HousingPlanning

Preserving Community Voices in Planning

By 18 February 2024March 11th, 2024No Comments

Preserving Community Voices in Planning

Markham Estate Artist impression

John Friend-Pereira

Recent planning reforms introduced in the State Government’s 2023 Housing Statement will have far reaching impacts on our suburbs. The Statement includes 32 planning reforms, granting the Minister for Planning more power. However, the changes fall short of effectively addressing the housing crisis and reduce input from community and local councils.

Markham Estate Redevelopment in Ashburton.

The original Markham Estate comprised 56 public housing units. Over eight years, various proposals were made for redeveloping the estate, often overlooking community concerns. The initial 2016 proposal planned for a mere 62 public units (an increase of 6) out of 252 new units. Despite community opposition, the subsequent 2018 proposal retained the same number of public units. Only through persistent advocacy by the Ashburton Residents Action Group (ARAG), supported by the City of Boroondara, did the final 2020 proposal see an increase to 111 public units out of a total of 178. The worry is that under these new rules, the community might not have a say at all.

In its February 2024 report, the City of Boroondara Urban Planning Committee highlighted numerous problems with the Markham planning process including:

  • Lack of community and council input
  • Lack of transparent processes and external scrutiny of final approvals
  • Minister’s wide-ranging power to agree proposals without clear enforcement oversight
  • Unstreamlined and untimely processes causing significant delays

Redevelopment in Alamein Avenue

Nearby public housing at 1-9 Alamein Avenue is currently two-thirds unoccupied (only 10/36 units occupied) and slated for redevelopment by Homes Victoria. There is concern it could face a similarly flawed process under the planning powers granted to the Minister. Those powers would exclude community input and council involvement and enable the stealthy privatization of prime public housing. Based on the approach taken at Markham in 2018, this could see up to 162 units replacing the current 36 units, with only 41 units for public housing. It will once again depend on the tenacity of the local community to fight for a better outcome in terms of design and retention of public use.

Why is State Government making these changes?

They claim it’s to address delays in planning processes and lay the blame on local councils. However, evidence shows that local government processes aren’t the main issue. Over 98% of housing permits are granted without councilors voting, and delays often occur after planning approval. A report by planning consultants SGS showed that almost 90% of approved multi-unit dwellings are processed, yet about 25% do not commence construction, with industry experts noting that developers act on their permits when it suits them economically.

Other possible approaches

Another approach to ensuring there’s enough of the right kind of housing would be to include communities in the process. The use of inclusionary zoning could mandate developers to include affordable housing units within market-rate developments (eg 30% of all new developments of 15 units or more would be public and affordable). Instead of diminishing power from councils and sidelining communities, the government should focus on improving the speed and quality of housing construction.

A Traffic Light System could help expedite approvals for developments prioritizing sustainability, affordability, and community benefits – these ‘greenlight’ developments that have enhanced standards and affordability would have shorter approval timeframes than those that only met minimum standards or lack affordability. To tackle the housing crisis, we need a public builder, like the Housing Commission, constructing 100,000 public homes in the next decade at a fair cost. Additionally, a ban on political donations from property developers is essential. Finally, let’s enforce the vacancy tax on unoccupied properties of which there are over 8,000 in the City of Boroondara alone, to encourage owners to rent or sell these units.

In the face of the housing challenge, engaging not marginalizing the community is crucial. I’m running as a Greens candidate for local council because I’m concerned about recent planning changes by the State Government, and I want to ensure our community has active progressive representation on this issue.

John Friend-Pereira from Ashburton is the Victorian Greens Candidate for Solway Ward, City of Boroondara.

References:

The Age Greens Gear Up for Fight over Labor’s Housing Statement 27/08/23

The Age Councils Last Ditch Efforst to Stop Government Stripping Approval Power 25/08/23

The Age The Crisis Driven Plan to Build 800,000 new homes 20/09/23

Vic Greens: Labours housing Statement Abandons Renters and could Signal End of Public Housing Victoria 20/09/23

Vic Greens Media Release: Launch Bold Housing Statement. 28/08/23

Holding Redlich A New Era of Planning in Victoria 27/09/23

City of Boroondara Response to Housing Statement 20/11/23

Markham Avenue, Ashburton (Markham Estate) – Review of Planning Approval and development process 05/02/24

RMIT-Center for Urban Research Victorian Housing Statement Explainer

Response to Question on Notice 13/02/24

Featured image: credit James Clark

Markham Estate image: credit Homes Victoria