Opinion: Politics above proper planning

2 May 2022

, Media

Written by: Matthew Kandelaars, Victorian CEO of the Urban Development Institute of Australia (UDIA)

Published: Friday 29 April 2022 in the Geelong Advertiser

Under cover of the Easter long weekend, the Andrews Labor Government erected a stop sign to guard Torquay’s million-dollar club from new home buyers and renters.

When the Minister for Planning released the final Planning Policy for the Surf Coast, we expected a policy that would protect some of Victoria’s coastal landscapes from inappropriate development. What we got was a planning policy that is embarrassingly political in nature and a massive stop sign to those looking to live along the Surf Coast – when the job market is finally giving people flexibility about how and where they live and work.

The Government maintains this policy, which sets protected settlement boundaries for Torquay-Jan Juc, Bellbrae and Breamlea, is to stop development in Spring Creek. This stems from a knee-jerk 2018 election commitment when the NIMBY set spooked the Government enough to change its own position and vow to lock down development in the area.

Spring Creek has been identified for urban growth for decades, has been specifically recommended for inclusion in the Urban Growth Zone, and is the only area in Surf Coast that has a Precinct Structure Plan (PSP) to guide its future development.

The Minister’s own Advisory Committee, directed to advise him on this planning policy, notes that Torquay-Jan Juc is a key designated location for future growth in Surf Coast Shire and that it cannot shut its doors to additional and properly planned growth. It noted that the PSP process to allow urban development “is a legitimate outcome of the approved zoning of the Spring Creek” and “there is no planning reason why it should not be progressed. It was prepared and developed through a considered, fully transparent, and legitimate planning process.”

In ignoring the evidence and expert advice of its own Advisory Committee, the Government’s decision will hurt housing affordability. House prices on the Surf Coast have risen by a staggering 30 per cent in the past year, while Torquay itself has a median house price over $1 million. The decision to lock out new housing supply (after previously flagging it as an appropriate place for urban growth) erodes investment confidence, will reduce building activity and jobs, and means less homes and higher prices for renters and buyers.

The Andrews Labor Government has appeased Torquay’s million-dollar club by turning the Surf Coast into an enclave for the wealthy. Its decision marks a clear divide between the haves and the have-nots and leaves behind the nurses, teachers and tradies who have grown up along the Surf Coast and who want to rent or buy their own home there.

The Government’s approach to this Surf Coast Planning Policy shows a lack of regard for due process and rigorous evidence-based assessment. It ignores the advice of the Minister’s own Advisory Committee and is an undeniable case of the elevation of electoral politics above proper planning for long-term growth.

All this paints a clear warning sign to potential investors to Victoria.

A clear and transparent planning system, free from political interference, benefits everyone. Yes, politics has a role in setting the rules at the beginning but planning decisions then need to promote certainty for both developers and the community. That’s something even those celebrating the Surf Coast Planning Policy need to accept.