective over the next 30 years”, he said.
“It seems a very strange priority to me,” he said. “I would be thinking about the quality of life in our city, the liveability of it.”
Inner city Stonnington is buying private land to recreate parks “because there is just not enough parkland”.
Richard WynneThe peninsula needs to protect the spaces between townships, to ensure no “creep” occurs at township boundaries. “And you want to make sure that your coastal assets and the parklands and the vegetation is protected and not compromised,” he said.
■  Planning minister Richard Wynne, responsible for introducing “simple, streamlined” million-dollar planning changes that ban objections and appeals to VCAT.
The key change Mr Davis sees in the government’s approach to the peninsula is that it intends to stop treating the area “as a distinct community, a distinct environment with its own necessary focus and its own protections.
“And that worries me greatly because what we’ve got is very precious and I don’t want to see it diminished.”
As well as the general residential zone height limit rise from nine to 11 metres, “there will be no cap on how many residences you can put on such a property. What will be available effectively with 11 metres is a three-storey option and I think that is missing the point in a municipality like this.
“I don’t think we want a holus-bolus shift in general residential zones to a three-storey type of option. I think two is the right number.
“The government is in fact encouraging councils to look at even higher than that,” with 11 metres the tolerated minimum.”
After his presentation, Mr Davis made some comments about VicSmart, touted by DELWP as the “simple, streamlined” planning scheme that (Bandicoot says) is quietly being expanded in scope and project value – plain front fences one month, million-dollar commercial proposals the next.
“For the most minor things [VicSmart] can work well,” he said.
“But the government is now intending to apply it much more broadly and to hand over a lot more decision-making to officers and to do that in a way that will allow a kind of ‘tick sheet’ (for approval of an application within the required 10 days).”
VicSmart planning matters are not advertised; cannot be objected to and no appeal to VCAT is permitted for community members.
It was “quite correct … that [VCAT] actually removes third-party appeal rights and in effect closes down the ability of the community to object [to planning applications] in a timely and fair way”.
Mr Davis said that “Parallel with [VicSmart], the government has put out a tender – this is not known at a public level, I don’t think, as yet” – to substantially rewrite the state planning scheme “to fit within a VicSmart sort of model”.
The successful tenderer is not yet known. “This is many millions of dollars – 25, I think, is the number – to do this process.”
The Victorian community has to be “very careful not to lose what have been long-established third-party appeal rights and we have to make sure that [VicSmart] is limited to minor matters.”
And, so far as Bandicoot is concerned, communities must fiercely oppose the current stealthy removal of long-established democratic rights that provide citizens with a voice in decisions that affect their communities.
Another matter of concern Mr Davis raised are the government-created clusters of councils, Metropolitan Partnerships, comprising “basically six councils, coming up from the peninsula into metropolitan Melbourne”. The clusters have been formed state-wide.
“They are going to be given the job to make decisions about priorities and infrastructure,” Mr Davis said.
“Who is on these bodies? The CEOs are on. But the one thing that is very clear is that elected councillors are not allowed on these bodies.
“I think there’s a genuine democratic deficit … bodies that have been given responsibility to make decisions about priorities and infrastructure for a region (do not include) elected representation.”
Following this was another startling revelation about new planning structures.
“Plan Melbourne goes a step further than that,” Mr Davis said. “In two [unnamed locations] they lay out clearly that, in conjunction with these Metropolitan Partnerships, new metropolitan planning bodies will have a role in setting planning priorities and planning rules in their area, including work on housing plans across the regions.”
Of those being appointed to the Metropolitan Partnership to which Mornington Peninsula Shire belongs, Mr Davis said that among Sorrento locals, “no one would know a single person who was appointed to those bodies”.
A democratic deficit indeed!

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