COMMERCE v. CULTURE CLASH AT SORRENTO

Bandicoot sat enthralled at last Monday’s (31 July) planning meeting as a tense tussle was exposed between shire urban designer James Bryan and an Independent Panel whose report, dealt with below, will be considered in deciding the fate of Ocean Beach Rd, Sorrento, by the increasingly imperious and un-consultative state Planning Minister, Richard Wynne.

The contest had actually occurred earlier, when Mr Bryan tapped out his comments on what the Wynne-appointed Panel had decided about the future of Ocean Beach Rd, the most historic and cultural thoroughfare on the Mornington Peninsula.

This grand promenade is now under intense, sustained attack from developers whose vision bypasses history and culture to focus on the piles of money – the higher the better – that beckon from its beautiful low-scale local limestone buildings.

conti - postcardHistory is indeed in the eye of the beholder, as was made clear when VCAT recently approved an apartment block that may soon squat, toad-like, behind the gorgeous Continental Hotel.

There in all its ugliness is revealed the clash between commerce and culture, between a government intent on cramming millions more into Victoria and the helplessness of local communities to stop a mindless “Model T” (any colour you want so long as it’s black) planning approach to every corner of the state.

McCulloughSorrento must bear its share of the burden of this rising population tide, along with Melbourne suburbs amply blessed with trams, trains, electricity and the rest, decrees Minister Wynne, in a message presumably being heard in every village across the state.

The panel advising on Sorrento was headed by Mr Trevor McCullough (pictured), an experienced civil engineer and planner, formerly an engineer at VicRoads, the Public Transport Corporation, plus stints at various councils.

He was assisted by panel member Ms Rachael O’Neill, a consultant with expertise in commercial, education and residential developments. Previous employment includes spells at Glen Eira and Stonnington councils.

O'NeillMs O’Neill (pictured) co-authored the ‘Residential Zone Review’ (RZR) report for Mr Wynne, from which emerged the now-infamous VC110 planning scheme that imposes three-storey residential height limits on communities across Victoria and, in the view of many peninsula residents, wantonly draws the Mornington Peninsula into metropolitan Melbourne: Brunswick meets Bittern.

Mr Wynne’s three-storey limit applies to the low-profile Mornington Peninsula, making it as vulnerable as crowded inner-city suburbs to new developer depredations.

Apparently ignoring the peninsula’s own state-recognised planning scheme, the Localised Planning Statement, Mr Wynne clearly saw the virtue of following the RZR’s “pragmatic approach” of placing an “obligation [on] all councils to accommodate growth …

“…[N]ow is the time,” the report advises, “to make recommended changes to the residential zones, before they become too embedded in planning schemes” – possibly code for “Get rid of these zones while you still can.”

Which brings us back to Sorrento, last Monday’s Planning Services Committee meeting and James Bryan. He took the Independent Panel’s report and carefully aimed his blowtorch at its belly. He writes: “This section of the report [to councillors] will outline each of the main elements and statements within the Panel Report that are contested by Council, as well as a follow up analysis and response.”

Bandicoot will now, with judicious editing (he must not detain you too long), set out the Panel vs Shire contest. You will find it a stirring event. Bandicoot presumes to add comment and explanation and provide emphasis as he feels necessary in italics or in square brackets.

You can read the entire report on the shire website.

Go to http://www.mornpen.vic.gov.au/About-Us/About-Our-Council/Council-Meetings/CouncilCommittee-Meeting-Agendas-and-Minutes?BestBetMatch=agenda|d13b95b2-5146-4b00-9e3e-a80c73739a64|4f05f368-ecaa-4a93-b749-7ad6c4867c1f|en-AU and download “31 July 2017 Planning Services Committee Meeting”

THE EXCHANGE

Conti - newNote that planning panels are advisory, not infallible. The assertion/rebuttal process set out here is a normal procedure … but who might Mr Wynne be inclined to favour?

Panel … there has not been a high number of applications that would constitute “development pressure” or at a level that seems overwhelming for an activity centre.

Mr Bryan Sorrento is under significant development pressure. It is … receiving the most apartment and commercial development applications on the Peninsula. Over the past five years Sorrento has received more mixed use three storey development applicationsmaking it a centre under significant development pressure, which is concerning given [it] is classified as a local neighbourhood centre.

Panel The overall height of developments that have been approved are generally consistent with the heights referenced in the amendment, although setbacks and numbers of storeys vary.

Mr Bryan The underlined section is the main reason the amendment [C204] is proposed – to provide stricter and more appropriate setback/height controls.

Panel It is evident that the extent of change is unlikely to be as significant as other activity centres.

Mr Bryan This is incorrect. As mentioned above, Sorrento is experiencing the most change out of any activity centre on the Peninsula.

Panel The Panel … acknowledges [a] clear policy direction in Plan Melbourne 2017, including … that all activity centres have the capacity to continue to grow and diversify the range of activities they offer.

Mr Bryan [That policy direction] also states that “Local plans undertaken in consultation with the community will identify the scope and nature of future growth within each activity centre”. It is clear from consultation, that the community are of the view that mandatory controls are necessary.

