The continuing development and destruction of Victoria’s green spaces leaves me (and many others) in a frustrated rage. The current Government continues this policy, wanting to put up for development the Green Wedges around Melbourne – corridors established over 3 decades ago to provide some environmental breathing space. Unfortunately the deliberate encouraging of population growth (approximately 90 000 people a year) has these areas under threat. The Planning Minister, Matthew Guy, is proving as developer-friendly as his predecessor, Justin Madden, was. Some recent articles from The Age:
- “Review threatens to destroy ‘Melbourne’s lungs’ ”, 30/7
- “Open spaces to shrink as Melbourne grows”, 8/8 – public parks are also under threat.
Minimal reforms, but destructive
Are the voters who elected to switch state governments late last year still feeling positive about the decision? The Baillieu government has certainly minimised its reforms to date, yet they have had impacts: from the petty abolition of obligatory “welcome to country” acknowledgments to the long-term socially destructive cutting of local library budgets.
Now we are being presented with a plan to destroy Melbourne’s green wedges. Open space is one of the things that makes a city like Melbourne viable. Every time open space is built on, that destruction is permanent. The government’s members might consider, from a self-interested point of view, the fate of Jeff Kennett, whose concentration on showy spectacle, and on the capital at the expense of regions, was his downfall.
By contrast, they could look at the legacy of Hamer, whose “quality of life” ticket was an electoral winner, preserving him a place in the affections of Victorians – including many born since his departure from office.
– David Nichols, lecturer, urban planning, University of Melbourne, Jacana
“Review” a euphemism
The fact that Planning Minister Matthew Guy couches his review of the urban growth boundary in terms of “logical inclusions” rather than “logical exclusions” (“Green or growth?”, The Saturday Age, 30/7) means that the long history of green wedges being eaten away at is to continue.
Those of us who have followed metropolitan planning policies since the adoption of the green wedge strategy 40 years ago know that “reviews” of the urban growth boundary are for one purpose only – to expand the land available for development to the profit of those who want to sell their land for subdivision. The original green wedge strategy was not a timing device under which the green wedges were to nibbled away year after year. It was a shaping strategy, meant to protect the green wedges for all time.
What a pity that today’s Liberal Party has moved so far from the ideals of Dick Hamer.
– Chris Curtis, Hurstbridge
Lungs of the city
Once gone the green wedges will be gone forever: there will never be the public money to buy them back. It will be too late to remedy the situation if our air quality deteriorates, and Melbourne becomes, like Sydney, a grubby, dirty city.
Plants improve air quality by removing pollutants. As the population and pollution of Melbourne increase, it would appear logical to not only preserve the green wedges but to find ways of increasing the amount of green on private and commercial land to maintain air quality.
By contrast, removing the green wedges will lead to a reduction in air quality, which will have a negative impact on public health. Before any building on the green wedges is allowed, surely there must be research carried out regarding the impact on air quality.
– Janet Russell, Blackburn North
Listen to communities
Last month, Matthew Guy had the audacity to dictate to the Surf Coast Council that Torquay would be rezoned even if the council did not approve. Fortunately, plans to rezone hundreds of hectares of farmland at Spring Creek in Torquay for new housing have been quashed (“Plans for rezoning scrapped”, The Age, 29/7).
Contrary to what developer Rob Burgess says, Torquay’s future will actually be more secure. The conservation of the area will be much easier to manage, council costs won’t escalate, and farmland can be preserved for future food security.
What should be the entrance to the Great Ocean Road – and a quiet holiday/recreational coastal resort – will now be saved from generic urban sprawl.
Planning should not mean enforcing growth and holding communities to ransom for public services unless they agree to developments for the benefit of those with vested interests. It should be about community consultation to enhance our environment, our lifestyles, improving public services, and securing our future.
– Jennie Epstein, Little River
Brimbank bureaucrats’ bid to sell 14 parks beggars belief (“Brimbank council selling off parks to fix budget: MP”, The Age, 28/7). In a city of ever-increasing population density, these community-oriented green open spaces become ever more valuable for passive recreation; and councils never find the money to replace them.
– Elizabeth Meredith, Surrey Hills
Keep wedge faith
Could I add a few words to the current controversy over Melbourne’s green wedges. My arguments are not about money, so perhaps they have little weight today, and of course I am attached to the ideas of my late husband, Dick Hamer.
I believe that his ideas were firmly based on a system of city planning that emphasises restraint, for the purpose of allowing families a better choice for themselves and for the environment – which is now all the more important.
We should also bear in mind that any encroachment into our green spaces is irreversible.
