Monday, June 22, 2009

Melbourne’s green belt: sacrificed to Real Estate?

Victorian state government plans release on June 17 to expand Melbourne’s Urban Growth Boundary for new housing developments, overturning previous commitments made as part of its Melbourne 2030 strategy for containing urban growth.

The June announcement has been criticised widely in the media.
Michael Buxton, former senior planning advisor to the government, said on June 9 in the Age “we have Rafferty's rules led by the development community and the Government just rolling over… we are going to end up with two cities - we are going to end up with a whole lot of houses far from services and employment in the outer suburbs and more and more people being shoved into them."

Areas under consideration for urban expansion are in Melbourne's outer west, north and far south-east. These areas include endangered native grasslands, one of the state’s most endangered ecosystems that are home to a total of 68 threatened animals and 26 threatened plants. While new grassland reserves have also been announced, environment groups are skeptical about their effectiveness.

Matt Ruchel of the Victorian National Parks Association welcomed the new reserves in a June 17 press statement but added that this “does not excuse the potential loss of more than 6,000 hectares of grasslands that could be destroyed by new urban developments,”

“Within the proposed expanded urban growth area there are some of the best examples of high quality grasslands and these areas need to be retained as part of the urban parks network within growth areas, not automatically cleared to make way for more housing.”

Government spokesman Matthew Hillard said in the June 9 Age "In these difficult economic times, the Brumby Labor Government makes no apologies in doing what the community expects of it, which is securing and protecting jobs."

State government has also changed planning laws, removing appeal rights against developments by schools or those including social housing. ‘Development Assessment Committees’ are to be set up for decisions on some planning matters, a move welcomed by the real estate advocacy group Property Council of Australia.

Residents’ groups held a rally against these changes on June 10. An article on the Property Council website by Jennifer Cunich called protesters “NIMBYs” and said that critics of the changes “advocate the BANANA approach – building absolutely nothing anywhere near anyone”.

Green Wedges Coalition state on their website that government has “dumped the developer levy it announced to provide for infrastructure in 2005 to avoid development delays and has imposed a new levy on land sales in the new urban growth areas. We doubt this will ever be collected either.”

(This is the unedited version of my article published in Green Left Weekly no. 799)

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