The VCAT tribunal handed down it’s decision on 29th June.
There are no surprises in the decision. VCAT has, once again, supported a billionaire developer against objectors from the local community on both sides of the river, Yarra and Boroondara Councils, Melbourne Water, National Trust, and the Yarra Riverkeeper, as well as the Planning Minister himself.
In spite of Minister Wynne’s positive assessment of the VCAT decision on the Channel 9 6pm news on Sunday evening, and in The Age article of 3rd July (note Age article contains inaccurate statements about Salta gifting land/extension of trail), the VCAT decision on 647-649 was not a positive outcome for the Yarra River corridor, for views of the Skipping Girl sign, or for users of the Yarra River trails and environs. It was a substantial win for the developer, which confirmed for many people that our Planning system, Government processes, and VCAT, are deeply and irrevocably flawed. It is understandable that the Minister would wish to present the decision in a positive light, as his own contribution was substantially ignored by VCAT (see Minister’s letter HERE).
The appearance of a decision made by rote might be summed up in the fact that the permit and conditions order (page 27), is actually for the wrong address. Instead of 647-649 Victoria Street, the address given by VCAT is 645-647 Victoria Street.
The developer was permitted to tender modified plans, amendments, and extra evidence throughout the hearing, and was granted an extra day of hearing.
A permit was granted for a nine storey building, to a height of 47.22 m with lift and plant equipment. It incorporates a “cutout” podium on level two to allow some views of the Skipping Girl Sign from Victoria Street. The interruption to the view of the Skipping Girl Sign from the Walmer St Footbridge was not considered, even though this is a view often appreciated and photographed by tourists and residents alike, both during the day, and at night.
Summary of major points.
Skipping Girl Sign/ Victoria Street
The Skipping Girl Sign is recognised by an individual Heritage Overlay (H0353) and is on the Victorian Heritage Register (H2083). The Planning Scheme includes four provisions dealing specifically with the Skipping Girl Sign.
However, the Tribunal considered that the sign does not “catch the eye”as in times past, and will be lost amongst all the new taller developments along Victoria and Burnley Streets (the developments on all 4 corners are Salta developments). It will be especially affected by the proposed new Salta development on the west corner of Walmer Street (607-627).
The peculiar planning illogic that holds sway, dictates that, as the other proposed Salta development at 607-627 will interrupt views of the Skipping Girl Sign, the Salta development at 647-649 should be permitted, because the views will be impeded anyway. If you want to be permitted to impede the view of a landmark, it seems you only need to plan to build another building further away which will also impede the view, and then point to either as a reason for the other to be allowed. People outside the planning sphere might suggest that perhaps a more sensible and just solution would be to impose height limits on both proposed developments and not impede the view at all.
The Tribunal also decided that no additional measures were needed to protect the view of the sign from the East at night, as although lights from the development will affect the visibility, “future residents with east-facing windows may well keep the curtains and blinds closed at night in order to limit annoying light spill from the sign into their dwellings”. It is puzzling that dwellings subject to such annoying light spill would be allowed to be built and sold. This would be a particular issue for those buying off the plan as it may not be evident that some apartments will be subject to annoying light spill.
The Tribunal stated that they have no jurisdiction regarding issues affecting Walmer Plaza, and they do not form any part of the consideration of the proposal for 647-649.
Yarra Corridor Interface
Clauses 12.05-1 and 12.05-2 were introduced into the planning scheme on 21 December 2015 via Amendment VC121. These clauses seek to ‘protect and enhance the significant river corridors of metropolitan Melbourne’ and ‘maintain and enhance the natural landscape character of the Yarra River corridor in which the topography, waterway, banks and tree canopy are dominant features providing a highly valued, secluded, natural environment for the enjoyment of the public’
On 14 January 2016 Design and Development Overlay Schedule 1 – Yarra River Corridor Strategy (DDO1) was introduced via Amendment C195. The following discretionary controls apply: Beyond 15m ‘mandatory minimum setback line’ a maximum height of 18m.
Pursuant to clause 3 of DDO1 ‘an application to vary the discretionary provisions specified in Table 1 of this schedule must demonstrate how the development will achieve the design objectives of this schedule to the satisfaction of the responsible authority’.
The VCAT Tribunal decided to vary the height of 18m to 47.22m including equipment and plant.
DD01’s design objectives which we consider the development failed to meet, and which the VCAT Tribunal appears not to have considered in its decision :
1.0 Statement of significance
The Yarra River and the landscape through which it passes has metropolitan significance as an environmental, aesthetic, cultural, recreation and tourism asset. The river corridor links parklands and reserves into a near-continuous vegetated landscape experience that
provides, for local and metropolitan communities, a highly valued refuge from the urban
2.0 Design objectives
- Maintain and enhance the natural landscape character of the Yarra River corridor, in which the topography of the river and its banks, and a naturalistic corridor of canopy trees, are the dominant features in public views of the river and its setting.
