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26 February 2018

City of Melbourne Set to Change the Face of CBD Car Parking

The City of Melbourne is considering an amendment to the Planning Scheme aimed at improving the quality of urban design for private developments in the Central City and Southbank.

What is proposed under the Planning Scheme Amendment 308?

The new mandatory requirements sought through a DDO are:

  • Car parking in developments in the Central City must be underground.
  • For developments in Southbank, where ground conditions make it difficult to provide underground parking, parking can be located above ground, provided that:

o   It is located at Level 1 or above;

o   It is sleeved by active uses to main streets, and;

o   It is designed with floor to floor heights of at least 3.5m to enable them to be repurposed in future.

  • At ground level, building services are not to occupy more than 40% of the total site area.

Essentially, car parking is proposed to be pushed out of the most visible aspects of our buildings in the city. The proposed DDO clearly shows that Melbourne City Council prioritises better urban design outcomes over cars. An approach that does not favour the provision of parking is suitable in the central city, where one has excellent access to public transport and all the amenities of the CBD. 

The incorporation of controls that enable future adaptation in above-ground parking levels (in Southbank at least) is also considered a good initiative. We are not far away from a future where owning cars becomes a thing of the past (driverless, shared vehicles etc). Better that we future-proof our buildings now!

What might this mean for development?

Given the number of developments in the Central City that have incorporated above-ground parking solutions, this proposal will surely impact on construction costs, constructability or indeed the ability to provide parking at all.

Despite having existing planning controls in place that do not require developments to provide any parking, developers have been building them into their developments to meet a desire from the market for parking, particularly for residential developments.

The proposal will likely drive up the prices of developments that do provide parking and may reduce the marketability and selling price of developments that don’t provide parking, at least in the short term.

What will it mean for car parking?

  • More inventive car parking solutions that require the least amount of digging such as car stackers will be used to a greater degree.
  • More bicycle parking to offset less parking.
  • Above ground parking solutions in Southbank may incorporate car lifts instead of ramps to make them more easily adaptable.
  • Car stackers are likely to be adopted to a greater degree in above ground solutions in Southbank to make use of the additional floor to floor heights required by the new controls.

Are these controls neccessary to achieve a great urban design outcome?

The controls will certainly ensure greater activation and passive surveillance to the streetscape. Where parking is provided at level 1 and above, for example in Southbank, the design outcome will alter slightly in that car parks are no longer sleeved by an aesthetic wall treatment, but by an active building element. The impact to building costs will be considerable, especially on small sites where car maneuverability will be an issue. The change of ceiling height to 3.5m is a step in the right direction as the spaces can be repurposed in the future to additional commercial or residential spaces, however the mandatory nature of the proposed controls leaves no room for considering an above ground parking solution (in the Central City) that still provides a satisfactory urban design outcome on the onset.

The main focus of policy is to set objectives for optimum future urban design outcomes. With this DDO we have an opportunity to deal with all aspects of car parking in the CBD and not just the aesthetics.

The most important element is to remove as many cars and parking in CBD developments as possible, as soon as possible, so that the focus can be on other transportation options and better urban design outcomes for streetscapes and the public realm overall.  

It would be good to see at least some discretion attached to the controls sought. This would enable urban design to be prioritised, yet allow for innovation and a design response that reflects the context of a particular site. What if the DDO were flexible enough to enable alternative design responses? Two examples could be:

  • A design focused on car parking space accessed from the laneway network with an inactive interface, built to an economical ceiling height for repurposing to future services areas.
  • Rather than a horizontal mapping of car park spaces, we could vertically stack car parking, building services and waste, so that the impact is greatly reduced on the streetscape.  This wouldn’t necessarily need to be sleeved with an active frontage, but sleeved with a decorative treatment, due to its reduced proportion to the street frontage. This could save on construction costs and would foster innovative parking mechanisms that could greatly reduce car parking space requirements.

Whilst in principal this DDO has taken a step in the right direction, we believe it’s an opportunity for innovation and future-proofing in a more robust way than it currently presents.

We will follow the progress of the Amendment with great interest and keep you informed.

Authors: Brett Young (Director: Traffic) and Maureen Benier (Principal: Urban Design)

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