Milestone for better urban living

By Sean Car

The City of Melbourne’s planning scheme amendment C308, which outlines rules for better urban design for new developments in the CBD and Southbank, has moved a step closer towards legislation.

Following a presentation of council’s recent public exhibition of C308 to the Future Melbourne Committee on November 20, councillors requested the Minister for Planning to appoint an independent panel to consider the 41 submissions received.

The amendment proposes to introduce new urban design provisions into the Melbourne Planning Scheme along with a guide to improve urban design quality.

“We want to encourage development that gives back to the public, not featureless glass towers,” council’s planning chair Cr Nicholas Reece said. “This means the highest standards of architecture and design, more fine-grain detail and using higher quality materials especially at the street level.”

“Melbourne is famous for its quality streets so we don’t want to see poor-quality design reducing public amenity. The next stage of the amendment is a step towards creating better design outcomes on private land, especially at the interface between buildings and streetscapes.”

Held between June 28 and August 10 this year, the public exhibition period of C308 included workshops with industry leaders across the planning and design industry, as well as government.

While half the submissions expressed full support of the amendment, others raised issues including car parking, mandatory building service requirements and impact on small sites, as well as conflicts between urban design and heritage.

Cr Reece said the amendment sought to “raise the bar on urban design outcomes” and generate meaningful discussions around design culture in order to achieve a greater contribution to the public realm from private developers.

“The engagement we received throughout the exhibition stage has been incredibly valuable and we hope these submissions can support the continued development of high-quality design policy,” Cr Reece said.

While the amendment comes as positive news to the ongoing development of the CBD’s already vibrant street and laneway culture, there is a large school of thought that it has come too late for much of Southbank.

If supported by the state government, C308 would create new rules for developers to ensure greater liveability at a street level. These would include setbacks between buildings and “sleeved” podium parking to encourage active uses.

Given planning rules are not retrospective, these new rules would only apply to new developments. With a majority of Southbank already developed, there are very few opportunities left to create the sort of liveability C308 desires.

The amendment also represents the first comprehensive rewrite of the city’s urban design principles, which were established in council’s 1985 strategy plan with minor adjustments in 1999.

Recognised by the Planning Institute of Australia’s 2018 Australian Urban Design Awards last month, Cr Reece said the guide aimed to provide a design standard for all Australian cities.

“The design guide includes illustrations and photographs to break down complex urban design ideas into simple principles,” he said.

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