Planning, planning, planning – too much at once

Regarding our continued campaign for a small and friendly town to live in, there’s many things that are being put in train just now that will affect the shape of where we live for the next generation, and longer. At present, the local and State Planning Departments are doing a very motley job of what they see as ‘visionary’ documents to guide planning in our shire, and in our town, as well as Council being engaged in  a patchy and incomplete attempt at a Council Plan. Where’s the ‘Vision 2025’ statement gone?

Many people have expressed their frustration or puzzlement at what the various things that are happening mean, and I’ve often, in the last couple of months, had to make an off-the-top-of-my-head attempt at trying to explain what I think is going on. There are people better versed in this than me that talk to me about such things, and I’ve tried to draw on their expertise and patience with my lack of expertise in this field where possible, bearing with my lower level of understanding, but this is my summary of what I can see happening.

Let’s go from micro to macro. There’s a couple of things that pertain directly to Woodend –

You may have heard about the Woodend Town Structure Plan (link) that is being commented on and drafted, and the Neighborhood Character Study. What are these, and why are we as a community doing them?

They’re tied up in a planning process that’s part of an Amendment to the Local Planning Scheme. This is the Scheme that tells us how and why different parts of the Shire will have things allowed or prohibited in them  – such as regulating intensive agricultural uses close to Mt Macedon, keeping shops clustered close to one another in town centres, protecting the lands around reservoirs from pollution and contamination, and where and how many new houses can go in what places in town and country.

The Amendment is called C84 (local planning scheme amendments have a ‘C’ in front of them) and needs to be approved by the Minister for Planning (currently The Hon. Matthew Guy) after a supposedly transparent and publicly accessible review process, before the Shire planning scheme can be altered by it.

Council started writing this Amendment to include in the Planning Scheme (in a section of this called the Municipal Strategic Statement, or MSS) a piece of planning work called the Macedon Ranges Shire Settlement Strategy (link) – a document required by the State Department of Planning and Community Development to map and predict where and how population growth will occur in the Shire, and at what rates, over the next 25 years – taking into account all the constraints and promoters of such growth.

The various towns in the Shire have, or are in the process of having, policy documents applied to them  – Outline Development Plans or Structure Plans. This is a focusing in on how towns work – what is needed to keep their residents happy and healthy and busy.

Woodend’s Structure Plan has had a first round of public consultation that ended last month. This was comment on the draft of the same, and a community meeting on April 18th that was attended by 130 or so people made comment on it. Along with this is the Neighborhood Character Study, which will, it is hoped, inform the Structure Plan as to what people want the town to look and feel like in the future.

So, now we pull back to macro. There’s three pieces of State planning policy that are going to impact on us in the next while, are under discussion at the moment and will be put into place in the next few years. We have or have had opportunity to have input into them.

The first and biggest is the Loddon Mallee South Regional Growth Plan (see link for download options) (hereafter ‘LMS RGP’). Interesting that they should put Hanging Rock as the picture on the front page. I wonder if this has anything to do with the push to site a ‘Conference Centre’ next to it? Comments on this close on May 17th – here is a link to the online submission form.

This plan attempts to set out how and why development, of whatever type, should happen in the region. Macedon Ranges Shire is the southernmost part of this region, and abuts the Melbourne Metropolitan area, and as such, is subject to both the above planning document, and a similar document for the Melbourne region: Melbourne: lets talk about the future. This last document has its own challenges for us – with the urban growth boundary and Green Wedge issues still being fought over and discussed.

There’s another one, and it’s been in the wings for a while, called Statement of Planning Policy Number 8. (‘SPP8’)

This state policy was recently reaffirmed by the Minister as State Policy required to be reflected in local and regional planning schemes and decisions.

The reason that this is important is that it attempts to protect the ranges and surrounds from overdevelopment and the destruction of natural environment, water catchments and broad-scale agricultural land in the path of intensive and industrial uses, and creeping urban sprawl. It is state policy, and has the potential to override local and regional planning policy in saying how land should be treated and what it should be used for.

It could be argued that the LMS RGP and SPP8 (don’t you just love acronyms?) are actually in tension with each other, and the proponents of the former – some of whom are to be found within the ranks of the MRSC – are attempting to white-ant and dilute the latter. Conflict between different agendas within the DPCD seem to be fueling the antagonism of the authors, promoters and supporters of the ‘growth’ strategy.

It seems, after looking at the two side by side, that many aims and strategies of the regional growth policy for Loddon Mallee South are being inserted, to all intents and purposes, into our local Planning scheme via Amendment C84. This was not originally meant to be the case. The Settlement Strategy, fought over in public and in front of a Planning Panel last year (interim report here), was debated and criticised as being ‘pro-growth’ for Woodend – the original estimates and recommendations of the consultants preparing the strategy, Spiire, (formerly CPG), and recognition of the town’s historical growth rate changed and increased in response to the biased submissions of land developers to the panel, and the limp and ineffective representation via their consultants and legal representatives of the Council’s initial stance on population growth and projections. It seems that Council officers have pre-empted the growth targets of the LMS RGP, and done some early work on making our shire planning scheme compliant with the regional document ahead of time, rather than as a review process once the RGP document is adopted as policy, which they would have been compelled to do. The latter path would mean another amendment, more public consultation, and more chance for us to say what we think of Shire planning policy. Is it too much effort to ask this? It seems so.

Once the Settlement Strategy part of C84 was done and dusted, it was open to Council to rewrite the Amendment to improve the Planning Scheme. Previous goes at it included an attempt to include older abandoned (low-quality, rejected) amendments within the new amendment. However, the aforementioned Loddon Mallee Growth Plan seems to key into other desires within the state Planning Establishment  and the DPCD to site large-scale urban growth not only in Bendigo, but in every town with a train station and freeway connection in the region. The Amendment has been through 5 separate iterations, each one more confused than the last. The MRRA has done the most exhaustive analysis, and it is well worth while reading their archive on the issue.

What this leaves us with is a compromised and partial planning scheme – in the sense of ‘incomplete’, as well as ‘biased’. It takes a line-by-line comparison of the current planning scheme with the proposals of the new C84-altered one to see how much has been changed, and to what intent. The new version, as its main thrust, takes the part of economic and urban development, as unconstrained by infrastructure, environment and landscape, includes some egregious and unnecessary inclusions in the scheme, including at 21.13 – 3, Objective 2 – Strategies, DP 3: “Ensure any new development adjacent to the Avenue of Honour provides an appropriate interface that respects the landscape and heritage qualities of the Avenue.”

What new development? Who wrote that bit? Are there any other bits like that in there? It might be worthwhile having a look, if nothing else, at Section 22.02 – 3 of the current Planning Scheme, and comparing it to 21.13-3 of C84, both of which deal with Woodend.

Then, once you’ve done this reading, it’s worth doing a submission outlining your concerns at the changes and sending it to strategicplanning@mrsc.vic.gov.au by Friday 10th of May. Also, whilst you’re at it, comment on the LMS RGP – the links are given above.

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