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August 09 Edition Cover

Residents speak out against “dodgy” Docklands planning

02 Jun 2020

Residents speak out against “dodgy” Docklands planning Image

By Meg Hill and Sean Car

A long-term NewQuay resident has led a chorus of locals calling for a meeting with Minister for Planning Richard Wynne to put an end to “deceptive” planning processes in Docklands.

It comes after local residents, as well as some City of Melbourne councillors, objected to Minister Wynne’s recent decision to carve Docklands out of new legislation aimed at protecting inner-city parks from overshadowing, as reported in Docklands News.

While Docklands’ development has never been short of critics, the nearing completion of developer MAB Corporation’s NewQuay precinct has seen one early buyer raise his frustration with what he described as a “windswept failure”.

John Langton-Bunker lives in a three-storey town house built in NewQuay Promenade in 2012. He has claimed that NewQuay’s development has little resemblance to the vision outlined when he bought in.

“I purchased this home on the understanding that North Docklands was to have good urban design to make it liveable for residents,” Mr Langton-Bunker wrote in an open letter to the Minister for Planning last month.

“That urban design was to be pro- vided by low-rise residential homes along NewQuay Promenade through to the Bolte Bridge. Instead long-term residents have been ignored in the planning process.”

Mr Langton-Bunker claimed that an original plan for mostly low-rise street fronting buildings had been replaced by “soulless” and “alienating” streets with a waterfront dominated by “obscene high-rises”.

Of particular concern was MAB’s future NewQuay West development – currently the last vacant piece of NewQuay land – which earmarks five towers and a linear park connecting Central Park to Ron Barassi Snr Park.

While the master plan for NewQuay West was approved by the Minister for Planning and endorsed by the City of Melbourne back in 2018, the delegation of NewQuay residents said they wished to “amicably negotiate” an acceptable resolution.

Mr Langton-Bunker said MAB’s plans for the site would leave his townhouse, along with 35 others, “bookended” between the 41-storey Marina complex and the NewQuay West site. He also accused the state government of “gifting” land adjacent to Ron Barassi Snr Park to the AFL for its new headquarters “without concern, consideration or reference” to owners.

But a spokesperson for Richard Wynne said that there was no obligation to notify and review applications within the Docklands zone.

“Questions regarding strategic planning for Docklands are best directed at the City of Melbourne or Development Victoria,” the spokes- person said. “The planning system is designed to strike the right balance between density, public open space and a thriving construction industry in inner-city Melbourne.”

MAB Corporation, which bought the rights to develop the NewQuay parcel of Docklands in the mid-1990s, said that although amendments had been made to the NewQuay Development Plan, they had been misrepresented.

MAB chief operating officer David Hall told Docklands News that there had been changes toward higher density buildings.

“Mr Langton-Bunker did not buy his home directly from MAB so we can’t comment on what representations were made to him or what he was expecting,” he said.

“It appears that some of Mr Langton-Bunker’s concerns stem from the change to the NewQuay Development Plan which was amended by the Minister for Planning in 2018 from an earlier version created in 2007.”

“Under the 2007 development plan, MAB had proposed townhouses along the waterfront. In 2012, as part of Development Victoria’s ongoing review of community facilities and public realm, the Government sought to create active open space for the growing community at NewQuay which was not adequately provided for in the initial development plan.”

Mr Hall said this initiative led to the creation of Ron Barassi Snr Park, which increased the amount of open space in Docklands by 50 per cent and required changes to the development plan to “spatially accommodate” the new active open space.

“Under this plan, the remaining development parcels in the approved development plan are not proposed to be town houses but are in the form of high-density buildings, however the tallest building is only approximately six stories higher than was originally proposed,” he said.

Mr Hall also highlighted that all changes to the plan had gone through the proper planning processes, as well as required community consultation.

“The development of Docklands was a 30-year vision initiated by the Victorian Government under the Docklands Act 1991. Under the Act, Development Victoria has responsibilities to promote, encourage and facilitate development of the Docklands area,” he said.

“While the overarching vision remains unchanged, there have been refinements and enhancements as the precinct has matured. These

enhancements are not undertaken freely by the developer but require detailed assessment and consideration under the planning framework.”

“A positive component of the planning framework at Docklands is to satisfy the requirements of the approved development plans before any planning permits can be considered. The development plan provides a master plan, objectives and requirements to be satisfied prior to any planning permit being considered by the authorities.”

Mr Langton-Bunker’s criticism of the planning process in Docklands was supported by former RMIT planning expert Professor Michael Buxton – not to be confused with MAB Corporation’s founder of the same name.

Prof. Buxton said there had been a distinct change from the original Docklands vision and the realty of development and, contrary to MAB’s view, that those changes had not been justified.

“The original Docklands plan in 1989 put forward a European-style development, with low- to medium-rise buildings, lots of townhouses and European-style apartments with narrow streets and squares and so on,” he said.

“It was meant to be built around public space around the waterways, with a population of around 25,000, and it would have been one of the most interesting and liveable places in Australia.”

Prof Buxton said the original vision had been “thrown away” by the Jeff Kennett state government - a trajectory that was followed by subsequent governments of both political persuasions.

He said that while developers like MAB may indeed fulfil all legal and planning requirements, the process was flawed.

“The Minister for Planning and the City of Melbourne, and the other authorities involved, approve these developments and presumably somewhere they assess them, but there’s no proper public process,” he said.

“It’s a process of developers putting forward their ideas and the government approving them according to some unknown criteria.”

Minister for Planning Richard Wynne was criticised by a number of residents recently after carving Docklands out of new legislation aimed at protecting inner-city parks from being overshadowed by high-rise developments. Speaking in support of residents, Cr Rohan Leppert said the decision had only reinforced the “infamously opaque” planning controls in Docklands often characterised by “confidential agreements between Development Victoria and developers.”

“Removing the sunlight rules from Docklands just perpetuates the secret planning processes favoured by Development Victoria, keeping the public in the dark,” Cr Leppert said.

But a spokesperson for Richard Wynne said that there were already existing height controls to minimise overshadowing over key public open space in Docklands, including Ron Barassi Snr Park.

“The development plan specifies the maximum allowable overshadowing as well as sets the built form parameters around maximum building heights,” the spokesperson said.

In a further allegation, Mr Langton-Bunker also pointed criticisms at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), claiming the NewQuay West site had been contaminated with the toxic chemical PFAS pre-development.

“Dr Wilkinson EPA CEO was advised on April 28 that contractors had confirmed last year that chemicals and contaminants were at the MAB West NewQuay site. ‘Hazard’ signs were put up but removed soon thereafter,” Mr Langton-Bunker said.

“Residents requested that the CEO publish the results of the toxicity analysis of the site in the interests of public health. No such site analysis was published.”

But EPA Western Metropolitan Regional Manager Stephen Lansdell told Docklands News there had been an environmental audit of the site.

“The MAB NewQuay West development site was the subject of an extensive environmental audit before being considered for planning approval by the appropriate planning authority, the Melbourne City Council,” he said.

“This is normal procedure for any residential development proposed for a former industrial site and is triggered by the requirements of the Planning and Environment Act 1987.”

The auditor’s report, with sampling results, was made available to the public on May 15, 2019, and is available on the EPA’s website here: apps.epa.vic.gov.au/EnvAuditFiles/5 3X/0008005128/74655-1_C.pdf

The report concluded that soil at the site had been impacted by widespread heavy metals related to site history as well as naturally occur- ring chemicals but did not mention PFAS.

Tests reported elevated concentrations of chemicals including arsenic, copper, lead, mercury and zinc and the auditor’s report put forward guidelines for the development of the site.

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