At a recent industry forum1, Planning Minister Wynne gave an insight into his key areas of focus for 2016.  While there are numerous angles to it, it can probably be summed up in two words: housing supply.

Together with the recent release of the Residential Zones State of Play Reports by the Managing Residential Development Taskforce2, ensuring adequate housing supply in broad acre, infill and urban renewal (including CBD, brown and grey-fields) sites was the hot topic of the evening.

The Minister referred to the "Melbourne at 8 million"3 report by RMIT Professor Buxton and the need to focus development on brown and grey-fields sites in the middle-ring suburbs, referring specifically to the mapping of such sites included in this report4.  The Minister expressed a strong view that such sites should not be held up from development by groups seeking to 'save the suburbs' and that sensitively designed interfaces can overcome the impacts on neighbours.

What the Minister didn't focus on is that the Buxton Report suggests that approximately 80% of new dwellings should and can be provided on such sites within established middle-ring areas through the use of medium-rise, rather than high-rise developments.  This percentage contrasts with the Plan Melbourne Refresh Report which suggests that the balance should be 70% in existing suburbs and 30% broad acre.  Such figures are really just the status quo and are unlikely to deliver the results needed.

The Minister also mentioned that the Government is seeking to play its part by ensuring that surplus government land is made available for development through the relatively new Fast Tracked Government Land process supported by the Government Land Standing Advisory Committee.He also advised that there would be a focus on renewal of public housing estates.

The Minister may or may not have been aware of a recent Tribunal decision5 on the interpretation of a Development Plan Overlay (DPO) Schedule applicable to five surplus Government land sites (former primary schools) that unfortunately has slowed down the progress of development on these former Government sites.  The Tribunal decision, which strictly interpreted a vegetation retention requirement, provides some valuable lessons on ensuring that the planning controls applied to strategic developments sites that are suitable for and indeed earmarked for medium-density development, are carefully drafted so as not inadvertently produce perverse outcomes that slow down the development process and lead to increased costs, ultimately impacting housing affordability. 

The Minister also advised that there would soon be announcements about an exhibition and panel process in relation to permanent height controls in the central business district to replace the interim controls brought in by Melbourne Planning Scheme Amendment C262 in September 2015 and that will sunset this September 2016.

And, the Minister said, stay tuned for the release of Plan Melbourne Refresh, due mid-year which will also have a significant impact on the policy settings for housing development and supply going forward.

So it seems there will be plenty of action in 2016 as the Victorian Government and development industry continue to grapple with catering for the rapidly expanding population.