Professor Buxton confirms in his speech the shocking news that the State Government is planning to remove ALL resident rights to object to ANY development, or even to be advised of an upcoming development, in certain areas, and that this objective, if passed, will trend everywhere.
[Headings and emphases are from candobetter’s editor. Electronic transcript has been checked by the recorder, but total accuracy cannot be guaranteed.]
Glenn Aitken introducing speaker:
Next speaker is Professor Michael Buxton, Professor Buxton is Emeritus professor of environment and planning RMIT school of global Urban and social studies, where he taught for 20 years as well as 30 years in Academia. Michael also served as mayor and council at the then Mordialloc Council and had various management roles in In the Victorian government, including at the EPA. Professor Buxton is one of Melbourne's most respected and, happily, outspoken planning experts. Please welcome him.
Thank you for the introduction. That's longer than my talk is going to be so I might as well go now. Frankston’s a beautiful place. I got here a bit early and went down to the beach. I used to come down to the beach at Frankston with mates of mine who used to live in Carrum. We used to frolic around out here and carry on. And it's amazing how beautiful it still is.
My father and his friends used to bring us down here when we were kids and I’ve still got photographs of us on the sand, right here. So I hate going back, 50 years, 60 years, maybe even longer – it’s terrible. But I went back and had a look and thought, Oh, this is, this is a lovely place to live, but like so many other places in Melbourne, it's under great threat that you well know.
I think it's a great shame the state members aren't here today. Particularly the minister [Sonia Kilkenny, Minister for Planning], whose electorate is just next door. When I was in local government, state and federal politicians actually used to come to meetings like this, would you believe? I'm sure some of you will remember those meetings. They might not have agreed with what the meeting, the people at the meeting were saying but they wanted to listen and inform themselves about what they might not know themselves and what they actually might learn.
And it's a shame that this isn't happening, but I think it's terribly important that you get your views out to them and put your views directly to the state members, including the minister, because if you don't, then there's a vacuum that they exploit. Following along from what Kalvin said –
[Plane flies overhead. Prof Buxton:They're going to drop a bomb on us, I think.
Audience member: And there's a drone watching you too.
Prof Buxton: Yeah, they're watching us as well.]
Following along from what Kelvin [Thomson, prior speaker] said, Kelvin talked about NIMBYs being a derogatory term. You may have noticed in the media in the last few weeks that the Property Council [of Australia] and the Urban Development Institute and other development interests - really powerful groups – are waging a campaign to discredit people like you and us.
They're trying to, they're trying to cast us as NIMBYs. This word NIMBY. It is a derogatory term because it implies that if we are concerned with our environment, we're selfish - and that's wrong. But they’re trying to characterize opposition to further deregulating, the planning system and allowing high-rise all over Melbourne as ‘selfish.’
Now, the reason that the government listens to this is complex, but one of them is that they make ten billion dollars a year from property-related taxes. Ten billion dollars a year. Over five times what they get from poker machines. This is the biggest industry in town. It's about 50% of the state-based, Victorian tax-based income. Its 50% of what the state government gets, basically, just from their State taxes and sources of revenue.
This is big stuff, and, of course, the developers as a result, get a look in. They can go to ministerial meetings. They can go into ministers’ officers. They have lobby groups and they can get their way.
So, somehow communities have to find ways to pressure the representatives is that are making this decision, these decisions, and the obvious way is through the ballot box and through individually pressuring the ministers.
So, let's just move to high-rise.
What's wrong with high-rise?
I think high-rise is a terrible thing. It should never have been invented. It was probably invented when the Tower of Babel was proposed, and it's been around ever since.
Audience member: look, what happened, then!
Prof Buxton: It fell down! High-rise has many, many, detrimental impacts on communities. One is visual. I think visually a high-rise city such as we see Melbourne has become – Southbank - I don't know whether you've been in the South Bank and Docklands, recently - South Bank is a series of high-rise towers which illustrate what happens when a city turns into a monolithic tower-based structure.
High-rise has a series of detrimental impacts that we all know about but I’ll spell them out One is that they shut off the sun, particularly many of them. And if there's a row of high-rise such as will probably happen along the foreshore here, then the sun will be shut off from the east and the west, particularly in Winter. It'll become a colder place. This is quite a windy area at times, and high-rise add to wind.
A lot of people favour high-rise because they say it's a very efficient way to build. High-rise – it comes as a great shock to many people - to find that high-rise is the highest per capita energy consuming structure in the world. It's a very inefficient way to live and there's lots of lots of reasons for that, but that's the case.
And what happens with high-rise cities is that they end up with an appearance that really reminds me a bit like a virus, that has found a way to replicate. There's nothing that’s replicated physically more than high-rise in the world.
