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Author
Gillian Garrood

Date
April 2024

With housing market pressures continuing to be a prominent issue in Victoria, and indeed across much of Australia; the Activity Centres Program is the next step in implementing Victoria’s Housing Statement released in September 2023.

On Thursday 28 March, the Victorian State Government announced the opening of its community engagement (Phase 1) for the initial ten activity centres across Melbourne, earmarked to facilitate 60,000 homes close to services, jobs and transport.

The ten activity centres identified across Melbourne are a mix of metropolitan and major activity centres, located in the middle and outer areas of established Melbourne.

Each centre has been identified with potential to deliver substantial housing growth, good transport access and are able to benefit from State-led intervention to create clearer controls to increase housing supply and diversity. The activity centres are as follows:

What's happening?

The Activity Centre Program and the community engagement process is being led by the Victorian Planning Authority (VPA) who will review building heights and design controls for the ten activity centres to facilitate more quality homes to be built in the area.

This project will provide clear new controls to facilitate the development of housing within walking distance of each activity centre that is appropriate for the local area and well designed.

Insights from existing council policy and inputs from the council, and the community, will inform the new controls.

What are the next steps?

Community Engagement – Phase 1 is now open for feedback until 29 April 2024. The focus of Phase 1 is to engage with stakeholders and the community to understand the local character and places of significance within each of the activity centres.

There is currently a call out for individuals to join Community Reference Groups expected to be convened from April, with Phase 2 of the community engagement program running between July and August.

How will planning applications work once the new rules are in place?

At this stage, the VPA has indicated that local councils will consider planning applications and assess them according to the new planning controls.

Applications which meet the thresholds for the Development Facilitation Program (DFP) will be able to access that pathway (e.g. residential projects of at least $50M in Metro Melbourne with 10% Affordable Housing, or various other uses which meet threshold development costs).

The DFP pathway retains consultation with the relevant council, the community and key stakeholders, but it offers the benefit of exemption from third party VCAT appeal and makes the Minister for Planning the responsible authority.

Our initial reflections

Tract welcomes this announcement as a positive step towards ensuring sufficient supply and diversity of housing in established Melbourne. The goal of 60,000 more homes located in and around the ten initial activity centres is ambitious but comes at a time of need within Melbourne’s housing supply.

Whilst some of these centres are already well established for higher density housing, this announcement highlights the need for substantial engagement with communities and stakeholders to promote both the overarching goals of Victoria’s Housing Statement and the role of their local centre (particularly for centres which are currently considered ‘lower order’).

In addition to Epping, Moorabbin, Ringwood, and Preston, where the Activity Centre Zone applies, several other centres are currently subject to various controls and strategic planning directions. The VPA has stated that existing structure planning work undertaken by councils will inform the activity centre program.

This includes the:

It is heartening that work already undertaken or underway by councils to update planning controls will be acknowledged and existing work by councils will be used to inform the development of the new planning controls for the ten activity centres. This highly accelerated program may compromise the ability for rigorous testing of the draft controls and may also preclude specific stakeholder feedback. For example, we note that the opportunity to register interest in joining the Community Reference Group was posted on the Thursday before Easter and closes imminently (Sunday 14th April).

This contrasts with the approach taken by the Suburban Rail Loop Authority (SLRA) in planning for the SRL East Precincts. In this case, the SRLA has indicated that they will be going through the standard planning scheme amendment process with planning panels slated for 2025 and new controls for the precincts in 2026.

In these early stages, the VPA and the SRLA are adopting a similar approach with growth to be targeted around transport nodes and reducing in scale and density towards the residential hinterland.

In the background, there is debate as to how much planning can do to deliver on the ambitions of Victoria’s Housing Statement which seeks to deliver 80,000 homes a year in the next 10 years, achieve 70% of housing growth within infill areas by 2050, and boost private delivery of social and affordable housing. It is clear that the housing crisis requires a whole-of-government approach with developers citing construction costs, finance and taxation as key barriers.

We commend the Victorian Government for taking a bold approach to tackling the housing crisis through planning reform, with zoning being the first crucial step in signalling where growth is encouraged. With enormous investment in infrastructure over recent years and the lacklustre growth seen in some amenity and service-rich established areas, it is logical to review these underlying planning controls to ensure that they are not unreasonably constraining growth and housing choice.

How Tract can assist

If you have any questions relating to this announcement or if you have a project in an activity centre that you would like to discuss, please contact Gillian Garrood or your other Tract contacts.

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