Drive out towards Warburton and it seems easy to see where Melbourne ends and rural life begins. One minute you’re driving through houses, shops and businesses, when all of a sudden you’ve arrived in country. Except you’re actually still in Melbourne because the official boundary of the metropolitan area lies on the other (eastern) side of Warburton!
People seem to like a hard edge – a clear and unambiguous boundary – between city and country. But it only works if the non-developed land is “pure” bush or bucolic farming land, without service stations, hobby farms or other urban detritus. Head out of Melbourne in most other directions and development – almost all of it tacky and ugly – tracks you like a mangy dog.
The continuous built-up area of Melbourne (the pink bit in the middle of the map) occupies less than 2,000 km2. This is much less than is commonly assumed by the media and is just a little more than a quarter of the area covered by the official or administrative boundary, which is 7,672 km2. There are a number of “islands” of development within the boundary (also shown in pink), like the townships of Melton and Sunbury, that are officially part of the metropolitan area but separated from “mainland Melbourne” by green wedges. It makes sense to count a place like Melton township as part of Melbourne because 65% of workers living there travel across 9 km of green wedge to work in mainland Melbourne.
These islands make discussions about sprawl particularly fraught. Is it just the central core of continuous urbanised development that sprawls or should all the islands within the boundary also be included? If they are, then that not only includes towns such as Melton, Sunbury and Pakenham, but also towns like Warburton, Healesville and Gembrook that appear to the first-time visitor to be country towns. And given that island townships like Garfield and Bunyip in the outer south-east corridor are officially part of Melbourne, it’s reasonable to wonder why towns that lie just outside the boundary, like Drouin and Warragul, aren’t also seen as part of Melbourne’s sprawl.
This story from a 2003 issue of The Age shows how closely linked many country towns located outside the boundary are to Melbourne:
Census 2001 figures cited by a Monash University Centre for Population and Urban Research report for the Southern Catchments Forum show that, remarkably, more than half of the working residents of the Macedon Ranges area are employed in Melbourne. Similarly, about 40 per cent of the working residents of the Moorabool region (which includes Bacchus Marsh) and the Melbourne side of the Greater Geelong area commute to Melbourne for work. It’s clear, the report says, that these areas are “largely dormitory towns servicing the metropolis. Read the rest of this entry »
The Age breathlessly headlines the Government’s proposals for the redevelopment of Fishermans Bend as Premier Ted Baillieu’s “inner city housing revolution”. Planning Minister Matthew Guy says the area will evolve as ”Australia’s first inner-city growth corridor”.
Whoa there! I think it might be time for a relaxing cup of tea and a lie down. Let’s put these claims in perspective.
According to Mr Guy, the area under consideration is 200 Ha. That’s quite a bit smaller than the 41,000 Ha expansion of the Urban Growth Boundary approved last year.
Mr Guy also says the area is going to be developed over a 20-30 year time frame. If its total capacity is the 10,000 to 15,000 dwellings estimated by the Chief Executive of the Property Council, Jennifer Cunich, that’s at most 750 additional dwellings per year on average, and as few as 333 per year.
Just to put that in context, 42,509 dwellings were approved in the metropolitan area in the 12 months ending on 30 September 2010. Ms Cunich is quoted as saying even that’s less than we need – she says there’s a shortfall of 6,000 homes per year across the State.
While the redevelopment of Fishermans Bend is important, the claim that it’s a ‘revolution’ is hyperbole.
Likewise, the Minister’s claim that Fishermans Bend will be a ‘growth area’ – a term usually used to refer to massive outer suburban release areas – is more than a trifle exaggerated. Consider that 17,000 new dwellings were approved in Melbourne’s (outer) Growth Area municipalities in the year ending September Qtr 2010.
Journalist Kenneth Davidson is often quite sensible so I’m astonished to see him arguing that Melbourne’s planning system is creating a potentially explosive situation like the 1965 riots in Watts, Los Angeles.
In fact there are a number of contentious propositions and assumptions in his column in The Age (6/12/10), Planning must be for people not developers.
