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2 October 2018

Findings of Activity Centre Pilot Program Announced

The Minister has announced the findings of the Activity Centre Pilot Program which investigated the ability of planning tools to offer more clarity and certainty to controlling the scale of buildings within Activity Centres. The program centred around three activity centres;

  • Moonee Ponds (City of Moonee Valley)
  • Ivanhoe (City of Banyule)
  • Johnston Street (City of Yarra)

The Program sought to gain an improved understanding of the appropriate height controls for Activity Centre development, including the often debated question of “discretionary versus mandatory” limits. The released information can be found here.

Key Outcomes of the Program

The Program found that discretionary/preferred height controls are generally an effective and appropriate means of managing building height and facilitating suitable development outcomes. The findings also suggest that mandatory height controls can be an appropriate tool, if they are set at an appropriate level, are underpinned by thorough built form analysis, and are aimed to facilitate identifiable design outcomes (rather than simply restricting development).

Within Moonee Ponds, it was discovered that just under 50% of approvals exceeded the discretionary maximum, determined to be an indicator of underperforming controls.  Interim mandatory controls have been introduced whilst Council conducts further strategic work.

In Ivanhoe, the Minister has approved mandatory permanent controls on the basis of the strategic work undertaken by Banyule, some of which dates back a number of years.

Johnston Street is undergoing current assessment works, with a Panel hearing schedule for later this month in relation to permanent controls (Amendment C220).

Of note some of the key findings indicate:

  • Preferred maximum height controls should continue to be the preference for the application of height controls in activity centres.
  • If local policy is outdated, greater weight is given to State policy in decision making.
  • More clarity is needed on the level of strategic work required by councils as the basis for height controls to ensure it is consistent and less variable.
  • Strategic work underpinning any proposed height controls needs to be based on a comprehensive built form analysis that is contemporary (no more than five years old).

What Next and What are the Implications of the Program?

The relevant Practice Notes to guiding the implementation of new height and setback controls (PPN58, 59 and 60) have been updated in line with the above findings.

We welcome the renewed support and preference for a performance based framework to guide decision making on development proposals, as this approach better promotes flexibility and design innovation as well as the achievement of high quality, contextual responses. 

In addition to the long standing criteria that mandatory building height controls will be considered in ‘exceptional circumstances’, the broader and more expansive criteria under the updated Practice Notes for implementing mandatory controls will enable Planning Authorities (e.g. Council’s) a greater opportunity to introduce such controls once they have completed detailed, current, and suitably robust strategic work. 

Whilst these measures are well intended, there is a risk these additional criteria will create more dispute and ambiguity in relation to the nature of building height controls (being either mandatory versus discretionary) as part of the planning scheme amendment process, whereas currently much of this debate occurs during the permit process. This will invariably result in more ‘heat’ being placed on Independent Panel’s, and ultimately Planning Authorities, to consider the merits of new height and built form controls, particularly in circumstances where such controls are mandatory.

The strategic importance of Melbourne’s activity centre network is critical towards meeting housing targets and economic growth. In the current planning environment where a growing number of Councils are seeking to manage development pressures in response to community expectations, it is with great anticipation we wait to see how Council’s will respond to these latest reforms.

If you have any queries please get in touch with Robbie McKenzie (Director - Planning) or your existing contact at Ratio.


Author: James D'Arcy, Senior Planner

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