Melbourne’s new built form controls – an end to hyper density?

Melbourne’s high-rise boom has resulted in higher density in parts of the city than other mega cities like New York and Hong Kong. 

Amendment C270 to the Melbourne Planning Scheme, approved by the Minister before Christmas, seeks to rein this in.

The amendment introduces new built form controls that impose new limits on building height, tower separation and podium setbacks.

There are two types of areas that directs different development outcomes:

General development areas (GDA) – where the emphasis is on growth and more intensive development. This is primarily where towers are envisaged, and will be encouraged, to be located; and

Special character areas (SCAs) – where the emphasis is to protect specific valued attributes, including a relatively lower built form scale appropriate for each area. There is commonality and overlap between some of the SCAs and heritage precincts or sites with individual heritage protection.

In addition, the amendment introduces two new concepts into the planning scheme – floor area ratios (FARs) and a floor area uplift (FAU) scheme.

The FAR will apply in the GDA and propose a ratio of 18:1. For example, if the site area is 2000 sqm the allowable floor area is 36,000 sqm. Anything exceeding this figure will trigger the FAU scheme.

The FAU allows for higher density than the FAR of 1:18 in parts of central Melbourne if the developer provides certain public benefits. These public benefits include:

Competitive design process (design excellence);

Commercial office use on site for minimum 10 years;

Social housing on site;

Publicly accessible enclosed areas on site; and

Publicly accessible open space on the site.

The panel that was appointed to consider the public submissions on the amendment concluded that the FAR of 18:1 was the upper limit in terms of density impacts.

However, it did not support the FAU scheme, concluding that:

It fails to clearly apply the principles of equality, consistency, accountability and transparency to the securing of benefits;

Its implementation, including the guidelines, is vague and may be open to misinterpretation;

The strategic justification for the scope of public benefits is absent; and

There are too many opportunities for inconsistent outcomes in the “negotiation” of agreements for public benefits.

Despite the panel’s findings, the minister approved the amendment with the FAU scheme.

Another interesting issue raised by the panel was third-party rights. The Capital City Zone has virtually no rights for third parties to object to and appeal against development applications, even though there is now a very large residential population.

The panel suggested that the minister revisit the issue, however no changes have been made by the minister.

The panel report on the amendment can be obtained on the Austlii web site, see Melbourne C270 (PSA) [2016] PPV 133.

There should be some confidence that Amendment 270 will avoid the worst excesses of the tower buildings constructed over the last 10 years.

However, it will be interesting to see whether the FAU scheme will result in the trading off for potential community benefits without impacting adversely on the public realm, particularly given the built form controls in the GDA are discretionary and matters like preferred height can be exceeded.

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