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20 April 2020

Covid-19: Changes to Our Commercial & Industrial Landscape

Last week, we released an article regarding the Planning Minister’s decision to refuse a controversial re-zoning proposal from industrial to residential in Casey City Council. In its decision, the Minister relied heavily on the release of the final version of the Melbourne Industrial and Commercial Land Use Plan (the Plan).

The Plan provides clearer planning direction for the preservation and identification of suitable industrial and commercial land in Melbourne, which will support industry and employment growth. Precincts including Cranbourne West and Casey Fields South are identified as state significant precincts where exhaustion of land for these purposes is predicted by mid-century, or sooner.

Under the plan there are four key planning principles which include:

  • Adequate long-term commercial and industrial land supply will be identified and set aside.
  • Industrial and commercial areas that provide an ongoing economic, urban servicing or employment contribution to local communities, regions and the state will be recognised and retained as a critical economic resource.
  • Planning for industrial and commercial land will provide clarity and certainty about how and where industry and business can grow over time.
  • Planning will support industry and business to innovate and grow.

These principles are to be achieved through a classification based on hierarchy system – much like existing activity centres in Plan Melbourne. Broadly, the Plan sets out eight strategies to achieve these principles including updated policy into the Victoria Planning Provisions and developing and implement a more sophisticated methodology and approach to assess future supply and demand and consideration of the range of uses permitted within industrial zones, and in particular, non-industrial focused uses.

While the Plan sets out a clear process for the relevant planning and government agencies to help achieve this framework, the recent events of COVID-19 have, for many, have led to a rethink of standard practices around planning policy development, particularly with the very rapid and significant changes for our work environments. This includes, for many, working exclusively from home and a greater reliance on technology to connect and undertake necessary tasks. Given the scale and speed of this change, it is likely that this will have a lasting effect on our approach to spatial considerations between where we live and work. This includes for the development of major strategies that guide housing and employment such as the Melbourne Industrial and Commercial Land Use Plan.

There is strong sentiment across the board that COVID-19 could forever change the look and feel of Australia's cities and suburbs, with the potential for a sustained cultural shift towards working from home even after the pandemic had passed. While this could result in a significant shift in approaches towards commercial land, including office floorspace provision, the global effect of the coronavirus could have an opposite effect on the demand for industrial land with an increase in local manufacturing and supporting industries. It’s also likely the new, modified or further innovative industries may emerge which often occurs after economic crisis or disaster. With these changes the provision of industrial land projections set out in The Melbourne Industrial and Commercial Land Use Plan may, for example, be insufficient to cater for demand.

COVID-19 is an immediate crisis that a strategy could never forecast. Ultimately, flexibility and creativity in the planning system will be the driver for economic prosperity through development post pandemic. As an example, prioritising and fast-tracking major developments will be a critical step in economic stimulation through employment and investment. While major policies or plans will remain important in planning moving forward, we need short term solutions around how we can keep planning adaptable and need to prioritise mechanisms for maintaining the liveability of our cities.  


Author: Grant Logan, Associate: Planning

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