- Minimise the visual intrusion of buildings and works, when viewed from major roads, paths, bridge crossings, public open space, the Main Yarra Trail and the Yarra River.
- Ensure that the siting and design of buildings is of a high architectural standard, with all elevations, external colours and finishes demonstrating a positive interface with the Yarra River and its natural landscape and environmental character.
- Minimise visual bulk impact and allow views to the Yarra River and its vegetated corridor by providing spacing between buildings.
- Set back development from the river edge to protect the landscape, topography and vegetation of the riverine environment as dominant visual elements.
- Ensure all buildings, particularly on visible hill slopes, crests, skylines and ridgelines, are subordinate to existing vegetation and landscape values.
- Ensure public views of any buildings and works are filtered through vegetation and trees.
- External materials visible from the Yarra River should complement the landscape setting and be softened with appropriate screen planting where practical.
- Avoid visually dominant buildings and buildings finishes that contrast with the surrounding landscape character.
- Ensure that built form does not overshadow public open spaces, the Yarra River, the Capital City and the Main Yarra Trail.
- Ensure development provides passive surveillance of public areas.
- Ensure lighting is designed to minimise light spill on public open space, the Yarra River, the Capital City and the Main Yarra Trail.
- Maintain the sense of seclusion the Yarra River corridor provides, particularly around Collingwood Children’s Farm and upstream of Johnston Street.
- Within the “Current and Ex-Industrial” landscape character type, simple, uncluttered former industrial brick facades should be retained where they allow the Yarra River and its banks to remain the dominant feature.
Defend the Yarra believes that the VCAT members have fundamentally misinterpreted the provision to ensure development provides passive surveillance of public areas, contained in the DD01. This is not meant to reduce the opportunities of the public to view and enjoy the river environs, by privileging the private view enjoyed by the small number of occupants of the proposed apartment building. The effect of this building is to reduce and impact upon the public enjoyment and “surveillance” of the river environs. It is not an exaggeration to state that millions of people – tax paying people – will have their enjoyment and opportunities reduced over the coming decades for the benefit of a very few residents of these apartments, and the economic gain of a developer who has profited from the City of Yarra to the tune of a billion dollars.
The “increased surveillance opportunities” enjoyed by residents of the proposed Salta apartment developments are not meant to be at the expense of the “surveillance opportunities” enjoyed by the public.
The Tribunal did express concern regarding the landscaping shortcomings in the proposal, as it was criticised by Council and objectors for its “lack of detail and extent of landscaping”. (eg the landscape proposal suggests a “copse” of river red gums. One tree is not a “copse”, and it is even doubtful whether one such large tree might be accommodated in such a small space)
However, the Tribunal expressed itself satisfied that the plan was a “conceptual scheme”, and Council and Melbourne Water would have the ability to respond.
A permit was granted for the removal of a tree. (Many locals are under the impression that this tree was removed some time ago, and would be urging the Council to investigate the dates of any tree removals).
The Tribunal considered that it is an uncontroversial issue that the corner of the building extends into the LSIO (Land Subject to Inundation Overlay). LSIO applies to all land subject to flooding. Other landowners are required to meet all LSIO provisions.
One of the policy outcomes sought by Clause 22.11-3 is the creation of a dual pathway system along the Yarra River. The Tribunal does not consider this practical and feels little benefit would be achieved.
Light spill issues on the Yarra Corridor and the effect of large areas of glass on populations of insects and consequent chain reaction through the eco-system of the Yarra Corridor. Whilst the Tribunal did not reject the importance of these issues, because the issues are not covered in Victoria Planning Provisions affecting all Planning Schemes, the Tribunal did not feel the permit should be affected. No other ecological issues/effects were considered.
The Tribunal did not support contentions about increased traffic congestion, although they acknowledged that it is “inevitable that any increase in the number of off-street car spaces associated with new dwellings will increase traffic movements on the local road network. There are 146 car spaces associated with 647-649. (The reconfiguration of Victoria and Burnley Street and the dedication of traffic lanes for the development were not presented and were not within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal).
The Tribunal stated that the building to the East would not be unfairly affected in terms of future development, due to the fact that it would be constrained by Heritage Overlays on the Skipping Girl Sign and the building, and by the DD01 controls. (Both varied for 647-649). Therefore the balconies of 647-649 only need to be setback 3.6m from the common boundary.
If you wish to read the full decision see: