Plan Melbourne a Missed Opportunity?

Earlier this month, the Victorian State Government's long awaited Metro Planning Strategy 'Plan Melbourne' was released. This follows on from the discussion paper (written up here) released in October last year. This MPS seeks to provide a strategic direction for Melbourne to 2050.

The Plan has its own summary document, and there's also a nice summary from Tract here, so I won't go over it again.  I've picked out a few points from the MPS to discuss below (pretty much skewed towards my interests - so not a lot on freight and economic clustering, which takes up a fair chunk of the document).

On the plus side, the idea of breaking the Melbourne metro area into subregions to get better integration and collaboration between stakeholders is a good one.  I'm glad there's a fixed urban growth boundary (though how fixed we'll see).  I like the 'toning down' of the activity centre hierarchy into Metropolitan Activity Centres and Activity Centres (were Principal Activity Centres so much different from Major Activity Centres anyway?).  The newly created Metropolitan Planning Authority also seems like a step in the right direction in terms of finding a scale to address metropolitan issues - though I really hope that this opportunity is realised.  With details still not clear about who will be on the board, and what they are mandated to do, there are concerns that the MPA could be pretty tokenistic.

Now, onto the beefs.  Generally, Plan Melbourne has fallen short of providing the brave leadership that is needed to guide our city to a more environmentally, socially and economically sustainable future.  I mean, this plan is looking to 2050 - so we should have something amazing to aim for.

The overarching vision of the MPS is that "Melbourne will be a global city of opportunity and choice".  That sounds fair enough, though it is so vague, how could it not be?  The tone of Plan Melbourne is often vague. There are not enough specifics, not enough tangible targets included.  I've previously written about Sustainable DC - a strategy for Washington DC that I liked for it's gutsy goals, supported by detailed actions.  It had tangible targets, for instance, like cutting citywide obesity by 50% by 2032, supported by staged actions that had funding commitments.  Copenhagen 2025 has the specific goal of being carbon neutral by 2025.  Now that is amazing.

Plan Melbourne seeks to facilitate the supply of more affordable housing.  However, there are no specific goals, and only limited mechanisms to achieve this.  Inclusionary zoning is certainly not on the table. Affordability is proposed to be addressed in the MPS by promoting development in either the growth areas (where the cost of living is high due to transport costs) or selected medium-high density areas.  It is hard to see how this will address the supply of more affordable housing.  It also does not bode well for diversity, despite the discourse of 'choice' being a central theme throughout the Plan.  It seems as though there is no middle ground; development will be either in the form of detached housing in existing established suburbs, or higher density buildings in identified renewal precincts (such as Fishermans Bend, Cremorne, East Werribee, Jewell and Ringwood to name a few).

Plan Melbourne also fails to provide any realistic indication that public transport is a priority, other than the Melbourne Metro proposed to commence in the medium term.  Whilst we can 'move towards' more public transport infrastructure, the East West Link is assured, and will soak up Melbourne's infrastructure funding for the foreseeable future.  Carolyn Whitzman puts it well in her article published in The Age over the weekend:

If you argue that a shift to more active and sustainable transport - walking, cycling and public transport - is both inevitable and desirable, you might not want to have as your first transport priority a downtown highway that will do nothing to relieve congestion in the outer suburbs that need help most. Mind you, this is a plan that argues that it would be easier and more sensible to build a third airport than build a rail line to the two airports that already exist (read on here).
Whilst on transport, acknowledging the potential of buses is a serious omission from Plan Melbourne.  Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) was mentioned in the discussion paper, but disappears from the MPS.  What a shame to miss out on an opportunity to provide infrastructure that is more environmentally friendly, encourages people to walk more and that is also cheaper to build.

Plan Melbourne also misses the opportunity to really put environmental sustainability on the agenda.  It seems the main mechanisms to address this is to locate housing close to transport and services (though this could be difficult given the new residential zones, particularly in the style that Boroondara and Glen Eira have applied them), and improving water management.  I was hoping to see more regarding climate change mitigation (climate change is mentioned, though hardly at all - you would never have guessed it is a serious issue).  Where are the goals for green buildings, energy and infrastructure? Sustainable DC has a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50%, and lists departments and organisations responsible for making it happen, along with specific actions.  Why can't we commit to an ambitious goal like this?

Overall, it seems as though there are some good ideas in Plan Melbourne (and there ought to be with some of the best planning brains in Melbourne contributing).  However, I get a sense that this plan has been watered down to the point that it does not make the most of this opportunity to set the direction for Melbourne for the next 40 years.  It will likely result in a continuation of the status quo and it does not 'try' hard enough to get tangible outcomes that will make Melbourne a fairer, more sustainable city - and that is a shame.

However, this is meant to be a draft MPS (though you would never have guessed it by reading it - it doesn't say draft anywhere, and it is polished to the nines!).  So the good news is there is time to have your say.  You can make a submission up to 6 December, so if you've got something to say, don't miss out.

Click here to download Plan Melbourne.
Click here for Carolyn Whitzman's article in The Age, and read on for a critique of Plan Melbourne by Michael Buxton.


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