Of course, most of the western cities in the world have rejected high-rise. I always find it amazing that our state government representatives in their holidays, they get on a plane and they go over to a place like Paris or Prague or Vienna. Now these are very dense cities. They're extremely dense. They’re in some of the densest cities on Earth, but they lack high-rise generally. There are some some parts of them are high-rise, but the old cities don't allow high-rise. Most American cities are not high-rise residential areas. We all would think that New York and some other cities are classic high-rise cities, but most American cities have found ways to increase their density, such as California is at the moment, through the European style construction of three to six stories. But generally speaking, these cities are very dense, but they are low- to medium-rise cities. They’re generally low-rise cities. Most of the ancient Asian cities were low-rise cities, but the densest cities that have ever been built. The Middle Eastern cities were - until - Unfortunately, many of the ancient ones have now been bombed out, in the Syrian war, and so on, but were incredibly dense cities but they were low-rise cities, so we don't need high rise to achieve density.
What we need is the government to communicate with people like yourselves and local government to identify areas that are capable of absorbing additional development. And to work out with us with the people, the type of development, the scale, and the Location.
So, if this is done, it can be done satisfactorily. And high-rise should be off the agenda because we don't need it and it has so many disadvantages. Unfortunately, over the last 20 years, Melbourne has now become one of the high-rise cities of the world, particularly the Western World. We've adopted the model of Beijing and Shanghai and so on and that's not the way to go.
Just a couple of other quick - the city of Frankston and the residents of the city off from the foreshore. [Glitch in recording – this does not make sense.]
Now, I’ve been around planning a long time, and if this came up as it's a draft proposal, from one of the students, we would fail them. It is bad idea.
Frankston should be allowed to continue to face the foreshore. It should be allowed to open up the foreshore to all residents and not close it off. But what these developments are proposing to do is to appropriate the values that we all love for private purposes and to reject them reject those Values as available for public enjoyment. For example, people in high-rise, in the high-rise buildings, Kelvin’s right, they will be relatively expensive and they have a view of the ocean. Yeah, back this way. They have a view of the town and the distant Dandenongs and the hinterland. And the view is valuable. But what they've done, by having that made available for the private purchase of the people in the high rise and for the profit of the developer, they have shut off the access to those very values that are then enjoyed by a limited number of people.
So it's a form of privatization of a public asset.
I think it's a terrible idea. I'm shocked that it has got through the council. I'm shocked that that the success in strategic documents that the council has prepared from 2005, have all included the possibility of high-rise along this location. That should never have been included in any strategic document and neither should be allowed in the planning scheme, in the statutory document, in the legal document. But it appeared in 2005, it reappeared in the latest strategic plan, and it's there, and it's been translated into a planning scheme which allows high rise to be considered.
Fictitious Height Controls that developers laugh at
And the way it's framed is that it can be considered as a discretionary use. And there is a ‘preferred’ height limit. There's no mandatory height limit because the state government refuses to allow councils to introduce mandatory height controls. So they have this fictitious control called a discretionary height control, and of course the developers have nothing but contempt for that. They tell me that, when they open - pop their bottles of champagne, after winning an appeal against one of these controls, they call them blue sky controls because they're an invitation to go up and they’re never taken any notice of.
So, the entire planning system is working against you, and it has to be changed. And this means that Council has got to find some courage and strength and dedication and values to work out how to bring in proper planning controls to protect the values that you hold dear, or else they are going to be progressively eroded over time.
The Government has a radical agenda to remove all rights to object
Final point, this is only part of the government's agenda. The government is embarking - certainly in the next few months, maybe even the next few weeks - on a radical revision of the entire planning system. They're arguing that there are too many rules. I struggle to find these rules. I look through the planning scheme and I try to find these rules. What rules?
The whole planning system is based on the principle that it should advantage the development community and what the government is going to do is to take more control away from local councils.
They're going to bring in controls in major activity centers like Frankston, like Box Hill, like the Suburban Rail Loop precincts, and even some of the smaller Suburban communities – They’re going to bring in controls that mean that - there is what's known, as an ‘as of right use’ - ‘Code assist,’ is the jargon. So there will be a code. The application will [unclear]this be assessed against the code - it's a tick a box.
They will not be advertised in these locations. There will be no permit required. There will be no right of appeal. All Resident rights will be removed, and this is over a very significant part of Melbourne. That's the deal that the development Community has done in secret with the state government, and they're going to announce it sometime relatively soon.
Now, it may not include Frankston now, but Frankston is a major activity centre – it’s one of the big activity centers in the Strategic plan for Melbourne. If they get away with this for areas like the Suburban Rail Loop precincts and others, it will come to Frankston.
And these sorts of developments will just go through on a tick-a-box with no right of objection, appeal, or even notification. You won't even be told they're going to happen.
So that's the plan. It sounds radical. It is radical. It's about as radical as you can get because it really shows an underlying view of the government that it treats the people as enemies instead of as friends.
So I wish you well in your endeavor. I do think this is worth fighting for. It's a very important place. Not only for this particular area, but the whole of Frankston. And I think it has Metropolitan significance because Frankston is such an interesting, worthwhile, useful area for the city. And it has so many intrinsic values in itself that it deserves to be saved. Saved and protected. So good luck for the future.