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… that extra layer of onion again

06 Dec 2016

Comment, by Shane Scanlan

The VCAT ruing against Capital Alliance’s plans for high-rise in Harbour Town again highlights the bureaucratic planning complexities in Docklands.

As the third owner of the site, it is easy to feel sympathy for the relatively new (and locally-based) developer Capital Alliance.

Managing director and founder Mohan Du is a young man in a hurry and can be forgiven for not seeing his prospects in the same way as the mandarins of the planning ministry.

It took nearly three months for presiding member Rachel Naylor and member Stephen Axford to release their findings. One suspects most of this time was spent unraveling the disconnected threads of the Docklands planning story.

In an understated tone, they begin their judgement with: “There is complexity to the planning history of Docklands.”

And they appear to have received little help from the various QCs and their expert underlings who lined up to do battle before them in the case.

The pair point out Docklands’ special status and referred to the unique role of Places Victoria.

“On day one of the hearing, we were provided with an extract from Places Victoria’s website about the ‘Docklands Planning Process’.”

“It explains the roles of the City of Melbourne and the Minister for Planning as the relevant responsible authority for the Melbourne Planning Scheme dependent upon the gross floor area of the development. It also explains that Places Victoria sells the right to develop land in Docklands to developers and Places Victoria is: ... responsible for co-ordinating the development of Docklands, administering precinct development agreements and managing development in partnership with the private sector.”

These agreements go back to the 1990s when successful state governments enticed developers to get involved in the Docklands brownfields development. They are highly secret and not even known by the City of Melbourne – a curious position considering the city is now the planning authority.

Members Naylor and Axford found the going tough, saying: “The parties referred to the relevant planning policies, planning controls and approved development plans during the hearing, but the essence and the relevant detail of all of these were not well captured in the submissions or evidence presented.”

Among members’ observations was: “Figure 8 – Docklands in clause 21.13 of the planning scheme breaks down the overall area of Docklands into precincts. Precinct One is Waterfront City and includes part of NewQuay Central and the land to the northeast of Waterfront Way.”

“Interestingly, the precincts shown in this figure do not correspond with the precincts identified in the Docklands Zone or the Design and Development Overlays.”

“The Business Park Precinct that these controls (DZ6 and DDO54) relate to is broken down into three different precincts in clause 21.13, being Waterfront City, Docklands Studio and NewQuay.”

“Waterfront City and Victoria Harbour waterfront are identified as the primary retail precinct for Docklands. There are no policies in this section of the MSS (municipal strategic statement) about Docklands that mention entertainment uses, theme parks or tourism.”

Another inconsistency was: “The Melbourne Star is identified as a key landmark in Figure 2 – Built Environment and in Figure 8 – Docklands in the MSS. The only reference to landmarks in the Built Environment section is in clause 21.06-2, albeit the heading of this section suggests it relates only to heritage. Nevertheless strategy 1.3 seeks to maintain the visual prominence of heritage buildings and landmarks.”

“In clause 21.13-2 relating to Docklands, there is no specific mention of this landmark. Rather, it talks about a landmark site that marks a key local focal point and needing to ensure buildings on it are designed to the highest quality.”

“In the Urban Design local policy, it states the location of landmark buildings in Docklands are identified in the Design and Development Overlay schedules. In DDO54, there is no mention of landmarks, only a decision guideline about considering the impact on the significance of existing heritage places.”

“Hence, it appears the recognition of Melbourne Star as a key landmark is not carried through all relevant local planning policies or DDO54. Nevertheless, it remains identified in Figure 2 of the MSS as a key landmark, so we have had regard to it.”

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again here: Since 2007 when VicUrban (formerly the Docklands Authority, currently Places Victoria and soon to be Development Victoria – are you getting my drift?) started “power-sharing” with the City of Melbourne, Docklands has been partially paralysed.

Should it have been allowed to proceed under the original mandate, I have no doubt that it would be completed.

That extra layer of onion looks like adding at least another decade to the process.


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