40-year plan for Melbourne watered down

The Age: 40-year plan for Melbourne watered down. November 24, 2014, Clay Lucas, City Editor, The Age

Melbourne would be heading in a dramatically different direction if the draft of a 40-year plan for the city – written by six experts hand-picked by Planning Minister Matthew Guy – had been adopted.

Their never-before-seen report was the first take of the Napthine government’s Plan Melbourne, the long-term strategy for how the city will grow over the next four decades.

But the August 2013 draft plan produced by the government’s Ministerial Advisory Committee over more than a year, with resources and support from the transport and planning department, was drastically watered down.

The group was established in July 2011 by Mr Guy to “direct the development” of Plan Melbourne. Their work included exhaustive public consultations to tap into the concerns of everyday people.

Their draft report was never released but former Brumby government adviser Andrew Herington requested it under freedom of information.

The government fought a nine-month battle to avoid releasing it to him.

But with a hearing due to be held at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal this Wednesday, the department caved in and handed it to Mr Herington.

Parts of the draft plan watered down or dumped from the final document included a range of proposals that would have made the Napthine government and its planning and transport department accountable for specific changes.

Among the proposals removed from the draft strategy were:

– Plans for a major increase in bus services to middle and outer suburbs.

– A target of 70 per cent of development within Melbourne’s existing urban boundaries and 30 per cent in growth corridors; this was reduced to 61 per cent in established areas.

– Plan to create a 15,000-hectare Western Grasslands Reserve between Melton and Little River.

– Similar but smaller eucalypt woodland reserve near Whittlesea.

– References to growing homelessness, overcrowding in boarding houses and increased demand for social housing.

– All but two references to “climate change”, and proposals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and tackle sea-level rises.

– Plan to introduce a container refund program.

– Proposal to plan delivery of education, health, recreational and cultural facilities according to an overall plan for city; the proposal was diluted.

After it became clear many of their recommendations were to be ignored, five of the six members of the government’s Ministerial Advisory Committee quit.

They also asked that their names not be used in the final Plan Melbourne document.

Among those to resign was renowned urban planning expert Roz Hansen, selected by Mr Guy to head the advisory committee.

Professor Hansen later became a vocal critic of the government, especially its controversial East West Link project.

She said many of the concrete proposals her group put forward for Melbourne had been “wiped aside because of bureaucratic and political interference”.

What was left was not much more than “weasel words” that committed the government and bureaucracy to little action, she said: “This plan could have been so much better. It is such a lost opportunity.”

But Mr Guy defended the final Plan Melbourne, saying it was “a strong vision for managing Melbourne’s growth over the next 40 years, including a $27 billion fully costed and funded infrastructure program”.

He described Mr Herington, who provided The Age with the draft plan and his analysis of it versus Plan Melbourne, as a “former Labor staffer [who] is grasping at straws over minor editing changes”.

On Monday, planning consultant and RMIT lecturer Stephen Rowley reviewed the material supplied to Mr Herington under FOI.

He described the draft produced by the Ministerial Advisory Committee as “far clearer and generally more ambitious than the released plan”.

“The final version of Plan Melbourne, like Melbourne 2030 before it, is vague at crucial points. This makes it safer as a political document but much less useful as a planning strategy,” Dr Rowley said.

He said the committee had been “clearer about the challenges facing Melbourne” and the difficult decisions the city needed to confront. “For example, the references to threats from climate change, and the need to adapt the city in response, are more explicit.”

Victoria’s Planning Institute president James Larmour-Reid said the ministerial advisory committee’s work was “thorough, well-researched, contemporary advice in relation to the metropolitan strategy”.

The final Plan Melbourne would have benefited from retaining key elements of it, he said, including climate change, housing growth and renewable energy.

“[Plan Melbourne] in its final form spells out in great detail the government’s immediate agenda, but provides less clear direction in the medium to long term.”

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