Furthermore, [other sections] of Plan Melbourne encourages growth around employment clusters. This reference to 1.2.1 is not relevant, as Sorrento is clearly mandated in the planning scheme as a local neighbourhood centre and not to be considered on the same scale as other activity centres within Plan Melbourne. This is also re-enforced through the Localised Planning Statement – that states that the Peninsula should be considered as separate and more sensitive to that of Metropolitan Melbourne.

Sorrento is clearly not considered as an activity centre in the same sense as what is contemplated within Plan Melbourne.

Panel this is a situation where the imposition of mandatory controls is not necessary to facilitate appropriate development and growth within the Sorrento commercial centre.

the Panel does not agree with [shire] submissions that there has been development pressure on the town or indeed that the development undertaken has resulted in intended or unplanned change.

Mr Bryan Again, there has been significant development pressure on the township when considered in the context of development in activity centres on the Peninsula.

Sorrento is receiving the most mixed use and multi-storey developments on the Peninsula (approximately eight in the last five years, compared to four in Mornington – which is a Major Activity Centre).

Panel the policy framework does not support the use of mandatory controls.

Mr Bryan Mornington Peninsula Localised Planning Statement is a state policy document that says mandatory controls are warranted on the Peninsula “where necessary, due to the particular pressures on the Peninsula’s rural landscapes coasts, towns and villages, and the risk of unintended and unplanned change through cumulative impacts”.

Sorrento is a key example of this unintended and cumulative impact.

Panel It is possible to achieve development that is broadly consistent with design objectives but that allows for variation in height or setback to encourage differentiation between buildings and visual interest without uniformity.

Mr Bryan The key reason the proposed planning scheme provisions were drafted with mandatory controls was because the existing planning policy framework is insufficient and undesirable built form outcomes are resulting, due to flexibility currently afforded. Given the centre’s historic and coastal nature it is paramount that mandatory provisions be introduced to enable development to be achieved but to ensure that development is consistent with the character of the area and does not overwhelm the significance of the precinct.

Panel The Panel acknowledges that there has not been a built form analysis in a form typically seen… It does not identify land use outcomes or economic growth objectives or address issues of amenity.

Mr Bryan work done by [two expert groups] are built form analyses. [One] analysis does identify land use patterns. The [other] also considers land use and amenity impacts from inappropriate development.

In terms of economic growth, local policy places Sorrento at the lower end of the activity centre hierarchy on the Peninsula. It is not desirable for this centre to grow significantly (e.g. there are a lack of services, jobs and transport to support a significant increase in population or commercial floor space). An economic analysis is not warranted or necessary.

In any case, the mandatory height control of three storeys will not impact upon the economic growth of the township. Mornington (which is a Major Activity Centre) has a mandatory height control and is a thriving hub of commercial activity.

Panel … there are no ‘exceptional circumstances’ for the precinct, and therefore no cause to warrant mandatory controls. Whilst there are significant heritage places, these have been identified and included in site specific heritage overlays. There are contributory buildings within the land subject to the amendment; however, the number is modest within the overall centre.

Mr Bryan Sorrento is a prime example of an ‘exceptional circumstance’ as foreshadowed in Practice Note 59. It has a significant amount of heritage fabric and is a coastal township. Given that mandatory controls have been supported on other areas of the Peninsula in a similar context (e.g. Flinders), it is concerning that Sorrento, which has the highest cluster of heritage buildings on the Peninsula, is not considered an ‘exceptional circumstance’.

Planning Practice note clearly articulates that where a centre is of heritage and coastal significance that mandatory provisions are considered reasonable and necessary to ensure those special characteristics are not eroded over time due to flexibility and differences of interpretation.

Panel Whilst the Panel accepts [that one expert] report includes a built form analysis of the centre, there has not been any further strategic work undertaken in the form that is called for by the Practice Note, including a housing strategy, an economic strategy, a capacity and constraints analysis, or an identification and analysis of key sites within the centre which can accommodate more intense development.

Mr Bryan The opening sentence here is contradictory to previous Panel comments, as the Panel has stated prior that there has not been a built form analysis.

In terms of further strategic work – Council already has policy for the future growth of Sorrento. A HSS [Housing and Settlement Strategy] is not necessary, given the township is not going to grow significantly. For this reason, an economic strategy is also not necessary.

Council refutes the Panel’s comments the appropriate work to strategically justify the amendment has not been done. A capacity and constraints analysis was done in both [expert] documents including an identification and analysis of the key sites within the centre which can accommodate development.

The further strategic work suggested by the Panel is not necessary; as it has either already been done within existing Council plans, or the answers that this work would reveal are already known.

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If you are still reading, well done!

Mr Wynne and his planning advisers hold the peninsula’s future hostage. Their decisions could change our environment irrevocably, tragically.

It is still to be hoped that the minister will rethink his precipitate decision to treat Mornington Peninsula like just any other suburb. It certainly is not. That is clear to the millions who visit us from Victoria and overseas. Apparently Mr Wynne is not among them.

Bandicoot invites him to clear his schedule so he can make a tour of inspection – he will be welcome – to see for himself that this part of Victoria is, simply, different and worth the special treatment recognised and protected in its own Planning Statement.