_City_of_Monash submission to Environmental infrastructure Inquiry24 September 2020
The Committee Manager Legislative Assembly Environment and Planning Committee Parliament House
EAST MELBOURNE VIC 3002
Dear Committee Manager
MONASH CITY COUNCIL SUBMISSION TO THE INQUIRY INTO ENVIRONMENTAL INFRASTRUCTURE FOR GROWING POPULATIONS
Thank you for providing the Monash City Council with the opportunity to make a submission to the above inquiry.
The City of Monash is located 20 kilometres south east of the Melbourne CBD. It has a population of 189,000 residents in 2016 (projected 200,148 in 2020). The population is expected to increase to over 238,000 by 2036. The rising population has resulted in an increase in the number of households and it is estimated that this will continue to drive demand for almost 15,000 new dwellings over the period 2021-2036. This is likely to be even higher due to the planning of the Suburban Rail Loop and potential for development intensification at the proposed major connecting stations at Glen Waverley, Clayton and Monash University.
The Monash community highly values its environmental infrastructure. Monash is known for its ‘garden city character’ and Monash 21 establishes a vision for ‘a green and naturally rich city that keeps its green leafy character and values open spaces’.
Monash Council has developed a number of important strategies and documents to manage, protect and enhance environmental infrastructure:
Monash Open Space Strategy 2018 (MOSS). The MOSS sets out a framework of how to plan for the future needs of the existing and growing community for a Monash open space network of sports and leisure reserves, local parks and trails over the next 10 years.
Monash Urban Landscape and Canopy Vegetation Strategy 2018 (MULCVS). The MULCVS looks at what defines ‘garden city’ character, what can be done to improve this characteristic, and how to balance development and greening of the landscape.
Monash Environmental Sustainability Strategy 2016 to 2026. The Strategy explores the current and emerging sustainability issues facing the City and sets Council’s
Environmental Infrastructure Inquiry
environmental goals for the future and proposes actions that will help reach these goals; including a commitment to the continued reduction of Council’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Monash Urban Biodiversity Strategy 2018. The strategy looks at a range of threats
such as habitat loss or fragmentation, pest plants and animals, population increase,
climate change and impacts to water quality which can affect biodiversity. The
strategy identifies opportunities to enhance biodiversity and a range of initiatives to
minimise these threats.
The current legislative framework has limitations that impact on the ability to effectively deliver on the implementation actions of these reports. Two of these the City of Monash wishes to highlight as they are of interest to the Inquiry and are significant across Victoria and for all local government areas.
1. Outdated Legislation for public open space contributions
In 2008, the then Minister for Environment and Climate Change requested the Victorian Environment and Assessment Council (‘VEAC’) to undertake an investigation into public land use (including use of public open space) in metropolitan Melbourne. In its final report in 20111VEAC recognised that public open space is a key contributor to Melbourne’s liveability that is under pressure. It also recognised that even maintaining the current contribution of open space to liveability in Melbourne would require acquisition of new open space.
As an example the City of Monash was identified by the VEAC report as having one of the lowest levels (5thlowest) of public open space as a percentage of the municipal area. VEAC predicted that between 2006 and 2026 on a per capita basis, public open space provision in the City of Monash would fall from 46m² per person to 40m² per person. More recent material suggests that the fall has been greater, with the Victorian Planning Authority estimating public open space per capita in the City of Monash as being 38.3m² per person2.
These sorts of changes are not just occurring in the City of Monash but all across local government areas in Melbourne and Victoria. The changes are being driven by very high population growth primarily within Melbourne in recent years and the need to plan for this growth through the promotion of planning policy that significantly increases housing densities through infill and medium to high-density housing in existing urban areas. This has an impact on planning for infrastructure, such as public open space, where higher and higher demands are placed on the existing infrastructure provision. The increase in demand is not only the result of population increase, but is also due to decreasing housing lot sizes and greater levels of apartment development resulting in less private open space per household.
Victorian Environmental Assessment Council, Metropolitan Melbourne Investigation Final Report (August
Victorian Planning Authority, Metropolitan Open Space Network – Provision and Distribution (2017)
Legislation and regulation for open space improvements through development is outdated and developed prior to significant population and density increases noted above. Key aspects that require review include:
The Subdivision Act 1988 at S.18(5) requires that a public open space contribution may be made only once in respect of the land subdivided.
