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Fix Our Planning Laws

Property developers are gaming our planning system, leaving us with too many poor-quality apartment blocks

Put Community and Fairness at the Heart of Planning

Property developers are gaming our planning system, leaving us with too many poor-quality apartment blocks which are often aimed at investors able to pay upmarket prices, rather than new residents who will live longer-term in the neighbourhood. In the end, this crams more rental apartments into spaces that still don’t have enough transport or other services to carry the increased load. We all know Melbourne is growing and needs more medium-density housing. But the way politicians and developers go about things is the worst of both worlds, putting communities under strain and still not solving the housing affordability crisis.

Grey areas and discretionary ministerial powers mean developers push for what they want, knowing that in any dispute they can afford the legal fees that local councils and residents cannot. For example, Moreland Council in Brunswick worked hard to come up with rules for more new dwellings that respect community needs, including measures like mandatory height limits along Sydney Road, Lygon Street and Nicholson Street. Planning Minister Richard Wynne rejected this, which means whenever a developer wants to go higher than the Council agrees, they can take their case straight to VCAT – which means legal fees that cash-strapped Councils can’t afford.

The system is complicated, but the principles needed for good urban planning are simple.


We’ll make sure new apartments include affordable quality housing that meets social needs.

The maths is simple and fair: all new developments of 100 apartments or more, must include 30% affordable dwellings, made up of community housing and public housing. For between 15 and 100 apartments, the rate drops to 20%, and under 15, developers can pay a percentage of cost into a fund for affordable housing. This would have a huge impact on housing affordability, and it’s also economical for reasonable developers’ bottom lines.

We’ll tighten the rules to make them certain for everyone, and fair for communities.

Developers push any grey area in the regulatory process to maximise profit, while communities and Councils can’t keep up. Clear rules can change this, including essential points such as mandatory height limits or maximum density levels for approved areas; and minimum apartment sizes to avoid cheap shoe-boxes that reduce overall liveability in communities.

We’ll make sustainability a core principle in all new developments.

We need to get serious about building liveable urban communities that can cut greenhouse gases, and avoid the sometimes-fatal heat island effect that’s hitting our cities harder. Simple measures include minimum requirements for solar panel or garden roof space, minimum garden areas and green open space, and prioritising high sustainability rating designs in the planning process.  

We’ll make the planning transparent and democratic, so developers can’t game the system.

Developers won’t be able to use VCAT as a tactic backed by their deep pockets whenever they like. Instead, if a Council or another relevant authority else rejects an application, VCAT will only be the next step if there’s been a legal error in that rejection. Councils will also have longer timeframes to evaluate large projects, instead of being railroaded by deadlines on complicated proposals with potentially large community impacts. All decisions by the Minister will need to be explained and consulted on before they happen, not simply handed down from on high. And finally, all third parties – including community representatives – will regain the right to appeal.

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