He argues that Victoria’s planning system is dominated by developers and is effectively creating two cities in Melbourne – the inner city and the fringe suburbs – with citizens divided by geography as well as class.
Now there’s no doubt there are clear geographical differences by social class across Melbourne – there’s nothing new about that – but invoking the spectre of the Watts riots of 1965 seems a bit excessive. They were a reaction by the black community to racial injustices, including severe police brutality and entrenched job and housing discrimination. More than a thousand people were injured and 34 died. The Watts riots were different by orders of magnitude to Sydney’s 2005 Macquarie Fields riots or the 2004 Redfern riots.
Mr Davidson seems intent on sheeting home almost every planning issue in Melbourne to greedy developers. I accept the argument that speculation and lack of competition are issues in the Growth Areas, but there’s much more to the “two cities” phenomenon than that. Read the rest of this entry »
I think some aspects of the Victorian Opposition’s clumsily titled Plan for Planning are doubtful, especially their proposal for ensuring 25 years land supply within Growth Areas and their intention of levying the Growth Areas Infrastructure Charge at the time of development.
But there are also some good ideas that I want to discuss, notably the proposal for a new strategic plan for Melbourne and another for an audit of the infrastructure capacity of the entire metropolitan area.
A new plan for Melbourne would be timely because Melbourne 2030 is misguided, old and tired. It’s been more than ten years since the process of preparing the metropolitan strategy began and eight years since it was published.
A key problem with Melbourne 2030 is that it was misconceived from the get-go. It never worked properly and simply hasn’t delivered on its lofty ambitions.
Its relevance took a serious hit when the projections of future population growth that underpinned its policies were revised upwards. Further, one of its main directions – the primacy of the CBD – was weakened in 2008 when the Government decided to establish six new CBD-type Central Activities Districts in the suburbs.
The objective of locating nearly 70% of all dwelling commencements out to 2030 within the existing suburbs – rising to almost 80% by 2030 – was also abandoned in 2008 and replaced with the much less challenging target of just 53%.
And of course the much vaunted Urban Growth Boundary lasted only a few years before it was breached. The supply of well-located affordable housing that the plan was intended to foster dried up and neither jobs nor housing gravitated to suburban centres on anything like the scale originally envisaged.
The problem with Melbourne 2030 is that it was driven from the outset by ideological posturing rather than logic. Too many of its key directions weren’t supported by data or analysis and the consultation process was largely a sham. Read the rest of this entry »
One of the oldest processes in urban development is the conversion of peripheral land from farming to residential use. The standard argument is highest and best use: housing gives a bigger pay-off than farming. It’s the same basic logic underlying why natural bushland is cleared for agricultural use.
On Monday I looked at the idea of “food kilometres” but today I want to look at whether productive agricultural land should be converted to urban use.
Straight up, the evidence suggests urban development doesn’t pose much threat at all. The productivity of agriculture in Australia has increased 2.8% p.a. over the last 20 years, double the rate at which the wider market economy has grown.
Moreover, the Australian Natural Resources Atlas shows that the area of land used nationally for urban development amounts to just 0.5% of the area of land used for agriculture. Another estimate by the Australian Collaborative Land Use Mapping Program puts the ratio of urban land to agricultural land at 2.8%.
A more detailed study by Peter Houston published in 2005 found that agricultural land on Melbourne’s urban periphery comprised a little less than 6% of the total land base used for agriculture in Victoria. Melbourne seems to be an exception – the average figure for peri-urban areas across all mainland States is a mere 1%. Read the rest of this entry »
If London can really grow without expanding its urban perimeter, why did our planning Minister, Justin Madden, seek to extend Melbourne’s urban growth boundary last year?
As I noted on Friday (How big is Melbourne?), journalist Jason Dowling says that “forever outward expansion (of Melbourne) is not a necessity. London has barely touched its urban perimeter for decades but has grown in population with better use of old industrial and commercial land”.
There are three aspects of this quote that I wouldn’t accept at face value. Read the rest of this entry »