Speculators, of course, will disagree, but remaining faithful to the original intention of the green wedges would give us all a more disciplined, sustainable and welcoming city for future generations.
– Lady April Hamer, Alphington
Destruction of a marvellous vision
The article “Open spaces to shrink as Melbourne grows” (The Age, 8/8) spells out the destruction of Marvellous Melbourne, once listed among the world’s most liveable cities.
Due to the vision of our city forefathers, notably our first governor, Charles La Trobe, Melbourne was ringed by parks and gardens that are now shrinking at an alarming rate as they are excised and alienated for commercial and sporting events.
Albert Park? Gone for a car race. Melbourne Park? Gone for tennis and soccer stadiums. Royal Park? Gone for a netball/hockey stadium, a residential development used as a games village for two weeks and now a hotel on the Royal Children’s Hospital site.
The list is endless. Under the Liberal government of Sir Rupert Hamer, we were the garden state and proud of it. Now Melbourne is the capital of the bogan state – endless urban sprawl of houses without backyards and lacking the public spaces/parks essential for the health and wellbeing of the next generation of Victorians.
– Julianne Bell, Protectors of Public Lands Victoria, Parkville
Along with other concerned residents, I recently attended two days of hearings at VCAT to voice my opposition to a poorly designed development proposed for our street.
The developer’s QC eloquently argued the merits of his client’s proposal, which ignores the existing scale of our street and the built fabric of the neighbourhood, manipulates traffic flow figures and thumbs its nose at local council guidelines that recommend moderate growth.
While I am in favour of urban consolidation where appropriate and when the design respects neighbourhood amenity, I am opposed to development underpinned by the exploitation and misinterpretation of regulations designed to protect communities.
Advertising a development during a peak holiday period and burying it in the back pages of the local paper may be legal but is underhanded.
If Melbourne is to continue being considered one of the world’s most liveable cities, then local councils must establish firm design development overlays for areas outside designated activity centres and the advertising of proposed developments must be carried out in a fairer manner than we have just seen.
– Phillip Schemnitz, St Kilda
Green wedges did not stand chance
I fear Lady Hamer’s plea to keep the green wedge faith (Letters, 5/8) will be in vain and Sir Rupert’s invaluable legacy squandered along with Melbourne’s cherished open spaces (“Open spaces to shrink as Melbourne grows”, The Age, 8/8).
Unfortunately this is an era when money rules. The Green Wedges Coalition lobbied both major parties before the 2002 election. A meeting with then opposition planning spokesman Ted Baillieu was not reassuring, and we rejoiced when the Bracks government introduced Melbourne 2030.
But what chance did the green wedges have against the machinations of the development lobby? First 11,000, then 23,000, hectares were sacrificed to the gods of growth and greed. Now it’s open season on private and public open space.
Yet, as Hamer recognised, the greater the population the greater need for accessible open space. But in a democracy, circumstances eventually unite to create the perfect storm. A combination of aggressive vested interest, political expediency and public apathy is building up to a tsunami of rampant, ill-conceived development that is threatening to sweep before it all that Melburnians hold dear. How sad.
– Rosalie Counsell, Green Wedges Coalition, Harkaway
Costs exceed benefits
Our population growth is not inevitable. It’s imposed on us through economic immigration levels and an unrealistic economic model based on perpetual growth. Once growth continues beyond optimum levels, the costs exceed the benefits and the returns are negative. It’s all about greed, and the fact that Victoria has few economic activities except those that rely on population growth.
The Doctors for the Environment group warns about the health costs of urban sprawl, including the lack of exercise and obesity. It is also concerned about rising greenhouse gas emissions from higher-density living.
Planning used to be about ensuring the quality of life in our city, and protecting valuable natural buffer zones from developments. Now, it’s all about forcing the public to accommodate declining lifestyles so we can accommodate 1500 new residents each week.
– Jenny Warfe, Dromana
I have recently been involved in a planning case at VCAT and have become concerned at the heavy bias towards appellants/objectors who are prepared to invest the most money on expert witnesses. Given that more than 80 per cent of decisions are made in favour of developers, it is clear that, generally speaking, money wins.
When considering such esoteric issues as inappropriate overdevelopment, neighbourhood character, net community benefit and the perceived effects of traffic and parking, it is easy to organise an expert witness who will produce favourable testimony when being paid for that advice.
The answer is to have truly independent and impartial expert witnesses appointed by VCAT to assess each case on its merits, in a similar manner to medical panels. VCAT could appoint independent experts in contested fields such as heritage, urban planning, traffic management and so on, with enormous savings in time and money, to arrive at independent decisions that are fair and equitable for all parties.
– Robert Nave, East Melbourne