This is quite restrictive, particularly if the land was subdivided a number of years ago into two lots and a high density development with numerous lots and therefore population increase is now proposed on the site and development contributions are not able to be sought to address the increased demand on open space. Another example would be if the land is in an industrial area that has been rezoned for mixed use or residential purposes, and due to previous subdivision of the land further development contributions are not able to be sought.
The Subdivision Act 1988 at S.18(8c) sets out that an open space contribution cannot be sought for a two lot subdivision – only three or more lots.
It is unclear what the intention of this provision was originally, but infill development and two lot subdivision makes up a significant proportion of development intensity in the City of Monash. This development accordingly results in increased demand on open space infrastructure, but there is no ability to seek contributions to improve the provision of open space. Subdivision of three lots or above is essentially required to subsidise the demands on public open space from two lot subdivision.
There is no ability to seek a public open space contribution for any development that does not involve a subdivision.
Not all medium or high density development that occurs across Melbourne involves a subdivision. There is no mechanism to seek development contributions unless voluntary provision of open space is either gifted or negotiated. This development often occurs in areas of high population such as activity centres, where public open space can already be limited and high additional demands will be placed on the existing open space. This is a serious short coming in the current legislative framework due to the tens of thousands of people that are being planned for in this manner.
In its final report VEAC recognised the difficulties faced by Councils as a result of population growth. It identified a need in Recommendation 9 for the Government to review the open space policy and the provisions of the Victorian Planning Provisions (VPP) and the Subdivision Act 1988 with the aim of assisting metropolitan local Councils meet the challenges of population increase by maximising the contribution of open space through subdivision of land.
This recommendation, although supported in principle by the government of the day, was never acted upon. Based on the reasons stated above, Monash Council considers that there is an urgent need to review the VPP and Subdivision Act.
As a further example, Monash Planning Scheme Amendment C148 seeks to increase the level of public open space contributions that it receives through development applications. This is in response to the recognised shortfalls of public open space in the City of Monash in line with the predicted level of population growth.
There is significant cost involved in undertaking such an amendment including the preparation of the Monash Open Space Strategy, and the planning scheme amendment and Planning Panels Victoria processes. This is a cost that is ultimately born by our ratepayers, a situation that is replicated across many Victorian Councils.
A key part of Monash Amendment C148 involved the development of an appropriate open space standard based on a per person rate of 30m² or the cash equivalent. Supported by work undertaken by SGS Economics and Planning, the 30m² rate was based on national and international standards of open space provision for recreation and general wellbeing. The new SGS methodology greatly simplifies the open space contribution process, and differs from the traditional approach of preparing a costed “laundry list” of open space projects and developing a contribution rate based on an apportionment of the cost to new population. This an innovative approach taken by Council recognised the contemporary context of open space and population needs, and greatly simplified the process.
The Planning Panel Hearing to consider Amendment C148 was held in February 2020, and the Interim Panel Report was released in April 2020. The Panel in their report, noted that the idea of 30 square metres per capita as a benchmark or aspiration or a comparative metric has merit. However, they considered that there were issues using this as a standard to derive a public open space contribution rate as planning standards require testing and debate. They advised this should be derived from the VPP, from a government authority or from other sources where they have been tested through a process of a wider review, debate and consultation. This is a very disappointing outcome for Monash and, as highlighted above, local authorities have been waiting for more than a decade for a review of open space contributions to occur.
2. Lack of support at the State level for canopy vegetation.
Canopy vegetation cover is one important way of mitigating some of the impacts of climate change, including exacerbating the impacts of the urban heat island effect. Canopy vegetation is also important for aesthetic and environmental reasons.
Plan Melbourne 2017–2050, the state’s long-term plan to accommodate Melbourne’s future growth in population and employment, supports the need to maintain and
enhance its urban forest. Direction 6.4 ‘Make Melbourne cooler and greener’ and Direction 6.5 ‘Protect and restore natural habitats’, explicitly encourage ‘maintaining and enhancing … [the] urban forest of trees and vegetation’ and support ‘the development of the metropolitan urban forest strategy’.
