By Evan Granger | 4 Dec 2019

Good design is a critical component of Melbourne’s ongoing liveability and economic success.

Melbourne’s attractiveness and reputation is in part based on the quality of its public realm and the amenity available to residents and workers. Melbourne’s liveability helps to attract and retain talent in a globally competitive landscape, and is also a principal driver of business investment decisions.

Economically, it makes sense to create great streets and interesting buildings that enliven the public realm and provide amenity – and a continued focus on design quality will be essential for the city’s ongoing success.

Design excellence cannot be codified and a ‘one-size-fits-all’ set of rules will not lead to the best place outcomes. This is especially pertinent in Melbourne’s complex central city environment, where nuance in design is required. Decision-makers need to look at the “bigger picture” when assessing projects.

Giving planners the ability to apply discretion in their decision-making offers designers the opportunity to pursue nuanced, site-responsive solutions instead of resorting to unsophisticated, formulaic approaches.

As outlined in a 2018 report prepared by Urbis for the Property Council of Australia, this major shift in central city planning controls has reduced the viability of Hoddle Grid office development by constraining typical floorplate areas and overall yields. In their present form, the controls are contributing to a looming shortfall of premium and A-grade office space in Melbourne’s CBD, which will harm Melbourne’s global competitiveness in the medium to long-term.

Responding to the report and industry’s concerns, the Minister for Planning announced a review of the C270 controls in December 2018. From the outset, the Minister noted that this would not be a wide-ranging review, but instead a ‘tweaking of C270’ to improve the operation and interpretation of the controls.

While changes to the controls to clarify the intent of some elements would be beneficial, this clarification should not be at the expense of the limited amount of discretion currently allowed within the controls. Indeed, Urbis has previously argued for increased discretion to favour new office development and facilitate the great design which Melbourne is renowned for.

The C270 review process is still underway and in the meantime developers and their design teams are working hard to prepare schemes that comply with the stringent controls.

Urbis has undertaken a review of major central city projects that have been recently approved or are under assessment. While these projects are delivering design quality and improving amenity, the designs have relied heavily on the discretionary aspects of the planning controls. Without the ability for planners to apply their discretion when assessing certain design elements (e.g. setback distances), it is questionable whether these projects would remain viable.

While calls to tighten planning controls or make them more ‘black and white’ are popular and appealing, the current crop of projects prove that the system’s allowance for discretion is working and should be expanded, rather than further diminished.

Melbourne is a city of great design and we are blessed with talented architects that make a positive contribution to our public realm. Government should acknowledge this by providing a planning framework that truly enables site responsive outcomes and rewards innovation. This is especially important in Melbourne’s central city; the economic engine room of Victoria.

Download the full paper here

For further information on Central City Planning and the current review, please contact our #cityshaper team:

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