In Parliament

Bill Debate - Planning and Environment Amendment Bill 2021


‘Planning and Environment Amendment Bill 2021’.

Wednesday, 2 March 2021.

Mr NEWBURY (Brighton) (18:12):

I rise to speak on the Planning and Environment Amendment Bill 2021.

Your home is your castle, and your suburb is your village. Like a village, every suburb is unique—unique because of the way it has developed its own natural environment and, most importantly, unique because of the people living in it. Each element is part of the melting pot of a community’s individual character. We should support the preservation of community character. In fact, we should support what is best about our liveability wholeheartedly. Our laws should act to preserve what is best about our suburbs.

That is not to say that change should not happen or that we should be frozen in time. Change is inevitable, whether it be through modernisation of existing homes or ensuring that our city has the capacity to meet a growing population through new homes. Change from a planning perspective is always with us.

Our planning laws should be balanced—balancing modernisation and growth at one end of the spectrum with the protection of heritage and community character at the other. Our existing planning laws are far from achieving that.

Victorians know that this State Government is a champion of densification. This Government has no respect for heritage or community character, and this Bill is more of the same—imbalanced and failing to fix the real problem. It is not much more than an insipid ministerial knee jerk aimed at addressing the humiliating public slap the minister received by a rogue developer—and what a public slap it was. The hairy-chested Minister let out a roar, but we found he has little more than a mouse’s squeak.

On our side of the Chamber we welcome genuine heritage protections. This Bill adds little more than a fig leaf to the Minister, a Minister who has been shown to be wearing no clothes.

This Government has avoided putting in place a proper heritage framework. As National Trust of Australia (Victoria) Chief Executive Simon Ambrose has said:

‘This problem is bigger than just one house … In many areas across Melbourne, heritage protections have not kept pace with development and community expectations.’

And further, acknowledging that a legislative black hole exists, the Chief Executive said:

‘The State Government needs to step in and provide real support.’

We know there is no real support from this Government for heritage. We are seeing that play out across Melbourne’s suburbs. Many of us in this place have seen valuable cultural buildings meet the wrecking ball.

It is not only planning watchers who know this Government has little regard for heritage, the community knows it too. What is most sad is that our local communities are forced to be the real guards of heritage. In the absence of real protections our neighbours are now the guardians. As Graham Robson of Hampton put it:

‘… our homes really are our castles and our backyards are our neighbourhoods. This is about neighbourhood character as much as it is about heritage and we need to protect both.’

Our neighbours are now the guardians in a system that forces the community to understand a complex, flawed planning law system. It necessitates that residents act as community campaigners against inappropriate proposals and burdens the community guardians to spend years of their time on each application—years of their time—going through the planning process for each inappropriate proposed site. But most of all, our laws have been purposefully designed to be impotent, and as a result our system pits neighbour against neighbour.

In 2019 we saw that in Grosvenor Street, Brighton, where over 1,000 residents called for the heritage protection of a historic Tudor-style home designed by Home Beautiful journalist Esme Johnson in 1930.

Local heritage activists called for protection on the basis of more recognition being needed for women on the Victorian Heritage Register, but for the owning family, who had saved for years to purchase the property, the fight was heartbreaking. As the owner said:

‘Most citizens want a fair system so they can purchase property with certainty— that’s what we thought we did.

We understand the value of heritage (but) to lobby to protect a property after an owner has invested in it is fundamentally unfair.’

And further: ‘heritage is impacting families financially and emotionally.’

In Grosvenor Street, like many streets, heritage has not been applied evenly, partly because councils have differing approaches to heritage applications, which are in part based on an opt-in approach. Councils are understandably hesitant to retrospectively overlay heritage. That is where our laws fail—failure in properly protecting heritage that is again highlighted by this Bill. A fulsome framework is what we need, a fulsome framework that is simple. As Felicity Watson, the Executive Manager of Advocacy at the National Trust of Australia, says:

‘When looking at the protection of properties you need to consider the broader community benefit and not just the impacts on the individual homeowner.’

The Hampton community has seen that firsthand in Service Street, a proposed development where quite genuinely thousands of residents have spoken out. Developers are targeting a quiet, leafy street filled with heritage homes, proposing to demolish four significant homes and construct 36 apartments. Again, the current planning overlay was inadequate.

Disappointingly for Hampton, the Labor Minister has turned his back on the street. Service Street knows that if this development goes ahead it will set a precedent, and the waiting game will begin, where residents watch their neighbours sell out to developers.

The Member for Sandringham and I recently met with the community in Hampton to hear their concerns firsthand, and one of the common threads that the community put to us was they should not be expected to be planning experts. They should not be expected to be the guardians of heritage or of the amenity of their street. But we know that the law fails them, and we know that the Government has no interest and is not interested in properly and adequately protecting the heritage of our communities.

Why should residents be forced to be the guardians? Why should neighbourhood associations like the Hampton Neighbourhood Association be forced into existence to represent hundreds—or 1000 in that case—of local residents in Hampton and be their voice each time proposal is put forward that is out of character with the community?

In Hampton’s case we know the Government set out the neon lights and targeted Hampton for overdevelopment. That organisation, which does wonderful work, incredible work, has been forced into existence by a Government that has no interest in protecting the heritage or planning amenity of our community. Our suburbs are our villages. We should have laws that preserve heritage and community character. We do not.

This Bill is another Labor failure in a long line of planning failures by this Government.

Only the Liberal Party will protect your amenity and only the Liberal Party will protect your suburb.