The Department for the Environment Land Water and Planning (DELWP) and Council are both members of ‘Resilient Melbourne’ and have endorsed ‘Living Melbourne: Our Metropolitan urban forest 2019’, which has established a framework to improve the liveability of Melbourne through connection with nature. It is underpinned by 6 key actions:
1. Protect and restore species habitat and improve connectivity
2. Set targets and track progress
3. Scale up greening in the private realm
4. Collaboration across sectors and regions
5. Build a toolkit of resources to underpin implementation
6. Fund the protection and enhancement of the urban forest.
The Monash Urban Landscape and Canopy Vegetation Strategy (MULCVS) is consistent with the State policy and guidance and has set a target of achieving 30% canopy cover by 2040. However current estimates show canopy cover of 14.2% – requiring us to more than double our canopy over the next 20 years. Between 2014 and 2018, the City of Monash had an annual net loss of 74 hectares of canopy cover, which is the greatest amount of canopy loss in the Eastern Metropolitan Region and accounts for 11% of the total urban canopy loss in the Melbourne metropolitan area.
All of these policies show a clear need for adequate controls to be in place at a local level to protect and enhance urban canopy vegetation. The MULCVS has recommended the strengthening of our existing local planning policies and to introduce more widespread controls to reduce canopy loss.
Implementation of the MULCVS
Council has recently submitted to the Department of Environment Land Water and Planning (DELWP) a request for authorisation for Amendment C153 to the Monash Planning Scheme. Amendment C153 seeks to implement outcomes of the MULCVS noted above through the application of the Significant Landscape Overlay (SLO) over most areas of the City of Monash. Councils are limited to the tools available within the Victoria Planning Provisions and the SLO is considered to be the best tool available at present for the following reasons:
The use of the SLO to cover a broad area is consistent with Planning Practice Note No. 7 (PPN07).
There is no guidance in any practice note that states that the SLO cannot be applied to urban environments to protect and enhance vegetation for aesthetic / visual importance or to achieve broader environmental aims.
The SLO is one of the tools available and is used widely in many planning schemes for tree and landscape protection.
The Panel for Whitehorse Amendment C219 has supported the use of the SLO over all of their residential areas, equating to around 80% of the municipality. The Minister for Planning has approved this amendment but added a sunset clause to the control of 12 months.
We are advised that DELWP are currently developing new tools for protecting and enhancing urban canopy cover to combat the impacts of climate change, including the Urban Heat Island Effect. This is the reason given as to the sunset provision for the SLO in the City of Whitehorse, and the reason why there appears to be the lack of support for the City of Monash to properly implement our MULCVS. While these tools are being developed, we will continue to see widespread canopy loss and an erosion of our Garden City Character.
Local Governments have long been the leaders in progressive reforms to the planning system, urged along by our communities, on issues such as climate change, Environmentally Sustainable Design, improving the design of apartments, urban greening and providing open space.
As an example, a number of Councils have been waiting for the inclusion of tools for Environmentally Sustainable Design (ESD) in the Victorian Planning Provisions since 2006, and have had to fight for local planning policies to be included in their planning schemes, which were eventually approved by the Minister for Planning in 2015. There have been 12-24 month sunset clauses added to these policies ever since, awaiting the development of state-wide provisions.
In addition, timeframes for determining planning scheme amendments continue to blow out at both the authorisation stage and at the approval stage. By way of example, Monash Amendment C153 was submitted to DELWP for authorisation to commence the exhibition process in April 2020, and no response has been formally received as yet. With no authorisation for Amendment C153, we could be waiting many years for adequate protection of our vegetation and by the time it has been gazetted it may be too late.
Ultimately Council would like to stress to the inquiry that municipalities across Victoria are being proactive in trying to protect and enhance canopy vegetation at significant cost to our communities. However barriers, bureaucracy and delays at the State Government level are hampering these attempts. This is also at a significant detriment to the delivery of their own plans (i.e. Plan Melbourne actions) and as has been shown we are losing vegetation at a rapid rate.
One last issue that we would like to highlight is the lack of available funding and the ability to make large scale improvements to public open space. Undertaking improvements to parks, trails and conservation areas costs significant amounts of money. Cuts to budgets at Parks Victoria going back 10 years has reduced funding streams that are available to make
improvements to parks and major shared paths – either by Parks Victoria themselves, or through grants to make improvements on Parks Victoria land or Council owned land. There have been some positive changes to this in recent times with the government announcing a $154 million suburban parks program earlier this year.
Streamlining processes with other agencies such as Parks Victoria, Melbourne Water, and the Department of Education and Training for licenses to use their land for recreation should also be a priority. There are many opportunities to share land in areas where land for new open space is scarce.
If you have any queries about the amendment please contact André Schmid
DR ANDI DIAMOND
Chief Executive Officer